American Feminist Literature: Definition & Characteristics

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  • 0:01 American Feminist Literature
  • 1:45 Feminist Literature:…
  • 2:35 Characteristics
  • 3:16 Key Authors
  • 6:03 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Laura Thompson

Laura tutors English and writing and has a master's degree in management.

Welcome to the world of American feminist literature! Meet a few well-known American feminist writers. Learn their histories and what inspired them. Read on to learn more about this fascinating genre!

American Feminist Literature

'Remember, all men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation.' While this example of early feminist writing is a sentiment some women may be tempted to share with boyfriends and husbands, these words were actually written by Abigail Adams to her husband John in 1776. In this letter, Abigail asks that he and other members of the Continental Congress consider new freedoms for women during the period of time the American colonies were seeking freedom from Great Britain.

Throughout history, politically and socially newsworthy events have compelled writers and journalists to report, support, and reflect thoughts or feelings about those events through their writing. Such was the case for early feminist writers in America. Shortly after Abigail's written entreaty to her husband, many women, stifled by the strict conventional social boundaries of the day and the lack of women's rights, followed suit and wrote to convey feelings of frustration and outright indignation regarding voting restrictions, marital repression, and male dominance.

Feminist literature was born of the need to express injustice and a need for change. An outpouring of essays, articles, books, and journals caught the public eye and fanned the flames of reform for women in the nineteenth century. Not only did such writing have an enormous impact as a change agent, but it also left a lasting legacy for women and a wealth of literary history.

Feminist Literature Defined

According to Annette Kolodny, noted feminist literary critic, feminist literature, or feminist criticism as it is often referred to, is any material written by a woman, any female criticism of any material written by a man, or female criticism of literary content produced by another woman.

More often than not, feminist literature addresses relevant political issues, current attitudes toward women in society, or attempts to break down gender-specific misconceptions. It is not restricted across culture or religion, so topics span a broad range, from politics to race, religion, and the institution of marriage, among others. These topics have contributed to a rich patchwork quilt of literary masterpieces that is part of our heritage and history.

Characteristics

There are specific characteristics that identify this literary field or genre. Feminist literature portrays characters or ideas that attempt to change gender norms. It tends to examine, question, and argue for change against established and antiquated gender roles through the written word. Feminist literature strives to alter inequalities between genders across societal and political arenas. Finally, it seeks to add a unique and often overlooked feminine-specific voice and tone to gender, societal and political issues, as well as social inequalities where a feminine voice is needed to make an impact.

Key Authors

While there are noteworthy feminist viewpoints pre-dating Abigail's letter, the following authors are restricted to American feminist writers whose literary contributions reflected early and current topics.

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