Powerpoint on Feminist Theory and True Womanhood


Feminist Theory

AP Literature and Composition Unit 3: The Awakening

Friday, December 14

Aim: What is feminist theory and how is it applied to literature?

Do now: What is feminism in your own words?

Homework: Wordly Wise Lesson 6 (Quiz on Tuesday)

What is Feminist Theory?

Feminists seek to study and understand the ways in which women are oppressed– socially, economically, politically, and psychologically.

Examines the ways in which our personal identity is formed by our culture’s definitions of what it means to be a man or a woman. Examines the ways in which men and women are treated differently based on gender. Men are socialized to be masculine and women are socialized to be feminine.


Patriarchal ideology is a system of beliefs and assumptions that privilege men in positions of leadership and authority.

It is difficult to identify clearly because most of us experience it to such a saturated degree, which makes this ideology that much more dangerous.

Patriarchal women support living in a world that favors male authority.

Traditional Gender Roles

What are the roles traditionally prescribed to women?

What are the roles traditionally prescribed to men?

What happens when men and women do not conform to these traditional roles?

Patriarchal Vs. Anti-patriarchal Literature

Patriarchal - Sometimes a text illustrates patriarchal ideology because it supports and approves of it Anti-patriarchal- A literary work can also illustrate patriarchal ideology in order to show us what’s wrong with that ideology A third, less common, type of text offers positive portrayals of characters who violate traditional gender roles, for example female characters who are independent, or male characters who are admirably sensitive

“Good Girls” and “Bad Girls”

From a patriarchal perspective, women who adhere to traditional gender roles are considered “good girls.” They are put on pedestals and idealized as pure, angelic creatures whose sense of self consists mainly or entirely of their usefulness to their husbands, fathers, or brothers. In contrast, women who violate traditional gender roles are thought of as “bad girls,” especially if they violate the rules of sexual conduct for patriarchal women, such as dressing or behaving in a manner that could be considered sexually provocative. Patriarchal men sleep with and then discard “bad girls”—who are relegated to the role of sex objects—but they marry “good girls,” because only a “good girl” is considered worthy of bearing a man’s name and children.

“Good Girls” and “Bad Girls”

Feminist theory points out, however, that both “good girls” and “bad girls” are objectified by patriarchy. They are not viewed as independent human beings with their own goals, needs, and desires. Rather, they are evaluated only in terms of their usefulness to patriarchal men. Even those stereotypes that appear to be “positive,” such as virginal angels and selfless nurturers, are damaging because they reduce women to their roles as patriarchal objects and suggest that “good” women aspire to be nothing else.

Monday, December 17

Aim: How did the “true woman” differ from the “new woman” in the late 19 th century?

Do Now: Which of the traditional male and female stereotypes still true in modern society? Homework: Lesson 6 in Wordly Wise

The True Woman

describe society’s ideal women of the early to mid 19th century marked by her modesty, submissive nature, religious and moral piety, and dedication to home, husband and family, total sexual innocence Further supporting the notion of women’s proper place within the home was a belief in the moral superiority of women and the idealization of women’s sole function as mother and homemaker

The True Woman- Property

women’s lives were dominated by men, especially in regards to the law and the vote The notion of the True Woman developed from a long standing western ideology rooted in medieval religious culture which declared women inferior and wicked Woman was defined as a creature of the heart, who acted largely from her affections; man, as a creature of the mind, who was moved primarily by his reason

The True Woman- Weakness

Contributing to the notion of intellectual weakness, women were thought to be physically handicapped by their reproductive organs, making them nervous and weak. It was thought that if over-stimulated, a woman’s extremely fragile nervous system could send her into sickness or hysteria. strenuous work outside of the home or basic exercise was considered dangerous for women, further lending to the notion that it was proper and safer for women to remain primarily inside of the home

The True Woman- Work

Another social prejudice of American society in mid 19th century was the idea that women who worked outside of the home were less respectable than those who remained in the home. A respectable woman was thought to not be required, nor desire to work outside of her natural sphere of home.

They assisted in keeping house, bringing comfort and cheer to their fathers until the time came for them to get married.

A woman’s status was dependent on the social and economic success of first her father, and once married, her husband

The True Woman- Identity

It is important to note that Victorian women referred to themselves as True Women.

There was even a journal entitled The True Woman which was published annually. It discussed the changes in women’s roles and activities but stressed the need to direct women’s attention back to their “natural” interests of the home. The journal was opposed to women’s suffrage.

The True Woman became an emblem and symbol for domesticity.

The New Woman

The term referred to women whose roles and activities began to change from the ideal of the True Woman The New Woman widened her sphere as she became involved in activities previously held exclusively in the male sphere of business, politics, college, sports and other physical activities, and the workplace she represented a new ideology of women and their role in society. The presence of a New Woman in society also meant that the meaning of femininity and masculinity were being redefined within American culture

The New Woman- Activities

The changes in women’s lives were defined at the time as “the advancement of women.” In response to years of exclusion from all male literary and political clubs some women’s clubs featured various lectures on literature and politics.

Education was crucial in narrowing the gaps of inequality between men and women around the turn of the century. Before the New Woman, a woman’s education was limited and intended to bring out her ‘natural’ submission to authority and innate maternal instincts.

The New Woman- Bicycle

Women strengthened not only their minds but their bodies. They participated in sports that had been considered “masculine” like swimming, hiking, tennis, and bicycling.

The invention and popularity of the bicycle had direct effect on the perception of the New Woman. Because it was very difficult to ride a bicycle with a skirt and impossible to ride side saddle as you would a horse, baggy pants were invented for the activity- changing the style of women’s fashion.

The bicycle became an image for “new woman” because it represented a strong, free, capable, and independent woman who was not afraid to show her resistance to the norm.

The New Woman- Work

At the turn of the century, increasing numbers of women entered the work force Employment was still segregated by “male” and “female” jobs, which guided young people in directions that suited their sex as well as their racial and social backgrounds.

Advice columns encouraged female clerks to work obediently and silently, whereas young male clerks were urged to demonstrate their intelligence, confidence, energy, and leadership in the hopes of promotion.

The New Woman- Education

one of the features of the New Woman was her rising level of education, whether that included completing high school or pursuing college for higher education. From 1870 on, the majority of high school graduates were female.

Higher education supported women’s pursuits, particularly upper and middle class women who could afford higher education. Between 1880 and 1920, the number of four year collegiate degrees conferred on women increased from 2,500 to 16,600.

Resistance to the New Woman

The New Woman did not arise in American culture without first being met with fear, skepticism and resistance.

It was thought that the “idea” of the New Woman could never become a reality because it seemed appropriate in theory, but not possible in society.

Fears regarding the place of men and women were similar to general fears of uncertainty in an ever changing modern world.


Liberated women would avoid marriage and would bear children outside of wedlock, or that women would cease having children altogether.

Women would abandon their natural destiny of home and child care because they were distracted by education and the potential for a career.

It was believed that a woman’s body and mind could not handle such stimuli and activity outside of the home and that their personal nerves and nervous system as a whole would suffer as a result of such a lifestyle