Feminism, History, and the Progress of Ideals.

Justin Brewer



Feminism, History, and the Progress of Ideals.


The unified ideal of feminist literary theory hinges on the oppression that is felt through a history of an overwhelmingly patriarchal society. This has remained true for the western world up until the common day and has been a struggle for feminists living in this environment, who seek to change this system that fosters misunderstanding by placing a patriarchal view on writings. From a historical sense, the change from a traditional narrative held by native cultures to the translation of a Colonial world was particularly difficult. Afterward,

Under the grip of colonial culture, the originating theories of the native cultures that were taken over were less than ideal for the development of the culture. A notable case, happens to be explored by Paula Gunn Allen who’s area of study includes that of the Laguna-Acoma Keres. This tribe is a matriarchal society, who’s oral tradition fell under the interpretive impression of colonial society. Specifically as the translation occurs, “The cultural bias of the translator inevitably shapes his or her perception” (Allen 2005). This skewed perception of the culture, as Allen argues ends up altering both the oral tradition, and the culture that it came from; because both are irrevocably connected to one another. This is devastating from a feminist perspective because the Oral traditions of the Laguna-Acoma Keres show a rare perspective of a matriarchal culture in a native setting. However, Allen is quick to point out that a pure feminist interpretation will also lead to error in translation. The concept that she instead believes would be most suited for interpreting the theory of this culture is a combination of a feminist-tribal analysis. This reasoning of a merged viewpoint, would “provide a tribally conscious feminist with an interesting example of how colonization works” (Allen 2017); or in other words a perspective that goes beyond the classic approach to feminism and to incorporate the cultural struggles into the theory.

While this example of feminism in a tribal setting speaks to the plight of a native culture in literature. The western colonization that occurred is also a culture in of itself. The woman of this culture that sought to be a writer was met with harsh disdain. As Virginia Woolf explored in her plight to the inadequacies of being a woman born in this time “any woman born with a great gift in the sixteenth century would certainly have gone crazed” (Woolf 898), besides bringing forward woman’s suffrage to the forefront Woolf coined the idea of women beyond the sexual roll that was the norm in both relationships and character. “women, like men , have other interests besides the perennial interests of domesticity” (Woolf 899), is a startlingly bold claim for equality among genders. That women and feminism could travel beyond the idea of women against the common oppression, and that perhaps the blame for this cultural stigma did not lie with women alone, but instead with the concept of gender of itself. In Androgyny Woolf goes the extra step to argue that without gender roles holding back humans that “it transmits emotion without impediment; that it is naturally creative” (Woolf 901), in reference to the mind under this androgynous state. Woolf, and other women who practiced feminism under colonial rule, managed to open up the ideas of not only woman’s suffrage under a patriarchal society. But that feminism in of itself is not just a theory of one single sex, but a counter movement to the distinguishing of gender as a term of worth.

Long after the colonial power faded away the scars of the hegemony remain implanted in society. The roles of gender are still enforced in what Berlant and Warner call “national heterosexuality” (Warner 2600), which takes the subjectivity of privacy and seeks to quantify it into a wholly sterile practice. This state of privacy then effectively leeches out the intimacy from every day life leaving a separate distinction between privacy and intimacy “its ideal world are protected by the spectacular demonization of any represented sex” (Warner 2602). Beyond the role of limiting the societies that function on intimate communities, both heterosexual and homosexual alike, this cultural sterilization leads to a gap that needs to be filled. The hetero normative response to this is with the concerns of everyday life outside of the private realm, however for those that cannot be filled they band together to form a counter culture to which they belong. This removes the subjectivity of privacy and moves it into an open field where it can be experienced at large. In effect the change that a post colonial world has made is a fracturing of theory and practice, despite the attempts to regain the colonial heritage that is long since dead.

The historical progress of feminism takes the turns that one would expect given age and thought. What originally started in literature as a way to end woman’s suffrage has grown into a battlefield to eliminate the stereotyped gender roles that society has thrust upon humanity. The difference in modern literature in comparison to the contemporary works show the progress of reaching higher levels of theory, as the methods and topics change with the time, feminist theory has adapted to address these new concerns.

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