Suck my chick lit

I am a big fan of chick lit. I’ve always been an avid reader and and I have a soft spot for fiction. I discovered chick lit seven years ago, and have enjoyed it ever since.

According to Wikipedia, chick lit is

“Genre fiction which addresses issues of modern womanhood, often humorously and lightheartedly… Although it sometimes includes romantic elements, chick lit is generally not considered a direct subcategory of the romance novel genre, because the heroine’s relationship with her family or friends is often just as important as her romantic relationships. Chick lit typically features a female protagonist whose womanhood is heavily thematized in the plot. Though most often set in a contemporary world, such as in Waiting to Exhale, there is also historical chick lit. The issues dealt with are often more serious than consumerism. Marian Keyes’s Watermelon, for instance, features a protagonist who wrestles with how to be a mother in a modern world. There is a growing market for religious chick lit. As with other types of genre fiction, authors and publishers target many niche markets. Protagonists vary widely in ethnicity, age, social status, marital status, career, and religion.”

So… basically chick lit is just fiction with a female protagonist and set in modern times (and for some reason, usually in either London or New York.)

A few years ago, I was talking to a friend about how I like chick lit and I said some of it covers some deep themes. This woman, a self-professed Pan-African feminist, laughed in my face and said “Which of them explore deep themes?” There’s something wrong when a self-identified feminist finds it hilarious that a book written by a woman, about a woman, and set in modern times, can have deep themes. You have to think not very much of women to think the idea that contemporary fiction by and about women, by definition, can’t explore deep themes.

When I was staying with a family in Ghana, the oldest son saw Song of Solomon in my room. He said he was surprised that I read books like that because “most books that are written by women are romance novels.”

One of the greatest American novelists, known for addressing complex issues of race, gender, and institutional discrimination having her entire body of work dismissed because she is a woman. (Shouldn’t the title alone have been a giveaway that it wasn’t going to be a romance story?) Song of Solomon doesn’t even fit into the (admittedly loose) definition of chick lit, but if it did, would that suddenly mean that it couldn’t be an important piece of literature? Would that fact alone make it worthy of derision?

Chick lit isn’t super easy to identify, if that Wikipedia definition is anything to go on. Chimamanda Adichie’s books are written by a woman and take place in metropolitan cities, in modern times, feature female protagonists, and often feature romantic relationships. Her work fits the description of chick lit, but is more commonly called “African literature” (another problematic designation. Have you ever heard of something called “North American literature” or “European literature”?). Authors like Marian Keyes, Anna Maxted, and Jennifer Weiner, and Dorothy Koomson are defined strictly as chick lit authors, but is there really a difference between the types of books that these authors are writing? These authors write about domestic violence, sexual assault, pregnancy, grief, human relationships, race, gender, class, and discrimination. But one of these is an author of “African literature” and the rest are authors of “chick lit.”

Madhulika Sikka, writer and executive editor of NPR, says “Men write novels, women write chick lit. This reductionist approach to the world of fiction has been so dominant in the last few years one could be forgiven for thinking that it is true, so often has it been repeated.” She has a point, although there is a corresponding men’s genre which some refer to as “dude lit”. Unfortunately, the authors of this type of fiction are given far more respect than their female counterparts- no doubt in part because of the common assumption that there are people, and then there are women.

Why are people so quick to dismiss this entire genre? My sister said she doesn’t read chick lit because she’s read some and found it to be lacking. She does read sci-fi and fantasy, and I asked her if she didn’t think there was bad sci-fi or fantasy. Her answer: “A lot of it is really bad.” And yet, that hasn’t put her off the genres entirely.

The sweeping dismissal of chick lit is just another form of sexism- if it’s by a woman, features a woman, and written with women in mind, then it must be frivolous and useless- just like women.


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