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Feminist Literary Theory  
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In Homographesis (1994), Lee Edelman draws on Sedgwick's work, as well as on feminist analyses of sexual difference, to explore the invention of male identities in nineteenth- and twentieth-century literature and film.

Feminist literary theory has made a number of other important contributions to gay male studies. In "Engendering F.O.M: The Private Life of American Renaissance," Michael Cadden utilizes feminist insights concerning the interconnections between the private and public spheres to argue that sexuality plays an unrecognized role in the construction of literary canons.

Like earlier feminists, Cadden simultaneously builds on and calls for alterations in currently existing theories. By demonstrating that F. O. Matthiessen's attempt to separate his private life as a gay male from his public life as a scholar resulted in the construction of a highly masculinized literary tradition, Cadden emphasizes the importance of developing a politics of sexuality.

In "Homo-Narcissism; Or, Heterosexuality," Michael Warner applies insights concerning gender domination developed by Simone de Beauvoir and other feminists to explore the inadequacies in psychoanalytic descriptions of male homosexuality as narcissism; and in "Redeeming the Phallus: Wallace Stevens, Frank Lentricchia, and the Politics of (Hetero)Sexuality," Edelman draws on earlier work by Elaine Showalter, Sandra Gilbert, and others to develop a gay reading practice.

Feminist Literary Theory and the Analysis of Oppression

In addition to these analyses of gender-specific representations of hetero- and homosexualities, theorists have built on feminism's explorations of the differences among women to examine the complex interconnections between various forms of oppression.

As with lesbian-feminists' challenge to the homophobia in much feminist literary criticism, this realization developed from within feminism itself.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Audre Lorde, Cherríe Moraga, Gloria Anzaldúa, Paula Gunn Allen, and other self-identified lesbians of color drew on existing feminist analyses of gender-based oppressions to argue that although all women are oppressed in Western cultures, the types of oppression they experience are not identical, for gender itself is variously inflected by ethnicity, sexuality, economic status, and other systems of difference.

As an examination of recent work by Sedgwick, Gloria Anzaldúa, Judith Butler, and others indicates, this challenge to Euro-American feminists' ethnocentric conceptions of female identity has had a significant impact on the developing fields of lesbian, gay, and queer theory.

In Epistemology of the Closet, Sedgwick builds on feminist explorations of differentially structured systems of oppressions, as well as arguments concerning the interconnections between personal and political issues, to analyze the growing homophobia triggered by AIDS.

In Bodies That Matter (1993), Butler draws on feminist analyses of gendered ethnicities to explore the interconnections between appropriation and agency in twentieth-century literature and film; and in "To(o) Queer the Writer--Loca, escritora y chicana" (1991), Gloria Anzaldúa builds on already existing feminist analyses of the erasure of women to develop an inclusionary yet culture-specific theory of queer reading and writing.


As this brief overview indicates, feminist literary theory, which itself draws on and transforms many other theoretical perspectives, represents a tradition far too diverse to be summarized easily.

Although the theoretical perspectives mentioned illustrate some of the ways feminist literary theory has influenced lesbian, gay, and queer studies, the connections between these quickly growing fields are far more numerous than this survey can indicate.

Moreover, the dynamic interchange between feminist, lesbian, gay, and queer theorists has redefined feminism itself. This productive dialogue ensures that all four areas of study will continue changing, affecting each other in increasingly complex ways.

AnnLouise Keating

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social sciences >> Overview:  Cultural Studies

The field of cultural studies has significance for glbtq people because of its concern with social and sexual politics, its focus on subcultural production and consumption, and its commitment to progressive social change.

social sciences >> Overview:  Gay, Lesbian, and Queer Studies

Gay, lesbian, and queer studies are separate but related fields of cultural inquiry that attempt to establish the centrality of gender and sexuality within a particular area of investigation.

literature >> Overview:  Gender

The theory that gender relations are socially constructed categories of meaning has opened up a number of new areas in lesbian, gay, and queer studies.

literature >> Overview:  Identity

Although the question of homosexual identity is a complex one, it has polarized activists, theorists, and literary critics into two primary camps, essentialists and constructionists, both of which can contribute usefully to an understanding of the gay and lesbian literary heritage.

literature >> Overview:  Literary Theory: Gay, Lesbian, and Queer

Although gay, lesbian, and queer theory are related practices, the three terms delineate separate emphases marked by different assumptions about the relationship between gender and sexuality.

social sciences >> Overview:  Women's Studies

Women's studies, an interdisciplinary academic field that was inaugurated at major universities around 1970, is now offered at every conceivable type of academic institution throughout the world.

literature >> Allen, Paula Gunn

Of mixed Native American, Scottish, and Lebanese heritage, American poet and literary scholar Paula Gunn Allen reinterprets the historic and mythic beliefs of Native Americans from a twentieth-century lesbian-feminist perspective.

literature >> Anzaldúa, Gloria

American Latina lesbian editor and writer Gloria Anzaldúa connected racism and homophobia to posit a political queerness that interconnects with all struggles against oppression.

literature >> Beauvoir, Simone de

Best known for her revolutionary study of women's condition, The Second Sex (1949) and as the companion of philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir had a number of same-sex relationships during her life.

literature >> Cixous, Hélène

French feminist theorist and novelist Hélène Cixous celebrates female homoeroticism and feminist solidarity.

literature >> Lorde, Audre

The work of African-American activist and writer Audre Lord was greatly influenced by her lesbianism.

literature >> Matthiessen, F.O.

Critic F. O. Matthiessen was instrumental in the inclusion of gay writers in American literary history, and the exchange of letters between him and his lover Russell Cheney are among the most revealing gay male documents of the 1920s.

literature >> Moraga, Cherríe

In her own works, Cherríe Moraga defines her experience as a Chicana lesbian; and in her capacity as editor/publisher, she provides a forum for traditionally silenced lesbians of color.

literature >> Pastre, Geneviève

One of France's leading lesbian theorists and political activists, Geneviève Pastre is a writer and publisher who has made lesbian feminism the root of her political and literary work.

literature >> Rich, Adrienne

Adrienne Rich, who aestheticized politics and politicized aesthetics, is America's most widely read lesbian poet.


Anzaldúa, Gloria. "To(o) Queer the Writer--Loca, escritora y chicana." Inversions: Writing by Dykes, Queers, and Lesbians. Betsy Warland, ed. Vancouver: Press Gang, 1991.

Boone, Joseph A., and Michael Cadden, eds. Engendering Men: The Question of Male Feminist Criticism. New York: Routledge, 1990.

Butler, Judith. Bodies That Matter: On The Discursive Limits of "Sex." New York: Routledge, 1993.

_____. Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. New York: Routledge, 1989.

Cixous, Hélène and Catherine Clément. The Newly Born Woman. Trans. Betsy Wing. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1988.

de Lauretis, Teresa. "Sexual Indifference and Lesbian Representation." Theatre Journal 40 (1988): 155-177.

Edelman, Lee. Homographesis: Essays in Gay Literary and Cultural Theory. New York: Routledge, 1994.

Farwell, Marilyn R. "Toward a Definition of the Lesbian Literary Imagination." Signs 14 (1988): 100-118.

Meese, Elizabeth A. (Sem)Erotics Theorizing Lesbian: Writing. New York: New York University Press, 1992.

Rich, Adrienne. "Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence." Signs 5 (1980): 631-660.

Roof, Judith. A Lure of Knowledge: Lesbian Sexuality and Theory. New York: Columbia University Press, 1991.

Rubin, Gayle. "Thinking Sex: Notes for a Radical Theory of the Politics of Sexuality." Pleasure and Danger: Exploring Female Sexuality. Carole S. Vance, ed. 1984. New York: Pandora, 1992. 267-319.

_____. "The Traffic in Women: Notes on the 'Political Economy' of Sex." Toward an Anthropology of Women. Rayna R. Reiter, ed. New York: Monthly Review, 1975. 157-210.

Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky. Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire. New York: Columbia University Press, 1985.

_____. Epistemology of the Closet. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990.

_____. Tendencies. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1993.

Showalter, Elaine, ed. Speaking of Gender. New York: Routledge, 1989.

Smith, Barbara. "Toward a Black Feminist Criticism." 1977. The New Feminist Criticism: Essays on Women, Literature, Theory. Elaine Showalter, ed. New York: Pantheon, 1985.


    Citation Information
    Author: Keating, AnnLouise  
    Entry Title: Feminist Literary Theory  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated July 6, 2005  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 1995, 2002 New England Publishing Associates  


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