Why so down on chick lit?

00:01, Jan 21 2013

It has been several years since I picked up my last "chick lit" book.

Truth to tell, I was rather fond of these tomes in uni - they offered release from the intensely heavy reading lists I had to plough through for my lit and history papers.

Writing critical essays is something I don't miss about doing a literature degree.

Chick lit was like crack cocaine, offering an antidote to the earnest, depressing twitterings of Byron and Keats, Sexton and Plath, Poe and Bronte, Hemingway and Woolf.

I remember that one of my favourite chick lit writers was Marian Keyes. I also borrowed a few Sophie Kinsella books from one of my sisters.

Back then, I probably wouldn't have publicly admitted to quite liking Sushi for Beginners and Watermelon. Or that I rather enjoyed reading about Kinsella's ditzy Becky Bloomwood in her Shopaholic series. It would have given my English lecturers heart palpitations and probably made Steinbeck (one of my favourite authors) turn over several times in his grave.


Nowadays, I don't read any chick lit, mainly because to be honest, I have a reading list stretching back for miles and chick lit just isn't a priority given my limited time with my beloved books.

Still, I remember talking to girlfriends about this over lunch a while ago and many of them admitted rather shame-facedly to reading chick lit, but treating it like a clandestine habit. One of them kept a copy in the bathroom cabinet, to be taken out and furtively and hastily read - a few pages at a time - while on the loo.

What is the definition of chick lit anyway? Wikipedia says it includes "romantic elements" but that it's not considered a sub-genre of romance because the heroine's relationships with family and friends are just as important as the main romance. I think in the wider world though, most readers would also classify romances as chick lit - the term has such a varied and loaded meaning.

So here's my opinion on why it's so easy to denigrate chick lit - because we still live in a society where "women's interests" are given a lower ranking. I still hear comments from guys about partners getting "too emotional because it's that time of month" and frankly, it makes my blood boil.

The whole "women are too emotional" and "men don't talk about their feelings" trope is a dangerous one to subscribe to and I think both genders can agree that it benefits no-one in the long term. The fair thing would be to say that both sexes are seeking emotional connection, but have different ways of expressing it due to social expectations.

In literature, I think this is where that sort of still-prevailing attitude translates into contempt for chick lit. It's for the wimmin-folk and of course they like reading things like Fifty Shades because of their teeny-teensy brains and gigantic beating hearts, cue much macho snickering and swaggering and beer bottle thumping. See what I mean about how stereotypes are dangerous - to both genders?

I'm not going to pretend to be a big fan of chick lit. Most of the time, I agree that they are formulaic, trashy and doesn't reveal anything particularly brilliant about the world we live in. There are many women who don't enjoy reading chick lit at all and that is perfectly fine.

But to disparage an entire genre because the readership is largely female is saying something very unpleasant about the society we operate in. There is no equivalent for the term of chick lit in literature. Where is the dick lit? You could argue that crime and thriller has a larger male audience, but they don't carry the same connotations that female-orientated genres do.

There probably isn't really a solution to this without addressing the underlying issues of social inequality and gender stereotype. But here's my modest proposal: if you haven't read a chick lit book before, flick through one and let me know what you think. And I will do the same and review a chick lit book on the blog in a few weeks.

What do you think of chick lit as a genre?

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