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.


Despite Mental Illness: 5 Inspirational Authors

mental healthAlthough implied in some of my posts, I haven’t openly come out and said that I suffer from Depression and Social Anxiety. Only a handful of close people know about it, and even some of them shy away from the subject like it’s a rattlesnake about to bite you. I’ve been reluctant to say anything only because I’m not sure how to get the ball rolling.

I harbor this fear that once people know, they’ll treat me differently (although I am inherently different,) perceive me as incapable of managing high stress (I do fine, thank you,) and possibly consider me weak because ‘it’s all mental.’ And even though I want to say all these empowering things about using cognitive behavior strategies and positive reinforcements, I have to be brutally honest: there are just days when funny cat memes or counting to four do absolutely nothing.

Sometimes I have days where it feels like mold is growing inside of my organs and spreading to my brain. I dream of scrubbing out all the gunk lodged in my brain’s crevices (if brains have them) hoping to clean out whatever is making me so—bleh, suddenly stripped of interest and made immobile.

During this downtime, which initiates the snowball effect, I start to weed through all my past mistakes, which I ultimately construe as failures. I summarize things, which makes me overlook the good parts, which makes me only want to improve myself, which only makes me realize how many times I have tried to improve myself, which I start to realize is a pattern, which I see no one else struggling with, so I conclude there’s no way of getting out of this hamster’s wheel, etc, etc! To summarize, those are what those days seem like to me, and I went years without ever knowing why I thought and felt this way.

Although it’s been several months now since I left therapy, and I’m in no way cured. I still have days like these except they are less severe. Mental illness is a chronic disease, and it’s something you have to carefully manage by taking care of yourself.

People tend to box in those who suffer from mental illness and believe they’re just a bunch of crazies swallowed by their disease, but these people really don’t give us enough credit. Our problems are virtually invisible to the naked eye and thereby treated like it doesn’t exist. Every day we have to battle an army of derisive screams which seems to echo inside our bodies like a canyon. We have only our own voice for support to stop the rock slide from collapsing on us. Yes, we are incredibly strong.

I’m not doomed to be stuck in a perpetual, self-defeating cycle of relentless hopelessness restrained in bed and having to watch the world from a window. I’m able to do things like anyone else. Having mental illness is not the reason we should stop living or be reduced to the bare minimum of just functioning and call it living. We can do more.

Writing has been my third leg for me, and it’s also what lead me to find other writers and authors who face similar challenges.

To no surprise, many authors have advocated the therapeutic benefits of writing. In spite of the stigma that still surrounds people with mental illness, writers are talking over the misinformed, contentious, nebulous noise and revealing their personal battles with mental illness.

Below are my top five authors and poets that have inspired me in some way or who have dealt with mental illness to some capacity.

5) Emily Dickinson

Perhaps the queen of all hermits and warrants a spot on any introvert’s list, Emily Dickinson lived a solitary, reclusive life. Her poetry captured the complexities of the human condition and analyzed our perception of death, expounded by her short, rhythmical lines.

We can only speculate about Emily Dickinson’s state of mental health. She refrained from answering the door and rarely left her room, not even to attend her father’s funeral held at her homestead. Some believe that her aberrant behavior was indicative of agoraphobia or possibly an anxiety disorder; yet Dickinson corresponded with several other writers via letters. No doubt she would have loved Twitter.

So many of us think we have to travel the world and be exposed to unique experience to have something interesting to say, but there’s also taking what you know and just going with it.

4) Sylvia Plath

Sylvia PlathHer work is contained in the genre of confessional poetry and would later garner her acclaim. She wrote only one novel, The Bell Jar, a semi-autobiographical story that depicts a girl named Ester interning in a big city and winding up in a mental institution after attempting to kill herself. In Plath’s unabridged journals, we see her lay bare her most empowering, vulnerable, tumultuous feelings in fluid yet raw sentences.

Although Sylvia Plath was never officially diagnosed yet underwent electric shock therapy regardless, she more than likely suffered from some kind of mental illness.

Tragically Plath committed suicide before the release of her novel, but it’s her fervent passion of writing and seeking out life that has always inspired me. There’s a reason so many young women gravitate towards her.

3) J.K. Rowling

Yes, the Harry Potter Author.

Even though I’ve just started reading the Harry Potter series, I’ve known about the author for a long time and stay regularly updated.

Depicted by the press as a rags-to-riches story, J.K. Rowling’s life does at times seem like a fairy-tale, but that’s just the romanced version of it.  She has opened up and talked about the darker parts of her life when she was struggling with Depression and having thoughts of suicide. Once faced with overwhelming adversity, she managed to come out alive on the other side.

The reason I include Rowling on this list is not just because she’s a famous author, but the fact that she didn’t let that time in her life define who she is. From her own pit of despair and hopelessness, she was capable of generating such a story that affected others with an overall amount of goodness and inspired others for the better. We can all use a little bit of that.

2) John Green

John Green is one of the loudest in-a-good-way advocates of mental illness and is forthcoming about his struggles with Anxiety and Depression. At one time, his mental condition was so severe it kept him from completing his Looking For Alaska, until he eventually sought treatment. While Green is receiving a lot of attention lately and is probably the most well-known YA author around, his books are so full of young, humanistic experiences that he not only reminds people of their emotional capacity but is also an example of what you can do after you have your mental illness under control. You can end up doing great things.

1) Libba Bray

Libba BrayLibba Bray. Oh, Libba Bray.

When I first read a Libba Bray book, I thought my heart was going to do a Gymnast flip right out of my chest. Her writing is gorgeous and has a knack of filling her pages with such interesting characters. Her stories are just the right kind of bizarre and twisty that if I didn’t have a day job, I would keep reading them, even after finishing them (except for Lair of Dreams because that is just not out…yet.)

Not only am I in love with her books, she’s also an amazing person and candid about her experience with mental illness, and how it was writing that saves her.

Writing kept them going and eventually lead them to doing what they loved. If you know any writers you think should be included on this list, feel free to leave your comments. You can never have too many inspirations.

Authors, Books, and Us: The Blaming Games

Blame GameNo matter what kind of reader you are—from the voracious to the satisfied with one book a year person—we end up feeling for the characters we read about. We live in their heads, their worlds, and journey with them as they face outweighing odds and losses. It goes back to the old saying ‘get lost in a book.’ That’s essentially what happens when you find the book, a story that jives with you on every level without running the risk of being judged. In other words, you’ve found the ideal relationship.

Who do we have to thank for this effervescent gift if not the wordsmiths who thought up the story to begin with, whose names can be found somewhere on the cover, the jacket, and at the end of the novel—usually  with a charming synapsis of their life alongside their adorable dogs and cats. The numerous contributions authors have given us are too many to count; we’ll never be able to know how these books have affected the lives of people introspectively.

Our treatment of praiseworthy ideas contained in books is synonymous with how we celebrate our authors: we laud them, stroke their ego a bit, and then pester them about when they plan on releasing their next book. Mostly harmless.

When an author’s book, however, is perceived as controversial and contentious, it’s met with the reverse reaction, with critics and readers all at once ready to pounce and deride the author’s work. What I find troubling though is not only the people’s treatment of these authors, but how people seem to be misconstruing an author’s novel, a work of fiction, as the author’s own words, his or her opinion. The last time I checked, this isn’t how books are meant to operate; they’re design to take us into another world or enlighten us, not necessarily drop us into the lap of literal meanings and inflammatory debates.

During a Q&A on Twitter, E.L. James was lambasted by tweets tied to the fourth installation of her bestseller book series, Fifty Shades of Grey. These rhetorical and sardonic questions were pointed at James’ two leading characters, which people condoned as indecorous and are poor examples to women in romantic relationships.

Of the number of reasons of which we could criticize the books (the writing, display of insufficient research, THE WRITING, or the trite dialogue,) people went after James for the ostensible message her books send to impressionable men and women. Several of the readers’ comments focused solely on how women may interpret the text  and use the characters’ behaviors as a model to live by—although if women are using Erotic Romance as their guidelines on how to live, that’s a whole separate issue in itself. . .

What’s peculiar is that these people treated her as though James herself had been the one to instigate the issue, had personally advocated adopting her characters’ lifestyle. If James is guilty of anything, it’s more than likely from pervasively answering these questions and addressing mostly the fluffier questions—and, again, producing badly written literature.

Responses like these are not uncommon and are bellying up more frequently whenever readers or the audience disagrees with what’s written in a book. It’s similar to how people will challenge a book for its content, except instead of going after a book to remove it from the shelves; people are going to the source: the author.

To many people, this makes sense. The author devises the plots and characters and produces the words to tell such-and-such story. In these terms, we are looking at a cause-and-effect: the author is the catalyst for the action and the effect is the public’s response to the material. This is more misleading than it appears though. Although an author invents the world and generates the text, we’d have to assume that the reaction to the book is calculated, a fixed idea of how it will be interpreted, and books, like I said previously, do not operate on those terms. The problem is more complex. It’s not the author’s book that is causing hostility to erupt; it’s just the focal point of people’s attention. Perhaps enabling peoples’ unfiltered, caustic behavior is how we are now able to interact with authors directly in an anonymous environment.

We can actively engage with authors through our own social media platforms. With how marketing has changed, we’re also seeing authors take the helm in promoting their books. They’re more in the forefront and consequently susceptible to the social media nebulous noise that, at any given time, can turn into a torrent of unrelenting rancor. It’s this new way of communicating, however, that desensitizes us and fuels our cathartic, dialogue toward our authors. We forget, too charged and wrapped up in our emotional upheaval, that there’s a person at the other end, who’s just one person in the void of millions.

Happening more and more is people are holding authors accountable for the pernicious effect their stories and characters seemingly cause. People are applying a universal sense of what is right and wrong and scrutinize authors for writing a book morally ambiguous or a subversion of probity and ethical practices; these people are quintessentially targeting authors for their books’ inadvertent effect, when there’s no real evidence to corroborate to go along with their accusations. If an author writes a book with less than stellar model behavior, doesn’t send a good message to kids, isn’t appropriate to teach, too politically charged, or harbors a secret agenda, the author will surely be at fault.

Then there’s the patently well-known fact: these are just books. They reside in the realm of fiction for the most part. This fact alone should keep us in check; yet this doesn’t stop people from trolling and harassing authors.

For some reason though, we struggle in realizing that characters and themes  are not always ideal. When we find something is not acceptable, we don’t take the time to discuss it; we absorb it like a sponge. We extrapolate parts of the text and take it as is and remove it from its original context. Our interpretation of the text sometimes doesn’t go beyond a sentence, which somehow ends up supplementing as the book’s overall message, or rather, with how people see it, the author’s message to their readers.

Am I saying there aren’t people who are malleable to a book? Of course not. Books affect and challenge us and sometimes we end up adopting and carrying that nugget of knowledge with us. This is normally not seen as bad thing, and it shouldn’t be, but it seems people have come to the conclusion that books should all maintain a similar, exemplifying propriety for everyone to live according to. If that’s the case, might I suggest looking elsewhere, such as the Self-Help section?

The question though is not if this will become the standard in how authors will be treated (because there’s no regulation on social media, and people are not about to become impassive any time soon) but if the works created by authors released by publishing houses will somehow be more subdued, with publishers being more careful as to what they sell. Will we see less controversial subjects written by authors to appease the readers in exchange for favorable reviews to increase sales? Neither scenario, as I see it, is a no-win situation.

National Novel Writing Month: My Tiny Dilemma

Next week I’m holding off on writing a review to explain what I’m doing right now, and I do mean, at this second.

I’m prepping for the long, bewildering marathon known as National Novel Writing Month, which also means I’ll be dedicating most of my free time punching another novel out of me. The goal is to reach 50,000 words by the end of the month, and if we’re being honest, that gives me only 28 days to complete a novel (Thanksgiving and day after is family time) and minus one extra day since my anniversary is also in November, so I shan’t be near a desk or computer. So 27 days to complete a novel. Psh. Easy. It only took me a year ½ last time.

But more importantly, I’m not keen on the idea of not posting for an entire month. I mean, I’ve only started this blog two months ago, and I’d prefer not to drop suddenly off the grid and awkwardly stumble back in like, “hey guys. I’m back,” like an X-files explanation.

I realize this is a book blog, and I’m here to talk about bookish things, but NaNoWriMo is the time of year to shave away all the other distractions and excuses and to write spontaneously to reach your writing goals. For me, I read for pleasure but also to learn about other authors’ styles and subjects, and as it turns out, most readers are writers or latent writers, and I feel this would be the best place to just talk about my NaNoWriMo writing experience such as when my fingers feel disjointed or I have a fit because I’ve had nothing to eat except crockpot meals for the last eleven days and am frankly tired of soup. These won’t be very long post; they’ll be likes notes (hopefully not rambles). Who knows. I may post excerpts from my crazy 2nd novel, but I’m not making any guarantees.

I’m doing this because I made a commitment to myself to always make a post once every week. My last blog was a disastrous failure because I didn’t keep up with it (and it didn’t have any direction), but I’m at the point in my life where I need to lay out rules for myself and set specific goals. It’s a great way to avoid regret later in life. It also makes me happy—feeling like I’m working towards something. I’m not doing this for the number of followers or likes. A book blog has always been something I’ve wanted. I love books and I love talking about them. And I’m also a writer whose dream involves being published one day.

I’m not giving up on this blog. I’ll simply be taking a four-week hiatus from publishing any new book reviews. Book reviews will return by Monday, December 1.

If you’ll be partaking in this wonderful event, I’d love to hear from you. Excited? You can’t imagine.