Making the Case for “Chick Lit”
Written by Meagan Adele Lopez
I had full intentions on writing a hard-core chick lit novel (if the terms ‘hard-core’ and ‘chick lit’ could even be put in the same sentence). I was unashamed, and felt completely okay with the fact that I would be spending the next two years of my life engrossed in a love story with a strong female character getting off her feet in a really, really nice pair of shoes.
I loved the genre. I had grown up with it from the early 90’s through my college years, and felt comfortable with it – Bridget Jones, Devil Wears Prada, Carrie from Sex in the City – all women I looked up to. Plus, I was in my mid-twenties and perfectly suited to write about this life I was currently living.
But I soon realized that the typical chick lit story just wouldn’t suffice. By the time I got around to writing it, women’s tastes were changing and sales for typical chick lit were plummeting (so they say year after year, most recently in this Salon article aptly title “The Death of Chick Lit”). Is it dying because of the current United States’ unemployment rate?
Salon’s writer Laura Miller remembers why chick lit was so popular to begin with. “As the first species of popular fiction to treat its heroines’ professional aspirations as seriously as their romantic prospects, chick lit flourished at a time when ambitious young women poured into a robust job market, seeking both love and success, often with a heaping serving of pricey commodities on the side,” she says. Do we no longer have a need for this type of ambitious, yet superficial woman figure?
Actually, perhaps I did realize that I didn’t want to be labeled as a chick lit writer (although if my book becomes popular, Lord knows what they’ll call me). To me, there was something missing in most chick lit stories that I just couldn’t relate to. Perhaps, the missing ingredient was the right dose of realism? Or maybe I was astutely aware that I just couldn’t be a shopaholic?
I felt that the chick lit genre was becoming inundated with characters that slightly absurd; they were either astronomically rich or smart for no good reason, and they always seemed to date men way out of their league. I needed something more than fun stories that completely exaggerated the female struggle. Chick lit stories were missing authentic, meaty characters that didn’t always find themselves in the most ludicrous situations. They were missing real struggles, and real obstacles to overcome – ones that I could relate to. I’m not talking Jodi Picoult struggles. No, I’d still like to laugh, please. Real struggles like Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love, for example.
Sometimes there is a need for these mindless stories. Absolutely.
Examples of perfect opportunities to read chick lit novels include, but aren’t limited to:
- Going through a break up.
- Sitting on a beach or by a pool with an umbrella drink
- Flying in high altitude with lots of other women
But am I wrong with my definition of what chick lit even is? I have been reading post after post over the past few months (the debate has been ongoing for the past decade, but the coverage recently is surprisingly strong) where chick lit is being described in the same breath as women’s fiction. I gasp.
Chick lit is absolutely under examination right now. Sophie Kinsella is still defending her title as Chick Lit Queen over at the Guardian. Kristy Greenwood asks the questions in her recent post “When did Chick Lit Get So Confused?”, where she balks at the fact that Jodi Picoult is being thrown into the chick lit category, and yet One Day, by David Nicholls is not. The Economist assumes the same morbid title as Salon, “The Death of Chick Lit”, but recognizes that perhaps the genre has just grown up a bit.
The Huffington Post is having a debate over whether or not chick lit can actually be considered a valid literary category at all. According to Chloe Spooner, a book blogger, who is vehemently pro-chick lit, women’s fiction and chick lit are one and the same. How can that even be possible? One sounds more substantial, while the other sounds like pure fluff. I agree with Bethanne Patrick, Executive Editor of Book Riot, when she explains the name: ”’Chicks‘ isn’t simply a gender designation – it’s an infantilization. A ‘chick’ is an immature chicken – neither hen nor rooster nor good plain offspring.”
Chick lit and women’s fiction are not the same. If anything, chick lit is a subgenre of women’s fiction. Bu,t I disagree with Patrick on one thing: she claims that the genre shouldn’t exist at all. She says that lad Lit doesn’t really exist – to her (and to a few men in her life), the “lad lit” genre is just a mystery novel, a thriller or a procedural that men tend to read. Men don’t call these genres “lad lit” – they simply call them what they are.
Does this automatically put women behind men for having our own sub genre? I think not. Just because we have a specific type of genre that mostly appeals only to women does not automatically make the genre less substantial. In fact, it should make it stronger. After all, men get ‘history’ and ‘mankind’, why can’t we get chick lit? Unless saying that we are a sub genre of literature means that men automatically get all the rest of the lit. In that case, it shouldn’t exist.
I give up.
Before reading these articles, I believed that genre-specific novels were novels that dealt with genre-specific issues. For example, a story about a man who likes to sleep with lots of women, races cars and is 50 years old, but soon realizes he can’t keep doing this if he doesn’t want to die alone – that is lad lit to me. A murder mystery is a murder mystery. Chick lit is about chick problems – perhaps Patrick isn’t so far off after all…
When all this is said and done – I wrote a novel whose intended audience was women, and yet I’m finding that more men are reading it (and giving it rave reviews) than I ever imagined. By defining a genre based on gender from the get-go, maybe we are ostracizing 50% of our readers that could otherwise be our biggest fans.
The more I think about it, maybe chick lit should just gruesomely kill itself in a magnificent ironic twist to its normal happy ending. Perchance subgenres splitting males and females apart should be against the literary law.
What do you think? Is there still room for a good chick lit novel? Or have we moved on?
About Meagan: Meagan Adele Lopez is a writer, social media maven and traveler. For four years, Meagan pursued casting where she worked for such films as Juno, The Day the Earth Stood Still, X-Files II, Jennifer’s Body and Repo Men. While living in England with her British beau, Meagan wrote her debut novel, Three Questions. Follow her popular blog, The Lady Who Lunches, at www.ladywholunches.net/blog, and find her on Twitter @meaganadele. She is co-founder and Vice President of Accounts of social media agency, SocialKaty.