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.


Ungendering language

In 2015, hen will officially enter Sweden’s lexicon as a gender-neutral pronoun.

While some complain that this is “taking it too far” (a concept I addressed here and here), it’s really a step in the right direction. Sure, it may make for some occasionally confusing conversations, but the overwhelming majority of the time, knowing someone’s sex or gender identity isn’t really, or shouldn’t be a factor in one’s interaction with them.

Besides, gender-neutral pronouns are nothing new. The thing is, I’m not sure they make any difference. In Ghana, which is hands down the most gendered society I’ve ever lived in, the lingua franca, Twi, uses a gender-neutral pronoun. It doesn’t make anything even remotely egalitarian.

The world actually goes too far in the gendering of things. In many languages, inanimate objects are gendered. As far as I can tell, the only reason for this is to reinforce imagined differences between men and women by using language. There is nothing bad about removing artificial barriers that are held in place only by blind adherence.

John McWhorter argues that such a thing would be impossible in English, although teens already proving that idea wrong.

Why not embrace gender-neutral language? Although it’s not going to fix everything, maybe it will make us less quick to make assumptions about things based on supposed traits. Maybe I won’t be asked why I don’t wear nail polish or told by someone I’m dating that I need to wear dresses or he won’t be attracted to me anymore if I’m thought of primarily as a person rather than a woman first. Maybe men like Sissy Goodwin won’t be physically and verbally attacked for wearing clothes that they like if we just think of people as being people.


How to be/not to be an ally

I am no expert on trans rights, but over the past several years, trans activism- blogs, videos, magazine articles- has taught me a lot about my privilege as a cis-woman, and how to be a good ally to those who are not.

Among those great teachers are Janet Mock, Laverne Cox, and TransGriot.

A few weeks ago, Cox and Carmen Carrera were on Katie Couric’s talk show, Katie. As Sunnivie Brydum wrote on Advocate, they were subjected to Couric’s “spurious line of questioning wherein the host seemed fixated on the trans women’s genitalia, and the details of what gender-confirming surgeries the women may have undergone.”

Both women explained why it was harmful to trans people to constantly fixate on their “private parts”, rather than on real issues that affect the community. Cox said:

There’s a preoccupation with that and I think that the preoccupation with transition and surgery objectifies trans people and then we don’t get to really deal with the real, lived experiences. The reality of trans people’s lives is so often we are targets of violence. We experience discrimination disproportionately to the rest of the community. Our unemployment rate is twice the national average. If you’re a trans person of color, it’s four times the average. The homicide rate in the LGBT community is highest amongst trans women. And when we focus on transition, we don’t actually get to talk about those things.

Couric reacted exactly how an ally should- she left the moment in when she aired in what she called a “teachable” moment, and thanked her guests for the correction, saying “You’re so well-spoken about it. That’s very well put. Laverne and Carmen, thank you both so much for being here.”

By contrast, Piers Morgan demonstrated exactly how not to be an ally when Janet Mock was a guest on his show, Piers Morgan Live. After her appearance, Mock sent out three tweets expressing disapproval with the way the show said that “she was born a boy” and that she “used to be a man.” Morgan then invited her to return to the show to explain.

Morgan made the second interview entirely about himself, how he had done nothing but support the LGBT community, how he had told Mock that she looked like Beyonce, how Marie Claire had run an article about Mock called I Was Born a Boy and therefore Mock had no right to object to being misgendered by his show. Morgan is now calling himself a victim of “cisphobia,” something that’s so absurd as to be laughable. Trans people do not have power over cis people, and the idea that an underprivileged community can pose any kind of a threat to a member of the most privileged one (white, straight, cis, upper-class, male) illustrates exactly how much Morgan has no desire to learn.

Something that Couric, Morgan, and many cis people (including me!) have in common is that we all have to shut up and listen if we really want to understand issues that affect trans men, trans women, trans POC.


Let’s not give gays the right to get married

I remember talking to a friend a few years ago about how I don’t like the phrase “given the right.” For example, in New York, gay people have been “given the right” to marry. If it’s a right, then it’s not really something to be given, is it? Who is it that’s doing the giving? Is it straights who have been gracious enough to bestow upon homosexuals the right to marry the people they love? Is it the state “giving” people a right that they already possess, by virtue of it being a right?

Human rights are something that we have because of the fact that we’re human. Sure, if they are not endorsed and protected by the state, then having a right means absolutely nothing. Go and tell a homeless person living in the slums of Delhi that they have the right to food, shelter, education, and information. Having a right means nothing if it’s not fulfilled, even if they are “inalienable and universal.” For a right to mean anything, people have to be able to realize them.

History also talks of women being “given” the right to vote. As recently as 2005, Kuwaiti women were “given” the right to vote. But if it’s a right, then it wasn’t really given to them, was it? They already had it.

My friend asked me how I thought it should be phrased, if not “given the right.” I don’t know if I have the right answer to that, but maybe we can talk about “returning the right” instead. If it’s a right, then you had it until someone or something took it away from you. If you steal my car and then bring it back, you’re not giving me a car. You’re returning what’s rightfully mine.

It sounds awkward when I say it out loud. But maybe the reason it sounds so awkward is because the way we phrase it reflects how we think about it. Rights are not something that the privileged class goes around sprinkling on underprivileged people at whim. Rights are something that people innately possess, although they sometimes have to fight to get them back; sometimes losing their lives in the process.

The reason that people fight for their rights, even knowing that they risk death, is because they know how important they are. Being chained by oppression, being seen as less than human just for being how and who you are, whether that’s being female, trans, African, indigenous, or gay; the constant threat of violence and imprisonment is no way to live. Let’s not “give” anyone the right to do anything. Let’s work on restoring to people what was theirs in the first place.