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Women across the globe and in different religions are told not to speak much, to
stay quiet, to keep their opinions suppressed. They are encouraged to begin with
apologies, etc. This gives rise to feminism. Feminism is a range of political or
social movements which aims to achieve gender equality in all the four terms,
that is, social, political, economical and personal.
Such oppression of women leaves them with writing as the only way in which
they can express themselves. It is a realm in which women can speak up loudly
whatever they want. This branch of feminism is known as “Feminist Criticism”.
Feminist Criticism focuses on how literature represents women and relationships.
It analyzes and describes the way in which literature portrays male denominated
Feminist literature rose during the second-wave of feminism (Second wave of
feminism started in late 1950s and ended in the 1980s.). In “Toward a Feminist
Poetics” Elaine Showalter (literary critic and feminist) traces the history of
women's literature, suggesting that it can be divided into three phases:

 Feminine Phase (1940-1980)

 Feminist Phase (1882-1920)
 Female Phase (1920-till now)

Elaine Showalter (born January 21, 1941) is an American literary critic, feminist,
and writer on cultural and social issues. She is one of the founders of feminist
literary criticism in United States academia, developing the concept and practice
of gynocritics.
The literature in second phase of feminism begins with the interrogation of male-
centric literature which portrayed women as suppressed and weak role models.
During this period women wrote in an effort to equal the intellectual level of male
society in terms of writing. This phase was known as the Feminine phase. The
main characteristic of writing during this period was the use of a male name for
writing, that is, male pseudonym. This period lasted for about 40 years. Male
pseudonym was a remarkable characteristic of women writings during this period
in the whole country. In this phase, the female writers did not try to oppose
the male writers in any sense. They simply wrote trying to imitate the attitude of
male writers towards female characters. The main theorists of this phase being
Kate Millet, Mary Ellman and Germaine Greer. This stage of feminist criticism
includes books like Marry Ellman's Thinking About Women (1968) Kate
Millet's Sexual Politics (1969), and Germaine Greer's The Female
Eunuch (1970).The content of writings at such time was indirect because of
the inferiority complex among women.
The second stage of feminist criticism or the feminist phase (1882-1920)
lasted for about 38 years. During this period women were given some powers.
They were provided the right to vote. The main content for writing during
these times was the criticism of role of women in the society. The literature
mostly talked about the oppression of women. A different and often a separate
place was maintained for women. Women writers began to use literature to
dramatize the ordeals of strong womanhood. They advocated for minority rights
and protested.
The latest or the third phase of the feminism is the phase ongoing since 1920s till
now. It is known as the female phase. In this phase women reject both imitation
and protest. Women have a more independent attitude as both imitation and
protest are considered as signs of dependency. Women began to concentrate on
the techniques of art and literature. The focus in women’s texts is placed merely
on opposing the misogyny in men’s literature. Dorothy Richardson and Virginia
Wolf were the main protagonists of this phase. Richardson records that when she
started to write her main aim was to produce a feminine equivalent of masculine
realism. On the other hand Virginia Woolf became a central subject during the
1970s movement of feminist criticism. They wrote about masculine journalism
and feminine fiction. They focused on the fact of autonomous art among women
due to their typical and individualistic experiences.
Showalter believed that feminist criticism should be judged on the aspect of
culture rather than biological or psychological perspective as the cultural theory
acknowledges the important differences between women as a writer in
comparison to men.
Thus, these three stages denote the evolution of women’s literature and their
growth with the progress of time, i.e., from representation of women as weak
models to a strong lead or from dependence to interdependence.