It is of course possible for women to read literature and not adopt a militant feminist perspective. There are countless millions women who read all sorts of literature in school and in their spare time who do not recognize or notice the reasons why they should be adopting a feminist perspective. In order for one to appreciate the ways in which literature can demean and belittle women, one must first have some base-level understanding of feminism and the issues of patriarchy in literature. Many people do not have this, including women who have been trained in some ways to reject feminist concepts. This happens all over the world, especially in places where more conservative educational systems are in place. It is especially true in parts of the US and Europe where religious forces play a major role in shaping the ways people understand literature.

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However, people reading literature should adopt a militant feminist approach. It is almost impossible to read literature and not recognize the ways in which women are reduced by their characterizations. Over and over in literature, women are reduced down to sex objects or other distractions to men. The first book that one might read in order to get this is the Bible, and it continues on from there. Even looking at some of the old epics, such as The Odyssey, one can see that women are painted as being a mere distraction to the men who are on some great mission to save the world. While there have been quite a few writers over the years who have been able to challenge the gender and sex norms in their own society, the bulk of literature has been more like a mirror, shining down on society and showing the myriad ways women are mistreated, maligned, and otherwise marginalized by the larger societal forces at play.

Works Cited

  • Bakan, David. And they took themselves wives: The emergence of patriarchy in western civilization. HarperCollins Publishers, 1979.

  • Radway, Janice A. Reading the romance: Women, patriarchy, and popular literature. Univ of North Carolina Press, 2009.