Feminist literature is based on the principles of feminism and includes all literary works centering on a woman's struggle for equality and to be accepted as a human being, before becoming a victim of gender stereotypes. Not all works in this category follow a direct approach towards this goal of equality. Women believed that society could change the way it perceived them only through such media. Not all authors of feminist literature are women and there are fictional as well as non-fictional works.
What identifies feminist literature are the many characteristics of the feminist movement. Authors of feminist literature are known to understand and explain the difference between gender and sex. They believe that while a person's sex is natural and predetermined, the society has created the gender along with a particular perception about gender roles. They also believe that gender roles can be altered over time.
The predominance of one gender over the other is a concept that can be seen in almost every society. The fact that this predominance is not in favor of women is an underlying, but blatant, characteristic of feminist literature. Authors in this category argue that any society that does not provide both genders equally with channels of learning and knowledge is not a complete and impartial society.
According to critics, male and female authors were not that different and it was not necessary to identify a separate class of literature as feminist or look for traces of feminism in literature. However, in any work of feminist literature, it is clear how the writer criticized the male-centered approach of society and tried to understand the beliefs and needs of the opposite sex with a subjective, rather than an objective, approach.
In Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, the protagonist, Elizabeth Bennett, was a woman who knew her own mind. She decided to follow her own path towards what she wanted in spite of the societal pressure to choose a partner and to lead a life that was pre-decided for all women. Austen did not approach any of these things blatantly. Elizabeth did not put on an outward fight in order to choose her life course. The entire work is subtle and the protagonist's only clear characteristic is assertiveness. This approach to such issues is very typical of feminist literature.
Women in feminist literature are always featured as the protagonist who usually does not readily accept the traditional female role determined by society. Women in such works are ready to make their own decisions, to express their personal choices as well as dealing with the consequences of these choices, decisions, and actions. Although every woman is a daughter, a mother, a sister or a wife, any work of feminist literature first deals with her as a woman. The identity of these female characters is not determined by these relationships, roles, or stereotypes. Rather, it is their choices and beliefs that define their identity and they are then associated with these roles.
Many literary works by men have also treated women as important subjects. Norwegian author and playwright Henrik Ibsen often focused on women, women's issues, the troubles they faced in society and the decisions they made on the basis of their personal values and beliefs. In his play A Doll's House the strength and character of the protagonist are clearly seen.
Some works of feminist literature, non –fiction in particular, showcase and stress women's suffrage and demand for equality in society, for political, economic and social rights. With time, the attack on male-dominated society became more forthright and straightforward, with women in feminist literature demanding a closer look into the patriarchal and capitalistic approach towards feminism.
Writers who wrote works with an underlying feminist principle include Jane Austen and Virginia Woolf as some of the earliest representatives of this movement. Feminist authors who wrote in the second half of the twentieth century and the beginning of the twenty-first century include Ursula Le Guin, Angela Carter, Jeannette Winterson, Aimee Bender, Edwidge Danticat, Suzan Lori-Parks, and Wendy Wasserstein.
Famous works of feminist literature, both non-fiction and fiction, include Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own, The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood, Simone de Beauvoir's The Second Sex, Susan Bordo's Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture, and the Body, Feminist Fairy Tales by Barbara G. Walker, Alice Childress's Like One of the Family, Azar Nafisi's Reading Lolita in Tehran, When Everything Changed by Gail Collins, and Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar.