Chick Lit and Gender Disparity

Gender-Disparity-Chick lit needs to go away.

Whenever I read the term Chick lit, I instinctively recoil. I bristle when people come to its defense; my brain can only register it like an undermining compliment. It sounds nice but you just know something is wrong with it.

I don’t actually have a problem with the content in Chick lit. Bring on all the tropes about single ladies contending with their overbearing bosses and agonizing, 30th birthdays! At first the term ‘Chick lit’ appears innocuous until we analyze the connotations of the name and its implications. Identifying a genre by its audience is problematic in itself (ergo Grip Lit), but the interchangeable treatment of women’s stories as lighter or fluffier is egregious and is another kind of sexism that’s nuanced but, nonetheless, damaging.

Chick lit is defined as a subgenre of Fiction, not Romance, created exclusively to encompass female authors’ works usually involving a young, modern, single-female protagonist who’s struggling romantically or with her career. Chick lit, however, reveals a systemic problem in how women and their works are categorized. If there’s a female protagonist (in love usually), several women occupy the story (dealing with love troubles), or female problems (menstruation and pregnancy for example), then it falls automatically under Chick lit, but women’s stories are not always light despite what the name Chick lit implies. The name nearly blankets all female-oriented subjects and leaves a misleading impression about women’s issues being less than other folks, which translates as half the world’s population being less significant. Not only does the subgenre’s name misconstrue female stories but pairing the words Chick and lit boxes these stories into a niche that can end up excluding people from reading them.

By segregating the works of men and women, we’re presupposing a distinction that fosters gender disparity in how we perceive and recognize women’s literary works. Part of the reason so many harbor this myth is that they believe men and women are innately different. There are differences (especially under the belt) but this is where the problem occurs. It’s not that men and women are different but that women’s works are somehow secondary or less to their male counterparts. As DJ Donnell writes on the subject of Chick lit “whatever lit is, it is certainly not literature. It is much lower on the food chain, something light and unimportant.” Even when men write on virtually the same subject except with a male protagonist, there’s no subgenre made called Dude lit. Men’s stories are treated as a default; they’re automatically put into the genre of Fiction, thus, revealing a double standard in the publishing industry. Separating the works of men and women doesn’t bring emphasis but is polarizing and actually encumbers women receiving equality in terms of how their work is received and regarded. Women’s works are not being assessed by the same criteria that are applied to men’s works, a criteria that causes many women to pander to a set of standards established predominantly by a history of white, male authors (another whole bag of problems). Enforcing these distinctions can only harm our understanding of masculinity and femininity by perpetuating stereotypes of gender. This can discourage male readers from reading these works but can also misinform young women (I know it did with me.)

As I said before, Chick lit needs to go away. It’s the one area of my life—my reading and writing life—that I get to escape to and not be reminded how prevalent sexism is. I’m sure we’ll move passed it, when everyone recognizes the problem, and there is definitely a problem.

Women and Light are not synonymous.

 

14 thoughts on “Chick Lit and Gender Disparity

  1. Great post– I’d also like to toss into the ring for consideration that chick lit primarily features young, modern, single, and white protagonist. There are definitely some books by women of color that fall into the category, but they’re also oftentimes just thrown into the “urban lit” category, which is just as dubious (but sometimes general fiction if it’s an established author, or doesn’t fit the “light”stereotype).

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    • I’m not surprised–and it’s frustrating that I’m not. And yes, Chick lit primarily focuses on white women. It’s just one example of the many problems existing in the publishing industry in backing and promoting diverse authors and their works.

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  2. Nice post. However, there are some male writers who write works that fall under a genre called ladlit.
    I’ve only recently heard about ladlit and I’m not that informed about it yet. In a few weeks I have an interview with an author who actually tries to raise awareness for the ladlit genre so I hope to know more about it by then. Would chicklit as a subgenre of fiction or romance be more acceptable if there is something like Ladlit or does the whole something followed by lit simply have to go?

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    • Thank you for reading! To answer your question: Having a genre primarily focused on men is not something new or necessary in my opinion. This is not to say that men’s issues are less important, but most genres—Fiction, Science-Fiction, Mystery-Thrillers—are mostly made up of white, male characters written by, yes, white men. To be more specific, the default is a heterosexual, white man. There’s no distinction made because they’re already widely accepted whereas diverse works—women, African American, LGBT—are treated separately; thereby, marginalizing them. It would be less of an issue if these groups fell under the same, neutral named categories and treated like any other genre.
      If publishing wanted to make a separate category for light and fluffier material, then I would suggest calling it “Light Lit” and omit the gender connotations altogether. I hope this answers your question!

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      • Thank you! I hope it will work out because it’s my first author interview ever hahaha
        I do understand your point. But it also seems to me like the publishing industry depends on the readers. There has to be a reason why readers would want to have fiction divided into subgenres or else publishing would not have felt the need to use these subgenres when promoting a book. It could be the other way around of course but there is something of a mutual dependency. If the publishing industry would go for an overall genre and dump the others it might cause confusion because it gives less detail about the content. This is not me trying to be very positive about one thing or another but this is just a really interesting point of discussion 🙂

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      • You’re right that the publishing industry depends on the readers, i.e, the customers, but here’s the thing: Publishing/marketing survey what readers are buying/purchasing. It’s always after the fact. Publishing determines a marketing campaign bestsellers, and this is where it gets to be problematic. The books selected to be debut and/or promoted are usually by white male authors and about white male characters–an overwhelming amount that if we were to take a look at the demography of readers (at least here in the United States) is inaccurate reflection as to what publishing is promoting and selling. And I would say that most marginalized groups do not feel they need to have stories divided into subgenres and would rather have their stories on the same shelf. If Publishing was creating genres based on the content, that would be a different (such as Dystopia).
        While we are seeing improvements in this to some extent (to find more, check out VIDA), the publishing industry is a white boy’s club. Many diverse authors do not receive the same promotional campaign—and that is if they are even published.

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  3. I love this! I’m a young girl in her twenties and as soon as I see a chick lit book I don’t bother to give it a second thought. If even its target demographic dismiss it I don’t know what hope that they have. Plus it’s more socially acceptable for a girl to read a “guy” book than a guy reading chick lit. This is terrible because there are some great female authors who write about women but these stories are compelling and for everyone.
    https://onlyindreamssite.wordpress.com

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    • Thanks! As another fellow woman in her twenties, I agree the name ‘Chick lit’ is a turn off and doesn’t get me excited to read works from this subgenre (probably one of the many reasons I put off reading Bridget Jones, even though I loved the movie.) There’s nothing wrong with the content but, the ‘Chick lit’ section in a book store is usually the last place I go… It’s off putting, even though I see more bookstores removing ‘chick lit’ and replacing it with ‘Feminine Literature’ which…it sounds better but is it really?
      It is more accepted that women read men’s literature but not men reading women literature–which goes back to women’s literature being treated as less while men’s works are treated as the standard. And I agree that there are SEVERAL amazing women writers out! Libba Bray, Roxane Gay, Toni Morrison, and Meg Wolitzer are just a few I can name off right off my head. There are so many that don’t receive the same attention.

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      • Wonderful! I’ll be sure to check them out. I have mixed feelings about feminine literature, while better than chick lit it sounds like “feminine products” or something like that that males wouldn’t touch. I just finished a book by Chimamanda Adichie and want to go on a bitching rant about how such a good author is restricted to the “African” section. Everyone needs to read her.

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      • Chimamanda Adichie is so great! I read her piece, ‘We Should All be Feminists’ which I can’t recommend enough. I also read part of ‘Americanah’ (which I still need to finish.) which book did you read?
        I agree that there are several things wrong with the term African and horribly misrepresents Black writers—as most of them have never even been to Africa or write their novel about Africa. For Adichie, she is Nigerian, a country in Africa, which, last time I checked, is a continent. The same problem occurs with “Asian Literature.” So much misinformation circulates, and Publishing/Marketing decides on a half-hearted approach, not do the research, and think African means Black.

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      • I read Americanah. I know it’s not her most famous book but I loved it. I’m from south Africa which has tumultuous race relations so reading her take on race really opened my eyes and resonated even though I’m not black but we definitely have these underlying white supremacist attitudes here in SA. When you finish it let me know what you think 🙂

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