Feminist literature is not only about women; it calls for equal opportunities for all individuals, regardless of ethnicity, color, socioeconomic class, or age. This literary genre is more than just a genre; it is a progressive movement headed by confident women who aim to transform the world for the better, to eliminate bias and unequal representation of people in minority groups.
This paper would look at feminist literature as both a genre and a political phenomenon. It would look at how feminist literature has aided social justice and promoted ethical care of all people. In order to do so, the historical background and context of this art, as well as its current state and impact on the society will be discussed. The following questions will be answered: What is feminism? What is feminist literature? How does it empower women and members of the minority as a political movement?
Feminism for Women
A feminist can be defined simply as a person who advocated feminism. This definition does not limit feminists to women. Instead, it broadly covers anyone who is “concerned with advancing the position of women through such means as achievement of political, legal, or economic rights equal to those granted men” (Offen, 1988, p. 123). Many believe that the beginning of feminism happened at Seneca Falls, circa 1848, when women fought for their right to vote. Feminists at the time fought for women’s rights not only to cast their votes but also to attain “legal control over property and person,” and to enter “male-dominated professions and institutional hierarchies” (p. 123). However, the male adult remained the norm, the yardstick with which to measure the movement’s progress with.
On the other hand, the European feminist movement focused on celebrating “sexual difference rather than similarity within a framework of male/female complementarity” early on (Offen, 1988, p. 124). Instead of fighting for equality, “they mounted a wide-ranging critique of the society and its institutions” (p. 124). Is this the better approach? Perhaps in some cases, it is. Or perhaps the better approach is to marry American and European perspectives on feminism. Nonetheless, feminism still exists widely today, and perhaps even more so than it has ever been in the past.
As a genre of literature, feminism began with the likes of Mary Wollstonecraft (Vindication of the Rights of Women, 1972), Hannah Mather Crocker (Observations on the Real Rights of Women, 1818), and Sarah Grimké (Letters on the Equality of the Sexes, 1838). They are non-fiction writers and they spoke bravely and strongly about women’s rights at the time when both society and government is predominantly, if not only, led by men (Scott, n.d.). When it comes to more contemporary feminist literary works, Temple (2013) listed books that every feminist must read. These include Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique (1963), Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own (1929), and Simone De Beauvoir’s The Second Sex (1949). Meanwhile, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, author of We Should All Be Feminists (2014) defined the ideology of feminism in her book:
My own definition of a feminist is a man or a woman who says, yes, there’s a problem with gender as it is today and we must fix it, we must do better. All of us, women and men, must do better.
Feminism for Minorities
Many scholars have pointed out that feminism is more than just a women empowerment movement. As supporters of human rights, feminists and their works have shown support for other advocacies involving minority groups. For instance, “there have been notable non-trans feminist contributions to the study of trans issues, focusing largely on the issue of feminist solidarity and trans identities” (Bettcher, 2014). Judit (2011) looked into the works of Lola Kosáryné Réz to exhibit a feminist point-of-view on different ethnicities. According to him, Réz strayed from the trend of other female authors of the time, who mainly wrote “from a dominant masculine perspective,” to explore the effects of war on minority groups, thus shedding some light onto their struggles during a time of great distress. When everyone else cared very little about these ethnicities, a feminist was there to bring their story to the masses.
Both in literature and as a political movement, feminism have spurred conversations and actions that aim to help women receive equal rights as men. Feminist authors have shown great strength and audacity in expressing their opinions, paving the way for current and future feminists to continue fighting for equality. As believers and advocates of fair and ethical treatment of all people, feminists have also used their voices to support other minority groups. Without a doubt, feminist literature will continue to bring social justice to anyone who deserves it. If history shows precedence, feminists will not stop until equal human rights are given to all.
Bettcher, T. (2014). Feminist Perspectives on Trans Issues. Retrieved from https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/feminism-trans/#FemSolAftQueThe.
Judit, K. (2011). The anti-racist overtones of a feminist historical novel tetralogy from the 1940s. Hungarian Cultural Studies, 4, p. 128-135.
Ngozi, C.A. (2014). We Must All Be Feminists. New York, NY: Vintage.
Offen, K. (1988). Defining feminism: A comparative historical approach. Chicago Journals, 14(1), pp. 119-157.
Scott, A.F. (n.d.) Nineteenth-century feminist writings. Retrieved from https://www.gilderlehrman.org/history-by-era/literature-and-language-arts/essays/nineteenth-century-feminist-writings
Temple, E. (2013). A reading list of one’s own: 10 essential feminist books. Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/sexes/archive/2013/02/a-reading-list-of-ones-own-10-essential-feminist-books/273337/