"Towards A Feminist poetics" is Showalter’s important critical essay. Showalter discusses the following topics in this essay. They are:
1. Woman as reader [Feminist Critique],
2. Woman as writer [Gynocritics],
3. The problems of Feminist Critique,
4. Program of Gynocritics, and,
5. Feminine, Feminist and Female Stages.
1) Woman as reader [Feminist Critique]
According to Elaine Showalter feminism can be divided into two distinct varieties. The first type is concerned with ‘woman as reader’. In this concept woman is considered as the consumer of literature produced by male-writers. She calls it male-produced literature. Elaine argues that a female reading may change our idea of a given text. Elaine calls this kind of analysis the feminist critique. It is a historically grounded inquiry. Its subjects include the images and stereotypes of women in literature, the omissions and misconceptions about women in criticism. It also look into the fissures in male constructed literary history. For example Cleopatra, the queen of Egypt, at the time of Julius Caesar has been treated differently by Shakespeare and Bernard Shaw. Bernard Shaw gives her the role of Caesar’s adopted daughter, whereas Shakespeare considers her Caesar’s concubine. Feminist critique also concerned with the exploitation and the manipulation of the female audience, especially in popular culture and film. We find advertisements in which women appear in different poses exhibiting part of their body to get more publicity to various consumer products.
2)Woman as writer [Gynocritics]
The second type of feminist criticism is concerned with woman as writer. In this concept woman is the producer of textual meaning. It looks into and discusses themes, genres and structures of literatures by woman. Woman as writer includes the following subjects:
a) The psychodynamics of a female creativity,
b) Linguistics and the problem of a female language,
c) The collective female literary career,
d) Literary history, and,
e) Studies of particular female writers and their works.
As there is no particular term in English for such a branch, Elaine has adopted the French term la gynocritique and modified it as Gynocritics.
The Feminist critique is essentially political and polemical. It is theoretically affiliated to Marxist sociology and Aesthetics. Gynocritics is more self contained and experimental.
3) The problems of the Feminist critique
One of the problems of the Feminist critique is that it is male-oriented. If we study stereotypes women, the sexism of male critics and the limited role the women play in literary history, we are not learning what women have felt and experienced. We get only experience of whaat men have felt. In some fields of specialization apprenticeship to the male-theoretician is essential. That poses another problem, the problem of reluctance or resistance to questioning. The critic has a tendency to naturalize women’s victimization by making it the inevitable.
4) Program of Gynocritics
The program of Gynocritics is to construct a female frame work for the analysis of women’s literarature. Another task is to develop new models based on the study of female experience. It doesn’t support the idea of adopting male models and theories. Showalter remarks “Gynocritics begins at the point when we free ourselves from the lenear absolutes of male literary theory, stop trying to fit women between the lines of the male tradition. Elaine hopes to establish a visible world of female culture.
5)Feminine, Feminist and Female stages
In her book “A Literature of Their Own” Elaine Showalter writes on English women writers. She says that we can see patterns and phases in the evolution of a female tradition. Showalter has divided the period of evolution into three stages. They are: the Feminine, the Feminist, and, the Female stages.
1) The first phase, the feminine phase dates from about 1840-1880. During that period women wrote in an effort to equal the intellectual achievements of the male culture. The distinguishing sign of this period is the male pseudonym. This trend was introduced in England in the 1840’s. It became a national characteristic of English women writers. During this phase the feminist content of feminine art is typically oblique, because of the inferiority complex experienced by female writers.
2) The feminist phase lasted about 38 years; from 1882 to 1920. The New Women movement gained strength—women won the right to vote. Women writers began to use literature to dramatize the ordeals of wrong womanhood.
3) The latest phase or the third phase is called the female phase ongoing since 1920. Here we find women rejecting both imitation and protest. Showalter considers that both are signs of dependency. Women show more independent attitudes. They realize the place of female experience in the process of art and literature. She considers that there is what she calls autonomous art that can come from women because their experiences are typical and individualistic. Women began to concentrate on the forms and techniques of art and literature. The representatives of the female phase such as Dorothy Richardson and Virginia Woolf even began to think of male and female sentences. They wrote about masculine journalism and feminine fiction. They redefined and sexualized external and internal experience.