Why I Hate Women’s Fiction.

Why I hate women’s fiction and think it is the worst marketing strategy in publishing

Okay, I must confess: I may have slightly mislead you with a the title. Clickbaited, you could say, in order to entice you into what I have to say. However, it’s a half-truth, and I want to explain why. A fair warning though: it’s about to get super ranty up in here.

It’s not so much that I hate women’s fiction, or ‘chick lit’ as it’s colloquially named. I have no problem with female-led, romance-driven stories — they’ve been given this name that is so looked down upon. ‘Chick lit’ is seen as fluffy and frivolous, not worthy of praise or merit just because its stories predominantly focus on women and their ‘womanly’ problems.

Another term I hate? ‘Beach read’. ‘This is a great beach read!’ is basically a synonym for chick lit; another term to belittle those who enjoy lighthearted books centred around women. It’s also just plain dumb, because anything can be a beach read; I once read Invisible Monsters by Chuck Palanuick on a beach, but will you see anyone labelling that as a beach read? I don’t think so.

There’s a lot of hypocrisy when it comes to ‘women’s fiction’. If Helen Fielding writes about a woman on a quest for love — it’s chick lit. But if David Nichols writes about two young people in love, torn part by circumstance — it’s ‘coming of age’. If Lindsey Kelk writes about overseas romancing — it’s chick lit. But if Danny Wallace writes about a guy chasing after a girl he fell head over heels for at first sight — it’s ‘contemporary fiction’. Do you see where I’m going with this?

Nowhere on the internet or in bookstores will you find the ‘men’s fiction’ section because there is simply no such thing. Sci-fi and fantasy have always been regarded as traditionally male-dominated (even then, only by about 57%) genres, yet no-one was running to put a stamp that said ‘men’s fiction’ across Lord of the Rings and 1984. Because these books, though harbouring mostly male protagonists and exploring themes catering to men, are still ‘acceptable’ for women to enjoy, whereas most women’s fiction is not regarded acceptable for men to enjoy.

Although, funny story, while doing some research for one of my assignments, I found out that in the late 90’s and early 00’s, critics actually did try to make something called ‘lad lit’ happen. LAD LIT. Can you imagine?! As writers like Nick Hornby and Tony Parson became popular for writing emotionally-driven, family-centred stories, book marketers decided put a label on this type of fiction to appeal to more male readers.

What bothered me as I dove in deeper into my investigation, is that ‘lad lit’ was still highly regarded by society, unlike the women’s fiction that was, and still is, often snubbed. According to Elaine Showalter, at the ‘lowest’ end of lad lit, it was the “masculine version of the ‘Bridget Jones Phenomenon'”, however at the ‘highest’ end, it was a “masterly examination of male identity in contemporary Britain.” It’s completely irritating, because when was the last time you saw ‘chick lit’ regarded as a masterful examination of female identity? Why is ‘low level lad lit’ akin to the likes of Bridget Jones, arguably one of the most popular books of all time because of it resonance to many modern women? It’s insulting.

But, like fetch, ‘lad lit’ was not going to happen, as it was still predominantly read by women (could be to do with the fact that women read more than men, but maybe not. Who knows?)

I hate the culture of shame around it all. That as a woman, you’re somehow less than, or not seen as intelligent, if you happen to read a lot of chick lit. Or that a man will be berated or thought of as gay if he happens to enjoy the likes of Bridget Jones’ Diary and P.S. I Love You. It’s just so backwards. If I come across someone who likes to read about philosophy and science, I don’t think of them as intelligent, and therefore more ‘superior’, than me. I just think that they’re interest in philosophy and science. Just like if I come across someone who like to read ‘women’s fiction’, I don’t think of them as stupid or immature (or gay, if they happen to be male), I just think they’re interested in that story or those character or that author. It has no bearing on anything.

I think the terms ‘women’s fiction’ or ‘chick lit’ bother me because female authors, and female stories, are still looked down upon, see as less than. Men who write homely stories about family, relationships and growing up are seen as ‘bold’ or ‘sensitive’. Yet a woman writing about the same things are seen as bores, churning out the same formula over and over again, and lumped into the ‘women’s section.’ The publishing industry pigeonholes these books, and markets them in such a way that a lot of men miss out on many great reads.

I have no idea if any of that made sense, but I’d love to hear your thoughts: what do you think about books being marketed specifically for women, or the term ‘chick lit’? Do you hate it as much as I do? Are you indifferent to the whole matter? Let’s talk in the comments!

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7 thoughts on “Why I Hate Women’s Fiction.

  1. Little but Fierce says:

    YES! Thank you! For so long I veered away from ‘chick lit’ because I felt, as an English student I should be reading more ‘intellectual novels. I also found that I looked down on people who enjoyed those books for no reason at all other than the way they’re often marketed as silly. Now, I have so many women’s fiction books that I adore, turns out, I’ve been missing a treat!

    Liked by 1 person

    • whimsicella says:

      Same here! I used to love reading it as a teenager, but then I got berated for ‘not reading more intelligently’ so I steered clear of them for ages. I realised a few years ago how rubbish that mentality was and have never looked back!

      Like

  2. Nicola says:

    I totally get this. It also makes me think of the differences in how people talk about ‘literary fiction’ and ‘commercial fiction’. I’ve been to author events where people have sneered at commercial fiction books and the whole time all I could think was how much I’d prefer to write a book millions of people genuinely loved instead of one thousands of people read just so they could sound intellectual when they announce that they’ve read it. Who has the time to book-shame people?

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Eva O'Reilly says:

    I agree completely. At university we had modules about ‘women fiction’ and ‘women writers’ and I always wondered why there was no male equivalent.
    When one of my friends reviewed my book as a ‘variation on the chick-lit genre’ my first reaction was, ‘No! No! No! Not chick-lit.’ But what does it matter? What matters is that she enjoyed it. As writers, I think that’s all we should really care about.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. healthypeoplelearn says:

    I never considered genre until I needed to categorize my book for Amazon. Their drop-down menu didn’t include ‘a little mystery and suspense, a little literary, a smidge of romance, and a whole lot of relationships of the small-town, family, friend, guys in the diner and coffee-shop kind.’ So what do you call such a story – so that you can maybe get it on the right ‘shelf’ so people can find it?

    I settled for women’s fiction but chose a cover that didn’t scream ‘sexy romp’ – which is how, I must confess, I see chick-lit. Not that I don’t enjoy an occasional sexy romp. Why wouldn’t I? I like candy as well as vegetables and fruits!

    I wish we could avoid all genre titles – or use phrases like ‘thoughtful’ or ‘provocative’ – but till the marketplace reaches a higher plane of evolution, how can a writer respond to the genre drop-down menu?

    Like

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