I like Chick Lit. I read Chick Lit. So why do I feel so uncomfortable about using the very name that seems to define this genre? Why does writing the words Chick and Lit together in a sentence make me feel like I’ve done something wrong? This month is apparently Chick Lit May and it got me thinking about my own relationship with the contentious moniker. What Is Chick Lit?
Inspired by two blog posts (which you can see here, and here) I decided it was time I tried to work out why I feel so awkward in my own relationship with it. Eager to begin immediately I started where all good researchers start: Wikipedia!
Thanks Wikipedia! So nothing too untoward there then. On the surface Chick Lit appears to be just another appealing catch-all term; like Rom-Com, Sit-Com, or Sci-Fi. It actually sounds quite appealing, but then perhaps I’m bias considering I am what might be called a ‘Modern Woman’.
Next I went to the fount of all knowledge, the search engine, where a search for Chick-Lit garnered 2,350,000 results and included articles with titles such as “What is Chick Lit” and “Top 10 Chick Lit” I scrolled through these until I discovered an article from the Daily Telegraph which caught my eye, it was written in 2011 but the theme seemed perennial. It was entitled “Chick-lit may be staggering on its heels, but it will survive” and was written by the popular author Jojo Moyes. She seemed to hit the nail on the head, Chick Lit, she wrote, seems to have become the derogatory catch-all for all women’s commercial fiction. Yes! I thought, this is getting closer to it.
Where’s the love for books about love?
The idea that Chick Lit is somehow derogatory is what really rankles with me. The attitude seems designed to make you feel a little guilty for deriving pleasure from something that is perceived to be sub-par because of it’s commerciality. The same way admitting to love of Eurovision caused a few raised eyebrows in my direction at the office last week. But that’s another story, for another day. It fits into my point though, we like to categorise things as serious and not serious, good…and bad. Eurovision is not serious, therefore it is bad- apparently. The same could be said for Chick Lit, as Wikipedia said, it often deals with things in a humorous and light-hearted way, so it’s not serious…we all know where this logic leads.
Hmm. A long time ago I wrote a piece in defence of Romance Fiction on The Female Scriblerian where I went into greater detail about the sales figures and popularity of this genre, which you can read here. But I was surprised to notice Jojo used similar logic in her own article, Chick Lit sells…a lot, but that seems to be a reason to deride it rather than promote it.
Another criticism that is hurled at Chick Lit is that it’s formulaic. This means it’s bad. However, the same level of criticism doesn’t seem to be aimed at other genres. Crime Fiction is, in my opinion, very formulaic, but people seem to be able to look past basic and repeated plot points to see the detail in a way they can’t with Chick Lit. Chick Lit encompasses a whole wealth of human experience, from dealing with abuse, fighting for a career, exploring self-hood, to yes, finding love. But this doesn’t matter, it seems, because it’s formulaic.
Let’s give Chick Lit a chance
There are so many books that seem to have been dubbed Chick Lit just because they were written by Women, and I think this is another reason I feel so uncomfortable with the term. It creates the idea not just that the genre itself is sub-par but that Authors who are Female don’t deserve the time it would take to properly define them. Women writing about women is sub-par is the connotation it seems to make, and it makes my blood boil.
So I guess my real issue with Chick Lit is not the books themselves, because I love them. It’s the attitude that surround them. The lack of care that goes into defining them. And the idea that the themes they deal with are so heavily gendered that they need to be properly defined so men don’t accidentally read them. I could go on, and on, and on, about sexism in the publishing industry but that is, perhaps, a topic that I will deal with another day. Suffice to say that although I still feel a little bit uncomfortable with the term Chick Lit, I will always champion it.
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