French theorist Hélène Cixous first coined the term ècriture feminine in her 1975 essay “Laugh of the Medusa,” in which she wrote “Woman must write her self: must write about women and bring women to writing, from which they have been driven away as violently as from their bodies.” Within the essay, Cixous posited that women write their gender into their writing, that gender is embedded in the language women use.
Écriture feminine is the focus of the anthology Feminaissance, which began as a Cal Arts conference held in 2007 on the topics of feminism and women in writing. One of the key questions that arose at this conference was the concept of ècriture feminine, and whether there were in fact specifically feminine forms of text. The ideas expressed at this conference later lead to the creation of this rich anthology, in which multiple women explore the concept of feminine writing and gender in language through a myriad of methods. All of the pieces of the anthology are laid out on the page in halves and thirds, so that each page shows a discussion of the topic from many voices.
The responses vary vastly, with some women exploring theory, some women exploring concepts of what it means to be a woman, and some women writing fiction and memoir related to gender and sexuality. As a whole the book presents a compelling and thought-provoking discussion on the concept of feminine language and what it means to be female within today’s society.
Among the most compelling pieces within the anthology is Dodie Bellamy’s short story “Sexspace.” Bellamy explores the connections between language and gender and sexuality by depicting characters that enter into an Internet-like world in which sexuality is expressed through energy and language, rather than merely imprisoned within our physical bodies. The protagonist’s femaleness then becomes something that transcends her body, and is rooted instead within her language and energy. In a day and age where much of the communication around sexuality now happens online or via text message, this concept seems highly relevant. Eileen Myles then depicts the reverse within her work “Tapestry,” in which she explores women whose sense of self and sexuality is linked to their bodies; the protagonist then remembers her own female lovers by describing their breasts and vaginas in detail, linking them to their physicality and sexuality. In “Continuity” Chris Kraus laments on the state of female writing, declaring that such writing has a “pervasive schizophrenia” as the identity of women within society is constantly in flux.
As a graduate student in English reading the writing of Helene Cixous and Luce Irigay, ècriture feminine often felt a bit disconnected from real life, mired down in academic purposes. Feminaissance makes the ideas behind ècriture feminine far more accessible by applying and exploring Cixous’ ideas within the context of real life. Much like Inga Muscio’s groundbreaking book Cunt, Feminaissance succeeds in its ability to take feminist theory and apply it both to artistic expression and real life experience, making feminism feel more relevant and accessible.