Photo by ainudil through a Creative Commons licence

I read Rachel Cusk’s piece about women’s writing in the Observer last year and have been thinking about it since then. It’s well worth reading in full but here are some extracts:

Half silence, half enigma: the words “women’s writing” connote not simply a literature made by women but one that arises out of, and is shaped by, a set of specifically female conditions. A book is not an example of “women’s writing” simply because it is written by a woman. Writing may become “women’s writing” when it could not have been written by a man.

If a woman feels suffocated and grounded and bewildered by her womanhood, she feels these things alone, as an individual: there is currently no public unity among women, because since the peak of feminism the task of woman has been to assimilate herself with man. She is, therefore, occluded, scattered, disguised. Were a woman writer to address her sex, she would not know who or what she was addressing. Superficially this situation resembles equality, except that it occurs within the domination of “masculine values”. What today’s woman has gained in personal freedom she has lost in political caste. Hers is still the second sex, but she has earned the right to dissociate herself from it.

The room, or the lack of it, doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with writing at all. It could be said that every woman should have a room of her own…. But it may equally be the case that a room of her own enables the woman writer to shed her links with femininity and commit herself to the reiteration of “masculine values”. The room itself may be the embodiment of those values, a conception of “property” that is at base unrelated to female nature.

Since reading it I’ve been thinking about how those arguments might apply to women in other socio-economic groups and cultures and also about the impact the internet might have for women in terms of opportunities to write and have their voices heard. I haven’t come up with anything conlusive but was interested to read James Bradley’s City of Tongues reflections on why women seem to dominate the blogosphere and use the medium to such great effect.