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.


My Week with Harry Potter. . .and the Chamber of Secrets: Part 2

HP-Chamber-of-SecretsIt should go without saying, this post will contain some spoilers.

Sometimes the books I’m reading can eerily coincide with issues going on in the real world.

Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets sets up the main overarching pillars for the upcoming books, establishing the rift between pure-blooded and half-blooded wizards and witches. The disparity between the two groups is nearly nonexistent in the first novel, and for the most part, remains an antiquated subject among the younger generation of wizards and witches.

Secrets reflects the current status quo of the magical community coexisting alongside the muggles, aka, the non-magical folks. Its society has adopted acceptance and tolerance toward muggles and muggle-born wizards and witches, but in addition to this world, ignorance is perpetuated when it comes to the children actually discussing racial issues. It’s not to say that Secrets doesn’t address these issues, calling attention to derogatory terms such as ‘mug-blood,’ or leading with the overlooking threat of death to half-blooded wizards and witches. But Secrets displays the problem with having a perfunctory mindset among the younger generation in combating racism, a problem that still exists today.

Noted in Slate’s article, while the younger generation, Millennials, appear more tolerant and in favor of promoting equality across varying ethnic groups, there seems to be a distinct lack of discussion of countering racism, other than to just ignore it and hope the problem will resolve itself over time. This standby approach has egregiously morphed into a real concern. The aggregate efforts of educational institutions in encouraging the equal treatment of others are more preventative and instead don’t address the racial conflicts at hand. They have essentially not been taught how to talk about racism and discrimination in our world, subsequently, inventing a misleading notion that racism doesn’t exist, when it clearly does and isn’t going to be solved simply by waiting for the older generation to die out. The roots of the problem are deeper than that.

If we take a hard look at the children in Harry Potter, most of them will fall in a category believing that racism is an obsolete, misguided ideology, and who can blame them? Most of them were still sporting diapers and still learning to crawl before they heard the name Voldemort, the series’ iconoclastic antagonist. Afterwards they were prohibited from uttering his name by the adults, who would only allow the children to get away with saying ‘you-know-who.’ Sound familiar? In this context, the children are not equipped to combat racism and discrimination because they simply don’t know what a world of racism and discrimination is like; they didn’t live in a world like their parents had to endure, and to some extent, still do. They’re not being taught to deal with the problem; they’re being conditioned to avoid it.

Characters such as the Malfoys exemplify the problem that arises from racism: simply ceasing all conversation about it will not discontinue other people from instigating racial acts and committing horrific tragedies. Racism is indoctrinated, producing a culture invested in oppressing its people, measuring one’s capability on the color of their skin, and ultimately, committing travesties of mass murders. Being unaware and avoiding the problem is not a solution but a form of procrastination with terrible ramifications.

I could offer up to you how the Defense Against the Dark Arts position is a game of musical chairs and that background checks go by the wayside at Hogwarts, that a bullied dead girl haunts the bathroom for shits and giggles, that the Weasley family is the kind of family that I wished I always had (but smaller), but that would be missing the main point.

It’s about time we have a serious conversation about racism and do something about it.

Other Thoughts about Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets:

  • Severus Snape:

The movies have plentifully spoiled his dark knight role for me, but I have to say, while keeping this in mind, it has somehow enhanced my reading experience. Snape has become more cryptic to me. Every twisted smile or sneer is so convincingly ruthless that I can’t help but wonder if there’s not a part of him that enjoys harping on Harry and making his life miserable.

  • Basilisk:

I’m supposed to believe that neither Snape or Dumbledore weren’t percipient enough to conclude that the monster was a basilisk? If Dumbledore already suspected Tom Riddle and knew Hagrid wasn’t responsible (the guy was expelled from Hogwarts and made a Gamekeeper—because that’s so much better???) then, why does Dumbledore not overturn the previous Headmaster’s ruling when Dumbledore himself eventually becomes Headmaster of the school, or at the very least, reinstate Hagrid’s magical privileges? Poor Hagrid!