So Salon has an interesting article by Laura Miller entitled "Why Can't a Woman Write the Great American Novel?" The article is actually a review of a book, "A Jury of Her Peers: American Women Writers From Anne Bradstreet to Annie Proulx," by Elizabeth Showalter.
Here's some of what Miller writes in the Salon piece:
Why, for example, did Britain produce several women novelists of genius during the 19th century -- Jane Austen, George Eliot and the Brontës, as well as accomplished lesser artists like Elizabeth Gaskell -- while America did not? That question could (and sometimes does) lead to a lot of speculation on the national characters of the English-speaking peoples, but Showalter mentions an equally plausible, practical cause: "While English women novelists, even those as poor as the Brontës, had servants, American women were expected to clean, cook and sew; even in the South, white women in slaveholding families were trained in domestic arts." Quite a few of the short biographical sketches she offers feature women complaining about being compelled by parents to learn to make pies or mend when they would rather write.
For the entire article go here.