As a pragmatic critical endeavor, most forms of Feminist literary criticism share a fundamental assumption that the historical subjugation of women has definite and deleterious effects upon both women and men. The critical project of Feminist critics is thus concerned with “uncovering the contingencies of gender” as a cultural, social, and political construct and instrument of domination (Jehlen 265). Whether by focusing on the evolution of literature written by women or by reevaluating or reinterpreting previous works by men, Feminist critics challenge the “eternal opposition of biological and aesthetic creativity” which past and present notions of gender promote (Showalter 1105). The first step in attempting to change such deep seeded cultural assumptions is to acknowledge and identify their existence and impact. “One has to read for gender; unless it figures explicitly in story or poem, it will seldom read for itself” (Jehlen 273).
Feminist literary criticism is not exclusionary, however. Gender is one of a number of salient critical terms long neglected, “an additional lens, or a way of lifting the curtain to an unseen recess of the self and society” (Jehlen 265). By allowing Feminist critics to see ” both deeper and more broadly” into a text, investigations into gender aspire to produce more meaningful interpretations and a more demanding generation of interpreters (Jehlen 272).
Jehlen, Myra. “Gender” Critical Terms for Literary Study. Ed.
Frank Lentricchia and Thomas McLaughlin. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1995. .