Okay, I must confess: I may have slightly misled 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 nicknamed. I have no problem with female-led, romance-driven stories — just that 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 centered 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 labeling 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 uni 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-centered 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 women 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!