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Magisterarbeit, 2004, 81 Seiten
Rheinisch-Westfälische Technische Hochschule Aachen (Philosophische Fakultät)
2. Theoretical Background: Feminist Criticism
2.1 Feminism as a Post-Structuralist Theory
2.2 Literary Feminism as Part of the Feminist Movement
2.3. Literary Feminism: Goals, Approaches, Achievements
2.3.1. French, British and American Feminism
2.3.2. The Development of Feminism as a Critical Approach
3. "Get Thee to a Nunnery..." - The Misogynist Elements in Hamlet
3.1. Gertrude, the Queen Subjected by Men
3.1.1. Gertrude's Domination by Claudius, Hamlet and the Dead King
3.1.2. The Problem of Gertrude's Guilt
3.2. Ophelia – Or How Patriarchy Can Lead to Madness
3.2.1. Ophelia's Subordination by Brother and Father
3.2.2. The Passage from the World of the Father to the World of the Husband
3.2.3. Ophelia and Gertrude – A Lack of Female Intimacy
3.2.4. Hamlet, Ophelia and the Masculine Principle
3.3. Ophelia's Madness
3.4. The Men in Hamlet
3.4.1. A Closer Look at Old Hamlet
3.4.2. Hamlet's Mourning
3.4.3. Male Bonds in the Play
4. "Lie With Her, On Her, What You Will..." - The Misogynist Elements in Othello
4.1. Desdemona – An Emancipated Woman Confined by Men
4.1.1. A Revolting Daughter
4.1.2. Desdemona the Wife – A False Ideal of Love ?
4.1.3. Desdemona's Desire and the "Bestial" Sexuality in Othello
4.2. Desdemona, the Other Female Characters and Female Solidarity
4.2.1. Emilia and Her Relationship to Desdemona - Servant, Friend or Traitor ?
4.2.2. The Treatment of Bianca
4.3. Men in Othello: Murderous Coxcombs
4.3.1. Unfulfilled Relationships
4.3.2. Honour, Reputation and Jealousy
Was Shakespeare a misogynist ? Or was he, on the contrary, an early advocate
of female equality ? Were his plays manifests of patriarchy, of the dominance of men over women and of typical stereotypes ? Or were they, like other critics have argued, just the opposite? Was he a "feminist in sympathy", as Juliet Dusinberre has argued, or was he the patriarchal bard many others see in him ? In how far were his views about the sexes influenced by the conceptions of gender in the Elizabethan time - and did he support, question or even reject them ?
These were the questions I had in mind when I started working on this thesis
paper. After dealing with both Shakespeare and feminism in the course of my studies, an evaluation of Shakespeare's attitude towards women seemed very interesting. The attraction that Shakespeare combined with feminism has, and the necessity of such criticism, has often been discussed. The following quote is rather long, but perfectly expresses my own interest in the topic.
"Feminist critics of Shakespeare must use the strategies and insights of this new criticism selectively, for they examine a male dramatist of extraordinary range writing in a remote period when women's position was in obvious ways more restricted and less disputed than our own. Acknowledging this, feminist critics also recognize that the greatest artists do not necessarily duplicate in their art the orthodoxies of their culture; they may exploit them to create character or intensify conflict; they may struggle with, criticise or transcend them. Shakespeare, it would seem, encompasses more and preaches less than most authors; hence the centuries-old controversy over his religious affiliation, political views, and sexual preferences. His attitudes towards women are equally complex and demand attention."
The fact that all major female characters have to die in Hamlet as well as in Othello is what first brought me to assess these two plays. I believe that even without an in-depth analysis of the plays the excessive murdering of women shows that Shakespeare's attitude towards them is in some way troubled. I was worried that this would be too trivial a starting point, but other critics have had the same idea: "And, as has been noted, the women in the tragedies almost invariably are destroyed, or are absent from the new order consolidated at the conclusions."
The more I dealt with this vast topic, however, the more complicated it became. The reason for this is that the questions stated above cannot be answered in a simple manner. There are many critics who see Shakespeare as the "patriarchal bard" - and many who oppose this and think that his stand was well ahead of his time. All find arguments in his works to support their view and the debate is ongoing. If one looks only at the discussion that followed the publication of Dusinberre's Shakespeare and the Nature of Women, one gets an idea of the controversy about Shakespeare and feminism. She claimed that the beginning of humanism, Puritanism and the powerful female figure Queen Elizabeth I all changed the status of women and that the new attitude is visible in Shakespeare's plays. But her views have been disputed. There are critics who doubt whether Puritanism and the existence of "isolated 'women worthies'" really changed the status of women and if so, whether Shakespeare was also influenced by this change. Others argue that especially at the end of Queen Elizabeth's rule the general attitude towards women was negative, that the death of the female ruler was indeed celebrated and that she was idealised again after her death. All of this shows one of the biggest problems when analysing Shakespeare's portrayal of and his attitude towards women: there is no clear definition concerning the general perspective on women in 16th century England. The times in which a unified Elizabethan world picture, as proclaimed by Tillyard and others, was taken for granted, have past, as Lenz, Greene and Neely stress.
"Historical critics, seeking to relate the status of women in the plays to that of women in the period, must struggle with the problems of how to measure the position of women in life and how to conceive the relationship between life and art. The proliferation of contradictory material on women in the Renaissance increases their difficulties.[...] The plays are aesthetic creations as well as social documents; historical data cannot simply be imported into them or derived from them."
If there was consensus about the attitude towards women in the Renaissance, it might be easier to define whether Shakespeare promoted or criticised the prevailing opinion.
What seems to be clear, however, is that the society in which Shakespeare lived was at least more defined by patriarchal norms than our own, although there were also traits of matriarchy and male dependency on women as in the case of the citizens and their queen. I think the following statement of Steve Mullaney is quite correct: "[...] The patriarchal hierarchy of early modern England was grounded in an explicit and officially promulgated ideology of male supremacy and autonomy." That this ideology of male supremacy can also been found in Shakespeare's plays has been demonstrated by Mullaney and many other critics, and this is the stance which I myself take in this paper.
But how can this thesis be proven? It is not possible do ask Shakespeare directly what he thought about the relation of the sexes, how he valued women or if he saw them as equals. It is also not possible to go back in time and see how the role of women was really like when he lived, and for example answer the question if the fact that the powerful monarch was female really made a difference in the way women were appreciated and treated. I believe that the texts created by Shakespeare are what remains and that any answers can best be found in them. I am not arguing that everything that surrounds the texts is not important, but the extend of its influence is simply hard to define. Therefore, the texts of two of Shakespeare's greatest plays, Hamlet and Othello will constitute the basis for my attempt to find some answers.
The aim of this paper is not to find the ultimate answer to the question of whether Shakespeare was a misogynist or not. That goal would simply be unrealistic. However, my aim is to show that misogyny is visible in at least two of Shakespeare's plays. My definition of misogyny is taken from Valerie Wayne, who sees it not only as hatred against women but also as an expression of deep distrust of women and the wish for their subordination. I believe that Shakespeare's misogynist side is obvious in the tragedies. I am not saying that this side is equally well displayed in the histories, comedies or romances. I will show that even in the tragedies, emancipated female characters appear. But through close analysis of the two plays and the respective secondary literature, I will show that misunderstanding, fear and hatred of women is present in the plays and that in the end, the female characters are always subdued and the patriarchal structures are secured again.
Before the plays are discussed, I need to give some theoretical background. Criticising Shakespeare as a potential misogynist is only possible because of feminist literary criticism. Many essays which will support my own interpretations were written by feminist critics. Therefore, I think it is necessary to discuss feminist criticism before discussing the plays. Although feminism is not a new critical approach anymore, it is important to know its origin, development and impact as well as its different assumptions, approaches and aims. Knowing this will help to evaluate the different opinions that feminist critics hold about both Hamlet and Othello. I see myself as writing in the tradition of feminist criticism, so an explanation of this critical theory will also help to understand my own arguments.
I will begin by outlining the origin of feminist literary theory. Its critical roots lay in structuralism, against which feminism began to argue. Its ideological basis is the feminist movement. Both influences will be briefly presented. After that, I want to highlight the different schools of thought within feminism, namely American, British and French criticism. I think that concerning Shakespeare and his works, all approaches can offer interesting insights. The most important critics, their assumptions and methods will be portrayed. Other forms of feminist criticism, that are in themselves very interesting but in my opinion not of much importance when analysing Shakespeare, like lesbian and black feminist criticism, will not be discussed. I will then go on discussing the development of feminist literary criticism. The main stages of feminist criticism and its impact in the academy will be presented. This first part of the paper is not supposed to be a mere "dumping ground" for information, and I will keep it as concise as possible. But I think a short discussion of feminism needs to be a part of this paper to understand the background of the critical essays on Hamle t and Othello.
The discussion of the misogynist elements in Hamlet will follow. Here, the female characters of Ophelia and Gertrude will be the centre of attention, but also the ways in which Hamlet, his father and Claudius treat, judge, and kill the women. The relationships between men and women, but also between the two women and between the male characters will be analysed.
The same approach will then be used to take a closer look at Othello. The female characters of Desdemona, Emilia and Bianca, their words, acts and appearances will be the focus. This again includes analyses of the men. The way they talk about, treat and interpret the women reveals much about the negative attitude towards women in Shakespeare's tragedies.
For both plays, I will offer my own interpretations as well as interpretations found in the secondary literature. The part on Othello will be a little shorter since many parallels between the two plays can be drawn and several of the essays discussed in detail when discussing Hamlet can also be applied to Othello. Through close analysis of both plays, I hope to show that in Othello, as well as in Hamlet, misogyny cannot be ignored.
As I have mentioned before, things that may or may not have influenced Shakespeare will play a lesser role. I will present opinions about the role of and attitude towards women in the Renaissance, but since I am not a historian, I cannot partake in a detailed discussion of them. Something that will not play any role is Shakespeare's biography. To analyse his own relation to women would definitely be interesting – he is supposed to have left the mother of his children and to have "fled" from this marriage to London – but since there are more unknown than known facts about his life, I think it would be too speculative.
Lenz, Greene, and Neely remind us that it is never possible to answer all questions in such an analysis.
"No psychological models, no amount of data from the historical or aesthetic contexts, and no reading of the plays, however careful, can resolve the general issue of what relationship the man, Shakespeare, has to the texts that bear his name, or the narrower issue of whether these texts prove Shakespeare a feminist, a sexist, or something in between. While feminist critics do not rule out such speculations, they are implicit rather than explicit in their essays."
This is certainly something one should keep in mind, especially to avoid seeing one's own opinion as only correct one. I will not attempt to answer all questions but I believe his texts offer a lot to support my thesis.
To understand what feminist criticism is, it is useful to look at its roots first. Concerning theory, structuralism and then the deconstruction of its ideas were its basis. Concerning ideology, it developed out of the women's liberation movement in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The political activism, especially in France and America, started to influence the academic world at that time.
Feminism is often seen as a post-structuralist approach, alongside other theories such as Deconstruction, New Historicism, Marxism and psychoanalytic criticism.. So what is its relation to structuralism? Structuralism originated in the late 1950s and early 1960s and focused on how meaning is produced in a text. Structuralists like Ferdinand Saussure, Benedict Althusser, Jaques Lacan, Roland Barthes or Michel Foucault, though coming from different schools of thought, all believed that a text is a signifying system, made up of codes and conventions. The signifier and the signified, the word and its meaning, are central elements of structuralism, and words are supposed to determine the meaning of reality. But then the original structuralist assumptions and ideas were developed further, even by the structuralists themselves. Althusser, Lacan, Foucault, Barthes and the inventor of the theory of Deconstruction, Jaques Derrida, analyzed the relation of signifier and signified more closely and realized that a stable relation does not really exist. So post-structuralism no longer focused on codes, conventions or fixed systems, but on gaps, inconsistencies and failures of language. One example for that are the ambiguous meanings that a sign can have, as Terry Eagleton points out.
"Since the meaning of a sign is a matter of what the sign is not, its meaning is always in some sense absent from it too. Meaning, if you like, is scattered or dispersed along the whole chain of signifiers: it cannot be easily nailed down, is never fully present in any one sign alone, but is rather a constant flickering of absence and presence together."
Because of this inconsistency in all signs, there is no central meaning of a text, and the lack thereof leads to new possibilities of interpretation. Derrida for example believes that there can be no final interpretation of a text, and no final closing of its possibilities. Interpretation of language can thus be seen as endless. This plurality of interpretations and meanings is the basis for post-structuralist analysis.
It is obvious that this was a completely new basis for the analysis of texts and offered many new insights. But not only the basic assumption concerning signifiers is important; post-structuralism has also other aspects that distinguish it from more traditional approaches. First of all, post-structuralism began to develop in the late 1960s, influenced by the political activism of that time. Therefore, many post-structuralists criticize the lack of political awareness in traditional criticism, and even take political positions themselves. Secondly, post-structuralism argues against totaling or universalizing interpretations of a text. It is against liberal humanism since it does not support assumptions of individuality or autonomy of a writer and his work, and refuses to see human nature as unchanging or universal. Literature is also not defined as largely moral or outside of history and politics, but is an important part of both. Post-structuralists criticize former interpretations and actively compete with the more traditional critics. These new approaches did not succeed or replace the more traditional ones such as New Criticism and structuralism, but were added to them.
The post-structuralist theories, like feminism and deconstruction, exist side by side, but they do have common ground. They have influenced each other and worked together. Sometimes this makes it difficult to draw the boundaries between the individual approaches. But one theory can help to explain another. Jonathan Culler for example argues that feminism, within post-structuralism, has most in common with deconstruction since it is aimed at deconstructing the opposition male / female. Marxism and feminism also share characteristics, since Marxist critics likewise analyse the economic and social causes which lead to the oppression of women. New Historicism, then, assumes that literature and history readings are biased and that traditional definitions of "history" need to change, two central assumptions that feminists clearly support. They also agree with the New Historicists that subjectivity is a construct and that culture is needed to define it. One of the groundbreaking figures for the New Historicist movement was the historian, archeologist and philosopher Michel Foucault, and interestingly enough, gender, sexuality and women were key areas of interests in his work. Feminists have also frequently made use of psychoanalytic insights, but some also refuse psychoanalysis as being to phallocentric, too male-centered or simply as being ignorant of the female sexuality, points that will be discussed later when I present the French feminists.
It would undoubtedly be interesting to further discuss the differences and similarities of feminism and its fellow post-structuralist theories, but since this would expand my argumentation too much, I will proceed with the ideological "root" of feminist criticism: feminism itself.
Most people can guess that literary feminism is a part of the feminist movement or has at least something to do with it – but what exactly does "feminist" mean ? "Feminism" and "feminist" are expressions that are frequently used, but their meanings are by no means unambiguously clear. Some people may think of emancipation, others of radical political activism and some may even think that it is something that happened in the 70s but is of no relevance today. The most clear and convincing definition of feminism as an ideology that I found was by Pam Morris, and this is the definition that I have in mind when I refer to it in this paper.
"My definition of feminism, [...], is that it is a political perception based on two fundamental premises: (1) that gender difference is the foundation of a structural inequality between women and men, by which women suffer systematic social injustice, and (2) that the inequality between the sexes is not the result of biological necessity but is produced by the cultural construction of gender differences. This perception provides feminism with its double agenda: to understand the social and psychic mechanisms that construct and perpetuate gender inequality and then to change them."
Other than that, feminism is very difficult to define, as Diana Coole, along many others, points out.
"Today it seems scarcely possible that one might even pose the question 'what is feminism'?. The single agency of women has fractured into a multiplicity of diverse groups, individuals and split subjects."
Coole goes on by saying that "Feminisms, like women, are plural [...]". The use of the term 'feminisms' in contrast to feminism occurs frequently today. The reason for that is obvious. There was never a unified feminism, but in post-modern times, the ideas and attitudes of feminists are even more varied. In the beginning of the feminist movement, there were two major branches of feminism, namely the women's rights and women's liberation movement.
The former focused on attaining the same rights for women as men have, the second aimed at freeing women from patriarchal oppression and systems as a whole. In the early days of feminism at the end of the 18th century until the 1920s, women's rights were the centre of activities whereas in the 1960s to 1980s the idea of women's liberation was prominent. After that, the two movements acted side by side. This development is described as the first two waves of feminism, and Coole believes that feminism is now experiencing its third wave: the multiplicity of postmodernism. What is important to note is that feminist criticism was born during the second phase. Feminist analysis of such cultural phenomena as women's subordination and marginality, sex-role stereotyping and patriarchal structures by feminists such as Simone de Beauvoir, Germaine Greer or Shulamith Firestore were the basis for the pioneering works of feminist literary criticism such as Kate Millet's Sexual Politics or Mary Ellmann's Thinking About Women.
Along with the difficulty of defining feminism itself comes the problem of defining patriarchy, a concept that is important to most feminists. One could write a thesis paper singularly concerned with defining patriarchy, but this is not the task here. However, I find it helpful to give at least a short definition of patriarchy to which I adhere in my work. This way, it is clear to what I refer when talking about the possibly ambiguous term "patriarchy".
Broadly speaking, patriarchy refers to the rule of men over women. Among other things, this includes female oppression, unequal chances for women and not attributing women the same worth as men. But patriarchy can have many different forms, as Wayne points out. She states that the forms in which men dominate women are diverse and that patriarchy is not "a monolithic and unvarying phenomenon". For example patriarchal structures change when one looks at different cultures. Wayne also describes the difficult relation between patriarchy and misogyny.
"Patriarchal structures create numerous and varied opportunities for reinforcing misogyny, so there is an uneasy relation between misogynist discourse and other forms of patriarchal oppression."
The connection between patriarchy and misogyny is further highlighted by Mullaney:
"Historically speaking, the more rigidly hierarchical the system of patriarchy, the more rabid and chronic are its expressions of misogyny."
It is also important to keep in mind that not every female critic is a feminist and the feminist criticism can also be practised by men.
"But it is not only and not always feminocentric, for it examines both men and women and the social structures that shape them. Such criticism may be written by men; female critics, even when focusing on women characters, are not necessarily feminist nor should we demand that they be so. Feminist criticism is more a matter of perspective than of subject matter or gender."
A good account of the role of men in feminist criticism is given in Joseph Boone's book Engendering Men: The Question of Male Feminist Criticism. Male feminist critics include Boone, Paul Smith, James Sosnoski and others. But, as Christie Farnham points out, feminist scholars are more concerned than men with the feminist research process for a variety of reasons. First of all, women have a higher interest in changing the proportion of men and women engaged in academic research. This is not surprising, since men often want to secure their position in the academic world while women are trying to get into these positions. Also, according to Farnham, women usually evaluate the research process itself more closely than men in order to see whether and in how far they want to join the research enterprise. I think it is quite understandable that more women than men are interested in feminist criticism, the same is true for feminism itself. But one should not forget that there are men who have an interest in this area and appreciate feminist criticism.
The same multiplicity that is attributed to feminism can - not surprisingly - also be found in literary feminism. To give a clear-cut definition is equally challenging if not impossible. Lenz, Greene, and Neely rightly point out that "it is as difficult to define feminist criticism as it is to define feminism itself [...]". It truly is a complex critical theory, rather than to cite a simple-sounding definition, I will try to "define" it by looking at its many different components.
A good description of the goals of literary feminism is given by the American critic Elaine Showalter. She states that feminism is a fundamental category of literary analysis and concerned with the literary representation of sexual difference. It examines how literary genres have been shaped by masculine and feminine values and highlights the exclusion of the female voice from the institutions of literature, criticism and theory. The general aim is pronounced to be the development of "theories of sexual difference in reading, writing and literary interpretation". Other goals are the promotion of female writing and the enlargement of the literary canon. Of course the list of goals can easily be expanded. Jonathan Culler for example remarks that feminism is also concerned with the representation of women's experience in literature and believes that championing the identity of women is a central element . I am aware that one could state even more goals, but in my opinion, these are the main objectives, and I therefore want to move on and present the different approaches with which these goals are persecuted.
Feminism can be divided into three main movements, namely French, British and American. French critics centre their interpretations around the domains of language and body. The most influential French feminist critics are Julia Kristeva, Hélène Cixous and Luce Irigaray. Of course there are many other interesting critics besides these three, for example Sarah Kofman or Michèle Le Doeuff, but I would like to focus on the three most prominent ones. What makes these feminist critics unique is that they are all concerned with the special ways in which women can and do express themselves in language. They do so not only by analysing existing works, but by writing themselves – sometimes very experimental texts. All are interested in l'écriture féminine, a feminine practice of writing. This writing comprises a wide variety of texts by female authors, also literary criticism itself. Fluidity and plurality are its most important aspects, and they are linked to female sexuality. The critics believe that the female body, female sexuality and pleasure, or joissance, influence all forms of female writing. It is difficult to explain the concept of l'écriture, even Cixous admits that. She says that
"[...] it is impossible to define a feminine practice of writing, and this is an impossibility that will remain, for this practice can never be theorised, enclosed, coded – which doesn't mean that it doesn't exist."
Although a clear definition of l'écriture seems impossible, one can gain a better understanding of the concept when looking at the different assumptions the critics have about language and sexuality.
Irigaray's starting point is a radical challenge to psychoanalysis She draws attention to the 'logic of sameness' operating in psychoanalysis and in language. This means that the man is made the measure of all things, and that the woman is judged only by comparison. 'Man' can stand for himself, but 'woman' is only a denigrated, subordinated term. She attacks Freud's theory since she believes it is not a theory about both sexes – only about the man. For example, she criticises the well-known female penis atrophy and wonders why Freud never deals with some form of male breast atrophy. This treatment of women is traced back by her to a tradition of philosophical speculation beginning with Plato that sees the sexes not as the separate entities man and woman, but as man and not-man. Female individuality has no place in this logic. She also points out that psychoanalysis with its centring around one thing - the phallus - has led to a privileging of singularity, which does not correspond with the plurality of the female body and the plurality of female expression. Morris states that this attack on singularity shows the influence which Derrida and his methods of deconstruction had on Irigaray and other French critics.
Hélène Cixous also criticises phallocentrism and advocates the discovery of an écriture féminine, but as Morris demonstrates, her writing is more varied in its modes than Irigaray's. It is sometimes hard to categorise her works. Her texts are more lyrical and stylistically experimental than academic texts usually are. Another important element that she (but also other feminist critics) uses are autobiographical experiences. With them, she supports her theses and relates her theorising to political realities. She also focuses on possession.
"Cixous associates phallocentric language with a cultural order based on possession and property. Within such an order exchange is part of the system of power; nothing can be freely given. Patriarchy is maintained by the exchange of women as possessions from fathers to husbands always so as to control or gain something."
The third well-known critic, Julia Kristeva, believes that male dominated language rests on binary structures, and that the patriarchal system as a whole can be subverted by language, especially through writing. This idea of subversion is also favoured by Cixous and Irigaray.
But Kristeva is also differs from the other critics. The basis for her assumptions is on the one side a theory of language, on the other hand a theory of subjectivity. In the 1960s and 1970s, she focused on semiotics and language, in the following years the psychoanalytic experience of the speaking subject was the centre of her work. Her language theory was heavily influenced by the Russian formalists, a group of linguists who identified the structures of language in the early decades of the 20th century. With her interest in subjectivity, she is part of a tradition that can be traced back to the early 19th century when the German philosopher Georg Friedrich Wilhelm Hegel and later on Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche started to argue against the notion of the self as a unified and rational being. These ideas were taken further by a group of French philosophers in the 20th century, and as Noelle McAfee rightly points out, the post-structuralist, to which Kristeva and other feminists belong, can be located as part of this philosophical trajectory. From this starting pint, she developed a strong interest in psychoanalysis, and besides being a writer, critic, lecturer and philosopher, she also works as a psychoanalyst. She is interested in how the self is constituted through a variety of influences - the unconscious and its drives and desires, culture and society with their restrictions and also language. McAfee has aptly summarised what makes Kristeva interesting.
"In the 1960s and 1970s, Kristeva was one of the first thinkers to usher in 'post-structuralism', an intellectual movement that has had enormous impact in philosophical an literary circles. What sets Kristeva apart [...] is that she has come up with very powerful tools for understanding how language produces speaking beings who emerge in that fold between language and culture."
When reading about Kristeva, I found out something quite remarkable. As I have pointed out earlier, feminists are part of the post-structuralist movement. That the different post-structuralist approaches did indeed influence each other can be demonstrated when one looks at Kristeva's acquaintances:
"[...] In these circles she also came to meet the anthropologist, Claude Lévi-Strauss (1908- ), the linguist, Émile Benventiste (1902-1976), the psychoanalyst, Jaques Lacan (1901-1981), the philosopher, Michel Foucault (1926-1984), and others working variously in the vein known as structuralism [...]."
Kristeva did not try to completely deconstruct structuralism but to "dynamize" its structure by taking subject and culture into consideration. She also did not try to be a "feminist", she is sometimes even quite critical of the movement and has been accused by other (mostly Anglo-American) feminist philosophers of being anti-feminist because of her adherence to traditional psychoanalytic theory. But it is clear that she writes with feminist intent and that her work is marked by a wide variety of styles, just like the other French feminists.
But French theory has also frequently been criticised, most of all l'écriture féminine, possibly the most fascinating aspect it. One argument against it is that through its assumptions, women are either elevated or reduced to merely biological aspects:
"A related criticism levelled at Cixous' notion of écriture féminine is that in urging a woman to 'write herself' by returning to libidinal drives of the body she is inevitably falling into a form of biologism or essentialism."
Another objection is that l'écriture féminine is somehow utopian, since there can be no language outside the existing system. Because of that, it is likely that the binary structures common in male language are still retained. As Morris sums up, there is the danger that the libidinal, 'other' language is simply elevated against the repressive patriarchal one. A third reproach is that masculine dominance and the political abolition of sexual categories are not directly addressed. Additionally, critical voices claim that there is there is the risk that l'écriture féminine could be marginalised and therefore not taken seriously.
Only some of this criticism is justified. I believe that the last point is not convincing, since opponents of feminist criticism could mark all female criticism as 'marginal', and deny its academic relevance because it "concerns only women". Feminist criticism itself was in its beginning indeed often deemed "marginal" but has established itself in the academic world, as I will demonstrate later on. On the other hand, I agree with the argument that focusing on biological categories like body and sexuality is troublesome, since one can never say in how far 'femininity' is defined by these biological aspects or by matters of culture, social norms, education and so forth. For example I do agree with the idea that there can be a certain female language which differentiates itself from the male one, but I do not believe that it is mainly influenced by the female body or sexuality but rather by the latter forces. Concerning the argument, that l'écriture féminine is somehow utopian, I too believe that a female language cannot exist independently, but as Morris states, the French feminists themselves did not believe this, and saw l'écriture more as a 'sortie', an opening up of the patriarchal language. As for the binary structures, Cixous and the other critics themselves stated that l'écriture should not be strictly defined to avoid seeing it as a binary opposition to "normal" language. It is true that French feminism was not as political as its Anglo-American counterpart, but if one looks at the political essays written by critics such as Kristeva or the works of the forerunner of French feminism, Simone de Beauvoir, one cannot say it was completely apolitical. To summarise, I think the only criticism which is justified is the danger of biologism and essentialism, but apart from that, French feminism has a lot to offer and has changed literary criticism a lot.
The American and British feminist approaches are often referred to as the Anglo-American criticism. This makes sense, since although there are differences between the American and the British critics, they do have a lot in common with each other. First of all, they are very much set apart from French criticism. The Anglo-American feminist critics are not interested in philosophising about language, body or the 'universally feminine'. They are both interested in the effect that culture has on the formation of gender, something I will explain in more detail when discussing the work of the American critic Elaine Showalter. But their approaches to women, gender and criticism vary. For the American critics, the main concerns are close textual analyses of female characters in male texts, the (re-) discovery of female authors and the exposing of patriarchal ideologies. This is where British feminists tend to distinguish themselves from American criticism. They lament an American overemphasis on texts linking women across boundaries and decades and an underemphasis on popular art and culture. They regard their own critical practice as more political than that of American feminists, whom they have often faulted for being uninterested in historical detail. Prominent British feminist critics like Catherine Belsey, Judith Newton or Deborah Rosenfelt see the American endeavour to recover women's history as an endeavour that "mystifies" male oppression, disguising it as something that has created for women a special world of opportunities. This includes the celebration of female virtue and individual heroines.
"[...] the American opposition to male stereotypes that denigrate women has often led to counterstereotypes of feminine virtue that ignore real differences of race, class, and culture among women. [...] American celebrations of individual heroines falsely suggest that powerful individuals may be immune to repressive conditions [...]"
 Juliet Dusinberre. Shakespeare and the Nature of Women.
 Compare for example McLuskie, Kathleen. " The Patriarchal Bard: Feminist Criticism and Shakespeare – King Lear and Measure for Measure". In: Dollimore, John and Sinfield, Alan eds. Political Shakespeare.
 Lenz, Carolyn Ruth Swift, Greene, Gayle, and Neely, Carol Thomas. 'Introduction' in: The Woman's Part. Feminist Criticism of Shakespeare, p. 4.
 Lenz, Greene, and Neely, p. 6.
 Lenz, Greene, Neely, p. 8.
 Mullaney, Steven. "Mourning and Misogyny", p. 161.
 Ibid., pp. 7-8.
 Mullaney, p. 178.
 Wayne, Valerie. "Historical Differences: Misogyny and Othello", p. 158.
 Ibid., p. 9.
 For the sake of clarity I will refer to "feminist criticism" when I speak about the critical literary theory and of "feminism", when I refer to the hole feminist movement including, but far exceeding, academic feminism. I have noted that in the secondary literature, the terms are sometimes mixed together, which is understandable but can lead to confusion.
 With post-structuralist I do not refer to the school post-structuralism, but to the fact that approaches such as feminism developed out of structuralist theories - after structuralism - and took its ideas further. Also see the quote on page 14.
 Doyle, Martin in : New Casebooks: Hamlet. Macmillan: London 1992, p. 5.
 Eagleton, Terry. Literary Theory. An Introduction. Oxford: Blackwell 1983, p. 128.
 Doyle, p. 7.
 Eagleton, p. 127.
 Ibid., pp. 140-148.
 Doyle, Martin p. 4.
 Showalter, Elaine. 'The Feminist Critical Revolution', p. 16.
 Culler, Jonathan. Literary Theory. A Very Short Introduction, pp. 126-128.
 Lenz, Green, and Neely, p. 5.
 Compare Newton, Judith Lowder. "Feminism and the New Historicism", pp. 153-154.
 Morris, Pam. 'Why "Literature" and "Feminism"?' in: Morris, Pam ed. Literature and Feminism, Blackwell Publishers, Oxford 1993.
 Coole, Diana. Women in Political Theory. From Ancient Misogyny to Contemporary Feminism, p. 184.
 Ibid., p. 184.
 Compare for example Warhol, Robyn, and Herndl, Diane Price, eds. Feminisms: An Anthology of Literary Theory and Criticism, pp. ix-xii.
 Wayne, p. 154.
 Ibid., p. 159.
 Mullaney, p. 178.
 Lenz, Greene, and Neely, p. 3.
 Farnham, Christie. "Feminist Research and Psychology", p. 104.
 Ibid., p. 3.
 Showalter, p.3.
 Ibid., p. 4.
 Culler, Jonathan, p. 126.
 Murfin, Ross. 'What is Feminist Criticism ?', pp. 208-120.
 For example Cixous, Hélène. Angst.
 Cixous, 'The Laugh of the Medusa', in: Marks and de Courtivron Eds, New French Feminism s, p. 253.
 Irigaray, Luce. "This Sex Which is Not One", p. 350-354.
 Morris, p. 116.
 Morris, p. 119.
 McAfee, Noelle. Julia Kristeva, Routledge Critical Thinkers Series, p. 2.
 Ibid., p. 2.
 McAfee, Noelle, p. 5.
 Ibid., p. 3.
 Morris, p. 124.
 Ibid., p. 124.
 Murfin, Ross. "What is Feminist Criticism ?", p. 210.
 Compare for example the definition of biological sex and social gender in Beauvoir, Simone. The Second Sex.
 Murfin, Ross, p. 211.
 Wolford, Susan. "What is Feminist criticism ?", p. 212.
 Ibid., p. 213.