The idea of the female aesthetic has generally been divided into French and American schools, both representing different projections of the inherent differences between the language of women and men. Though both schools aim at essentially the same goal -- the emergence of a specifically female body of literature, necessarily separate from traditional (male) literature -- they have approached it from different positions.
Simone de Beauvoir
The French school, headed by Simone de Beauvoir and Helene Cixous argues an essentialist definition of woman and her history, often tied to a unifying, biological female difference, while the American school argues a difference that is based more on social realities and one that leans away from the French essentialism. Though the dissection of the female aesthetic theorists is much more complex than this, I will, for the sake of length and time, examine one of the most influential female aesthetic writers as a spokesperson for its foundational aspects, Helene Cixous, and test her notions of the female aesthetic against The Lieutenant Nun, the memoir of the seventeenth-century Spanish woman, Catalina de Erauso. In testing Cixous' notions against this text as well as those of other feminist critics whom she has influenced, the ways will be shown in which her theory may be somewhat exclusive and self-defeating, and therefore may need to be expanded upon and re-interpreted. This interpretation will allow such a text as Erauso's, one which does not contend with Cixous' notions of the female aesthetic, to be considered as one that does in fact speak from a female voice, one which uses the structure of a male tradition in order to calculate a critical estimation of a society, thereby revising and feminizing the tradition itself. In this way, through a revision of Cixous' theory, we can recognize a tradition of all female voices, both those that may have been stifled by their social limitations and structures, and those that have defied those limitations.
part two: argument