According to Elaine Showalter, the evolution of women has taken three phases. Showalter breaks down women movements into three categories namely the feminine phase, a period that began with the use of the male pseudonym dating between 1840 and 1880, the feminist stage dating between 1880 and 1920 and thirdly the female phase starting 1920 to date(1). Showalter associates the end of the feminine phase with George Elliot’s death in 1880 and the end of the feminist state with the vote of 1920. The third stage according to her includes the period of self-awareness that came in the 1960s. In her analysis, she considers a number of factors to reach her conclusions. Different cultures, physical experience and the life cycle of women form the major points in her argument.
Showalter characterizes the feminine stage with writers including George Eliot and Florence Nightingale together with the latter generation of writers such as Charlotte Yonge and Elizabeth Lynn Linton(1). These writers according to her had the common characteristic of attempting to join the public ranks that was traditionally a male field and in so doing developed the conflict of obedience to the already existing cultural norms and resistance to comply with these existing norms. Showalter claims these conflicts are evidenced by the novels written by these novelists.
The feminist stage according to Showalter is characterized by women fighting to change the existing cultures whereby they demanded the recognition of their rights and sovereignty. Writers of this time she claims the fight took several forms. Firstly, their literature aired their sense of injustice in an acceptable manner. This often took the form of commentaries that related women’s injustices to those of lower class individuals such as the poor and prostitutes. In the 1870s, with the onset of writers such as Rhoda Broughton and Florence Marryat, feminists protested against marriage and economic oppression. This period according to Showalter was characterized by feminists demanding privileges similar to their male counterparts.
The female stage is characterized by a period of self-discovery and freedom for women. Writers of this period such as Katherine Mansfield and Virginia Woolf worked to achieve female aesthetic and elevate sexuality (Showalter, 2). Like the feminists, the female generation of writers applied cultural analysis in their works. Latter writers mostly in the 1960s are characterized by using anger and sexuality as a source of female creative ability (Showalter, 2)
Showalter Elaine. Women in Literature – A Literary Overview. Web. 05 January , 2014.< https://bbhosted.cuny.edu/bbcswebdav/pid-15456412-dt-content-rid-41963755_1/courses/LEH01_ENG_234_IJ1A_1142_WIN/Women%20in%20Literature%20%E2%80%94%20A%20Literary%20Overview.pdf>