How do the new “gender movements” (feminism, gay and lesbian liberation) articulate their concerns in recent British poetry?

Elaboration, 2006

10 Pages, Grade: 2,7


British poetry after 1945 has seen many changes not only concerning themes but also concerning the writers of poetry. While there was not much women, gay and lesbian poetry before the 1960s, women, gay, and lesbian writers came to the notice in the early 1960s. Ever since the 1960s, more women and homosexual poets have published their poems than ever before and forced their way into the mainstream. Nevertheless, as members of a minority group in writing, they all have to carry a burden. Therefore, writers express their concerns through their every day experiences, but want to challenge their being as writers of a minority group in order to be acknowledged as mainstream writers.

Poetry in Britain started with male writers. When you consider anthologies of verse, you can see that women poets were not to be found in there, but traditional British poetry generally lacked women writers. In anthologies or collections women were virtually overlooked, but in Jane Dowson’s view, they were respected in their time, even if they were forgotten later on (239). Dowson also suggests that périodisation was and still is hostile to women because it is built upon publishing history (239). Many women did not publish their poems because it was a male dominated profession, but if they published they could not publish all of their poetry because women poetry was undervalued. Therefore, it was very likely that previous poems written by women were published after their deaths.

Another fact why women poets were so rare in British poetry is nationality. Peter Childs says that Englishness was mainly a male affair and it was not accessible to women and he thus suggests that nationality was an issue of gender (160). Women at that time were “positioned outside a masculine patriotism that had appropriated English identity” (Childs 160). Lyn Pykett implies that a woman poet was only the Muse of the male but the writer was male because men did not take women seriously (253). Women had then to take on the roles of inspirer and helpmate, as Childs suggests, but this kind of adopting led to stereotyping (161). According to Childs, there are three stereotypes of the woman poet: ‘Mrs Dedication’, ‘Miss Eccentric Spinster’, and ‘Mad Girl’, while each of them is characterized as having a certain relationship to men (164). As there are stereotypes of female poets, women poetry has undergone three stages: “traditionalist poetry, écriture feminine, and representations of self’ (Childs 163).

A way in which women try to establish themselves in the male dominated world of poetry is to use a different language. Women use language differently in order to show and to extol their differences, as Dowson argues, women use their poetry to manipulate language codes because they take advantage of the critical openness toward unfixing traditional subject positions (243).

Some female poets only want to reinforce their background, while using a certain type of English and mixing it with slang or informal language. In Jane Dowson’s view, it is language and form that need to be emphasised in order to stress the selfconscious preoccupation with the relationship between language and identity (247). Dowson furthermore implies that metalanguage plays a part in poetry and explains that “poetry is a privileged metalanguage in western patriarchal culture” and thus poetry seemed to “imitate a closed linguistic system” (247). This kind oflanguage use in poems is hence the answer to male poetry.

Next to the common theme of nationality, daily experiences including discussions of sex, gender and family dominated female poetry. Since several changes took place at the beginning of the 1960s attitudes toward female sexuality changed and became a main theme in women poetry. As Childs suggests, women’s experience of sex was no longer portrayed in terms of men’s, so private desire was the key to counter-cultural revolt (167). In Childs’s view, sex was rather seen in terms of pleasure and diversity instead of referring to marriage, procreation, and morality (167). To help to get more control over people and their sex lives reforms, such as the Abortion Act, were passed in England during the 1960s and 1970s. Experiences resulting from reforms passed in England and the then openly discussed sexual matters all influenced female writers to write down their concerns in their poetry.

Since the institution of family has always been a recurring issue for women, the issue seemed to be a very important one for women writers in the 1960s. The 1960s brought several changes for women and families in general. Fewer couples wanted to have children, so the increase in the use of the birth control pill favoured the new thinking of women. Married couples only wanted to have one child and would “fall into the ‘two adults plus dependent children’ nuclear model” (Childs 168). Women were afraid of being perceived as the housewife only who stayed at home and cared for her family all day long. Women wanted to break out of domestic roles so it was the “woman’s struggle to reconcile her own sense of desire and authenticity with socially sanctioned feminine roles” (Pykett 265). Women became writers because writing can be done at home. Poems gave women the opportunity to “travel out of the limitations of her own (domestic) time and space and [...] embark on an inner journey” (Pykett 265). Another important factor to consider was the increase in divorces, so that meant the more divorced couples with children the more single-parent families were to be found. Childs implies there has been the trend towards female participation in the labour force (168).


Excerpt out of 10 pages


How do the new “gender movements” (feminism, gay and lesbian liberation) articulate their concerns in recent British poetry?
Free University of Berlin  (Institut für Englische Philologie)
Surveying English Literatures II: Poetry of the Postwar Period
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ISBN (Book)
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British Poetry of the Post-War, Poetry of the Postwar Period, gay and lesbian poetry, gender movements, feminism, gay and lesbian liberation, 1945-1990s
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Magister Anke Werckmeister (Author), 2006, How do the new “gender movements” (feminism, gay and lesbian liberation) articulate their concerns in recent British poetry?, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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