Lit. Crit. (was: Re: More than you ever wanted to know (was Re: answers from Diana))

deborah deborah at
Tue Jun 5 14:49:50 EDT 2001

Philip wrote:

|>>One important upshot of this is that no two people ever have exactly the same
|>>internal definition of a word, since no two people have the same
|>>experiences to relate to it.  It occurs to me only now that this may be one
|>>reason why languages evolve...

now, whether or not you are a relativist (and I am one), this
statement is extremely true of feminism.  Get three self-declared
feminists (say, including me) in a room and ask us to define
"feminism", and you'll get at least four answers.  There are
multiple views lumped under the term "feminist criticism".  The
strongest, as Nat and Philip both mention, is that of finding a
new view to reread.  It is certainly not the only sort of
criticism ever called "feminist".

Lissa Paul has written an excellent article whose title I cannot
currently recall (is it "Enigma Variations" in _only Connect_?)
comparing "feminist criticism" to "childist criticism".  She
spoke about the literature of otherness, and discussed the
difficulty of reading a literature which historically wasn't
necessarily critically judged by the intended audience.  This
article drew on one variant of feminist criticism -- the variant
that focuses on being an outsider -- to shed light on some
interesting ways of reading children's literature.  (Perry
Nodleman did something very similar, but using Orientalist theory
developed by Edward Said instead of feminist theory to shed light
on children's literature).  So when Philip says:

|In a sense this brings me back to your point.  When I was asking for a balanced
|view, I meant, Why do Feminists insist that everyone take a stance at one or
|other end?  Why can we not try and form a view that sees the good in both sides?
|I agree totally that we should try and take balanced viewpoints.  My experience
|of feminism is that it tends to try and take an extreme viewpoint in order to
|restore some nebulous overall balance.

I find myself feeling sad that you've had such a limited
experience of feminism that you've only seen extremists.
Some feminists certainly insist that everyone take a stance at
one or the other end.  Some people with any viewpoint will insist
that everyone take a stance at one or the other end.

But many of us can use schools of thought to add to discussion
without destroying it.  For example, while I am not a Marxist, I
found Marxist theory added some very interesting components to my
reading of _A Little Princess_.  And while I *am* a
self-described feminist, I had very different experiences when
applying feminist theory to _Tehanu_ and to the arc story in _The
Stinky Cheese Man_(which, believe it or not, shares many basic
structure components with _Tehanu_).  The former story was
greatly enriched by a reading influenced by feminist theory, and
the latter was just made sillier.

Maybe that is the problem; extremists from any group have no
sense of humor.  How can you read without a sense of humor?

|To take an example - I observed the other day that I was finding fewer
|interesting female characters in books than interesting male ones.  I hope I was
|being gender aware.  I was certainly not taking a feminist perspective.
|Interestingly enough, I was re-reading Charles de Lint's The Little Country last
|week.  This is one of the few books that don't suffer a dearth of interesting
|female characters.  In fact, it was quite balanced.  But feminist?  Get away!

Again, going back to your definitions of feminism, by one
definition making those observations isn't feminist.  But by
another definition those observations most certainly are.

So I guess my point is just that using words like "feminism"
opens up a big old can of whoop-ass, because none of your
listeners will have exactly the same definition you do.

I suspect that if I did what I would consider to be a feminist
reading of _witch Week_ or _fire & hemlock_ there's a good
chance, given some of the definitions of "feminism" that are
bouncing around, that many people on the list wouldn't recognize
that I was doing a feminist reading.  But to me, it would be very
strongly touched by the ideas of feminism.

So the words getting bounced around are perhaps more relativist
than people think.  ;)

deborah at

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