Women's writing is not determined by biology, anatomy, or psychology. It comes from women's relation to the literary marketplace, from pressures to live public and private lives, from literary influence.
What is women's literature and is there a place for a women's literary history? The academic Elaine Showalter talks about her new book A Jury of Her Peers: American Women Writers From Anne Bradstreet to Annie Proulx (Knopf), and discusses some of these issues. Showalter argues that even today, after all these freaking years, women's writing remains largely unknown and that this is to do with the fact that women's writing hasn't been pulled together into a defined literary tradition.
The good news can be found in the progress that Showalter describes.
And the end of the story? In an earlier work, I talked about the phases of British women's literature: "feminine" (bowing to male expectations), "feminist" (rebelling), and "female" (articulating women's experience). By the 1980s and 90s, I think, we'd entered a new stage: "free." Women had joined the juries, as publishers, critics, reviewers, authors. No longer restricted to certain subjects, they could, for example, write about violence and boxing, as Joyce Carol Oates does. They could, like Raymond Carver, be minimalists (look at the understated style of Amy Hempel or Ann Beattie). They could write from any perspective, even a male one. They were multiculturalists.
That doesn't mean that their work has become fully integrated into our literary culture: That's why I wrote the book.