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Stop calling it chick-lit
Anyone who’s written a novel or attempted to write one knows it’s hard work. Think months and years of planning, thinking, writing and rewriting. After you’ve pinned down the story, you still need to edit, polish and examine the details with a magnifying glass. Trust me, when you’re looking for faults, you’ll always find some.
I’m saying this, because the final product, the novel, won’t show the traces of the author’s sweat and tears or the hair pulled-out in the process. Most people don’t want to lift the curtain that separates the author’s dusty workshop with its chaos and spilt coffee from the shiny stage made for the reader. I’m saying this, because I’m tired of snobbish attitudes about what counts as ‘proper’ literature. A good story is a good story. A genre novel might follow an additional set of rules, but it’s still a novel and a hard one to write.
These days, excellent works of fiction are being mocked and disrespected by their labels. That’s right. I’m looking at you, chick-lit.
A chick-lit novel is a story about women’s lives and relationships, often with references to modern womanhood. In other words, it’s a narrative that cuts across various aspects of sociology, psychology and people’s intimate spheres.
Some classics like Tolstoy’s ‘Anna Karenina’ Woolf’s ‘Mrs Dalloway’ or Austen’s ‘Pride and Prejudice’ have been retroactively labelled as chick-lit. The most known modern example is Helen Fielding’s ‘Bridget Jones’s Diary’, a story that has stayed with me ever since I read it. It is a light, a witty and clever read, perfect for holidays. What I remember, is that Bridget Jones felt more real to me than all the real women on covers of magazines. She is flawed in socially inept. She makes terrible life choices and doesn’t always learn from her mistakes, very much like a normal person. Maybe that’s why Fielding’s book has left a bigger imprint on my young mind than some of the big works I was supposed to be impressed with.
So where’s the problem with chick-lit? These stories are often deep-cutting and make readers reflect on their choices. Some of the stories stand the test of time and travel through the generations. Why denigrate them by cramming them into a box labelled ‘chick-lit’?
While some might consider a ‘chick’ to be a cute term describing a young woman, I can assure you it’s not. First of all, a chick is a baby bird. While perhaps cute, chicks are not known to possess many other qualities, except perhaps when served as a dish. More frequently, people would refer to chickens when talking about a lack of mental capacities and/or courage. Flattering? I think not.
Women are neither chicks, nor chickens.
If confused, see a image of a chicken below.
Secondly, women keep novels alive:
‘Women are not only keener buyers of fiction – surveys show they account for 80% of sales in the UK, US and Canadian fiction markets.’ (source)
In marketing terms, women are the target audience for novels. Many authors rushed to proclaim the death of the novel, but the form is very much alive. Ian McEwan has some ideas why:
‘When women stop reading, the novel will be dead.’ (source)
If you ran a bakery, you wouldn’t call your biggest customers silly jerks, nor would you make it as a pub owner by referring to your clients as dumb drunks. Publishing is a business like any other and I understand it needs boxes to get the books to the right audience. I don’t, however, see literature aimed at men being called dick-lit.
So, please oh please, stop calling it chick-lit.
It breaks my heart to hear authors of the said genre apologising for the sexist term that is chick-lit. Most don’t like it and some openly say so, but because the term supposedly works, they’re stuck with it. If the label works, it’s because it contains great stories, not because it somehow alludes to the female psyche.
One can get used to having a new phone number, address, or even a different name. I assure you we can get used to a new, non-sexist term for a genre. The good news is women can read. If chick-lit was to suddenly to become just lit, social-lit, fem-lit or heroine-lit, we’ll look it up. I promise, we won’t despair and gaze into the abyss of the bookshelves, gobsmacked and confused as to what to do.
After all, women fought for their right to vote, work and own property. You can be sure we’ll ask if we can’t find what we’re looking for.
This is about showing respect. So, for the love of books and all the good that comes with them:
STOP CALLING IT CHICK-LIT!