What I’m Studying this Semester: Feminist Literary Theory

Hey Girl Let's Smash PatriarchyIn December, I officially reached the halfway mark of my graduate studies at Georgia State University. Full-time students often complete their degrees, including their thesis, within two years. However, I am a part-time student with a very full-time business to run, so I’m just entering the second half of my studies this winter. I’m still trying to be okay with that, especially since my grandmother keeps asking me, “How much longer until you finish school for good?”. I always feel like I’m going to be in school forever, when really I only just started 18 months ago. But I digress.

I’m a literary studies grad student. This semester I’m taking a class on feminist literary theory. There was no such thing as a feminist literary theory class when I studied English in high school or college in the late 80s and early 90s. This makes sense now that I know that second wave feminism and a critical study of literature from the feminist perspective only gained traction in the 1970s.

Growing up, I had a negative view of feminism. While I can point to no one event or sedimentary evidence that led me to this belief, I thought that feminists were troublemakers who wanted to be men. While I remember tedious lesson plans every year about the American Revolution and the Civil War, I can only remember spending one day in U.S. history class discussing the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), and only then because the teacher was finishing a unit on the Constitution. Only in the past few years have I learned of the great sacrifices that early feminists made on my behalf. Feminism was a political and social movement that found its voice in the pages of Ms. magazine and other feminist presses that emerged in the 70s. 

Still, women are not equal to men, certainly not in the United States. Last year marked the 50th anniversary of the publication of Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique, yet a study on the status of women just released by The Shriver Report shows that while women make up half the U.S. workforce, they’re still only earning 77 cents to every man’s dollar. We featured a story here on Southern Spines about musician Amy Andrews touring the country to raise money for the endangered independent feminist bookstore. I’m really lucky that the nation’s oldest independent feminist bookstore is located here in Atlanta. Charis Books & More turns 40 this year and still provides important services to our community.

Just two classes in, I’m enthusiastic to learn more about feminist literary theory. Below are the books on my required reading list for class. This doesn’t represent all the critical essays that we’ll be reading, and certainly isn’t a comprehensive reading list, but it’s a nice smattering for one semester. If you are interested in buying a copy of one or more of these feminist titles, I encourage you to order the book online from Charis Books & More using one of the links under the gallery of book covers.

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel

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Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

Quicksand by Nella Larsen

A History of Feminist Literary Theory, edited by Gill Plain and Susan Sellers

A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf


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8 Responses to What I’m Studying this Semester: Feminist Literary Theory

  1. kph52013 January 17, 2014 at 7:24 am #

    “Still, women are not equal to men, certainly not in the United States. ” Not in the United States? Name one country–just one–where women have more rights and power. Allison, with all respect. I believe you may be living in the past.

    • Alison Law January 17, 2014 at 9:12 am #

      Kaye, you make a fine point about this issue not being limited to the U.S. Still, I wouldn’t even know where to begin to address gender inequality or the oppression of women in other countries. My class (the subject of this blog post) is limited to U.S. and European feminist literary theory. And the Shriver Report also focuses solely on the status of women in the U.S. I’m not sure that qualifies me as living in the past. And if I were to play devil’s advocate, I could point to other countries like Germany, Great Britain, the Philippines and India where women have held the highest office in the land. Those are examples of “a woman” (not women as a whole) having more power than men in other countries. Thanks for your comment.

      • kph52013 January 17, 2014 at 9:30 am #

        Allison, I wish I didn’t feel I needed to comment further–I admire all you do. But The Shriver Report is little more than a political tool for those who want to use the so-called “War on Women” as one of its means to win elections.

        “,,,the study does little to explore the driving forces behind these challenges, and instead focuses on perpetuating the myth that American society is inherently unfair to women and girls today, and only a growing state can change things.”

        I urge you to read this article from Forbes Magazine:


        • Alison Law January 17, 2014 at 9:47 am #

          Kaye, I am thrilled that you took the time to read and respond in a thoughtful way–twice! Valuable discourse is what the Internet and blogs are supposed to be about, but rarely are. I appreciate your comments and will most definitely read the Forbes article. Thanks for sharing.

          • kph52013 January 19, 2014 at 6:24 am #

            And thank you, Allison, for your cordiality, and receptiveness to other opinions!

  2. Rhiannon January 17, 2014 at 8:37 pm #

    great reading list and I agree that women are most definitely still not equal with men in earning power in the United States. While yes, we have more rights than say Saudi Arabia or Somalia, we don’t have the support with issues such as subsidized childcare like in the Netherlands, Sweden, or other European countries. Since childcare is not solely a woman’s responsiblity but rather an investment in a society where both parents are able to work, strive, and thrive, the “government” aka “the people” all benefit from this type of program. This is just one example but it is one of the largest contributors to the disparity between the sexes. You can just as easily find an article stating that women are lacking in power as ones saying the age of inequality is over. But the fact is that the Mommy Wars continue, Sheryl Sandberg says to “lean in”, and Anne-Marie Slaughter tells us we can’t have it all. To believe that we are living in a world where women are equal to men (in the US or throughout the world) is as unrealistic as saying we live in a post-racist society/ world. Alison, the best thing about taking this sort of class is the discussions you are subject to. You will be able to hear a multitude of responses and opinions on a variety of topics within the feminist discourse. Just as a previous commentor has voiced their opinion, I now voice mine, but the important thing is to not let anyone sway your opinions. You need to conduct your own research studies, collect information from multiple sources and come upon your opinions by thought and introspection, not by being bullied to believe what someone tells you to believe.

    To the reading list itself: Jane Eyre and a Room of One’s Own are great and I love to see that Middlesex is being incorporated to explore the fluidity of gender. I would be interested to read your full syllabus and see what essays you are going to be reading. Please keep updating throughout the semester and good luck with your studies.

    • Alison Law January 18, 2014 at 9:45 am #

      Rhiannon, thanks for your wonderful thoughts here. I’ll bring a copy of my syllabus with me on Monday night.

  3. computer January 21, 2014 at 10:42 am #

    I miss graduate studies and discussions! I admired the respect each of the commentors on this thread and I hope to follow along with your studies. Thank you for sharing!

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