Before I began writing a draft for this week’s writing prompt, Write a Few Paragraphs or More Of Chick Lit or Women’s Fiction… After Learning More About Each Genre, I needed to learn more about what exactly “Women’s Fiction” and “Chick Lit” are first. And what I discovered wasn’t too surprising. But did prompt some important questions that need to be asked.
What Exactly Is “Chick Lit” or “Women’s Fiction”?
The term “chick lit” became popular in the 1990s and early 2000s, around the time Bridget Jones Diary and Sex and The City were published and made into cinematic events. The genre became a subgenre of “women’s fiction” supposedly created primarily for middle-class white women in their mid-twenties to early thirties, sometimes in their early 40s. The books typically cast women characters of the same demographic they’re targeting as their main protagonists or heroines too. Heroines who are supposedly always preoccupied with gossiping with their girlfriends, dating and landing a rich or successful husband, shopping, their appearance, and or landing a high-profile career (or promotion) within supposedly female-led industries (fashion, marketing, womens’ magazines, etc.).
Overall, it seems “chick lit” is a subgenre created as a subset of “women’s fiction,” for and by the more “modern woman” of the 1990s and early 2000s. The genre could likely be deemed as an evolution of Jane Austen’s “domestic fiction” and romance novels and more modern romance novels too. Where once “women’s fiction” portrayed women protagonists as obsessed and only concerned with landing a husband, provider, and protector, and having children, they’re now portrayed as… obsessed with the same things? Only now they’re also allowed to pursue careers as they pursue their domestic obsessions too. You know, as long as those careers are within supposedly female-led industries, and the female protagonist is also wearing stilettos and the appropriate makeup and clothing and attitude and demeanor at all times (or forever attempting to), never neglecting her personal relationships and domestic duties and pursuits (or forever facing her guilt of failing at accomplishing and being successful at all of these things at the same time).
But it does seem that what we typically designate as “chick lit” and “women’s fiction” is evolving yet again nowadays. Now we see terms like “domestic fiction” being used more often for novels written about family concerns and domestic life, especially in the wake of novels like Jonathan Franzens’s The Corrections.
And many authors, especially those identifying as female, are talking about this evolution and what to call the genres they write about now, where they’re legitimately attempting to change the entire conversation around what “women’s fiction” is without necessarily changing what it’s called. Because they do write about women, for women, after all. Or do they?
How is it possible that we live in a society where “women’s concerns” aren’t just plain old human-based concerns for everyone? Why aren’t women’s concerns also men’s concerns? Domesticity concerns everyone every day, as everyone has some type of home life or childhood and some type of upbringing and adulthood lifestyle, don’t they? Also, where do non-binary, non-gendered concerns come into play? LGBTQI+ concerns? Aren’t domestic concerns essentially every human’s concern? Especially in the twenty-first century? Why do we need to attribute genders to our genres of fiction at all? Does it really do anything for us? Or mirror what we care about? Is it really helping publishers sell books, and readers select which books they want to read?
Here are some articles worth reading that explore this topic in greater detail. Note the dates of each article too when reading them, and the evolution of thought surrounding what “women’s fiction” and “chick lit” are.
- The New York Times: Is There a Double Standard for Judging Domestic Themes in Fiction?
- The Guardian: Women’s fiction is a sign of a sexist book industry
- Book Riot: HEY BOOK INDUSTRY: “WOMEN’S FICTION” IS NOT A THING ; WHAT IS CHICK LIT?
- Literary Hub:What’s Behind the Label ‘Domestic Fiction’? ; What Do We Mean When We Say Women’s Fiction? ; What Was Chick Lit? A Brief History From the Inside
- Salon: Jennifer Weiner was right about sexism, media and women writers: “We were told we were lying”
However, while we’d like to think that we could live in a world without gendered genres sooner rather than later, we’re still seeing female authors who write about war and politics and law and action and adventure (you know, “male” things) use male pen names, and male authors who write about female protagonists with female concerns (whatever that even means) use female pen names. Or they choose to use gender-ambiguous pen names. And, most notable, we never discuss a “men’s fiction” genre when also talking about “women’s fiction.” Which would consist of what exactly? Blood, guts, competition, etc.? Modern-day readers are starting to, and should, roll their eyes at all of this.
Are The Designations “Chick Lit” and “Women’s Fiction” Sexist?
The simple answer to this question: Yes.
I posit that the act of designating fiction as “chick lit” was created as a marketing ploy, in an overtly consumerist and misogynistic society already obsessed with instructing women that they needed to consume in order to be a “real woman”—especially in the 1990s and early 2000s. Such a society instructed women that they must consume the appropriate entertainment, reading material, beauty products, foods, communication, etc., in order to be a certain way, feel a certain way, look a certain way— to ultimately earn the love of those who might deem them as worthy of affection and love. You know, if only they lost a few pounds or put on more flattering clothing, or stopped stating their strong opinions or pursuing a demanding career instead of a family, or gathered a bit more poise and stopped being so clumsy FIRST.
Covers of romance novels and women’s fiction and chick lit were and still are covered with pinks and reds and flowers and lipstick and subjectively attractive half-naked women and stilettos and fashion— to market such consumerism that women were and still are demanded to engage in if they were and are to be considered as women worthy of attention and affection, of course. In fact, there is a plethora of marketing and publishing advice out there further perpetuating the need to market “women’s fiction” and other subgenres that fall underneath its umbrella in very specific ways. All you need to do is read articles like Blame it on the Book Cover and Women’s Fiction or Romance? The Differences, and 5 Reasons Why They Matter to understand this concept a bit better, and start paying attention to book covers or where books are located in a store or library.
Whether our consumerist culture for womanhood or the book covers propagating such consumerism came first is an interesting chicken-before-the-egg type debate worth having. But that’s not necessarily what’s mot important here. What’s important to acknowledge is that they are tied to each other and perpetuate each other’s hold. And it seems likely that as long as we have one we will have the other.
Nonetheless, the questions that currently remain are: Is it our patriarchal and misogynistic society’s overall perception and designation of “chick lit” or “women’s fiction” that makes it what it is and perpetuates how it is continually demeaned and discarded and consumed? Or is it “chick lit” and “women’s fiction” that mirrors and informs society what women care about and want to consume, and that they have different concerns and worries from others? I am ultimately pulled toward believing the former.
Until we stop calling fiction about love and dating and marriage and adulthood— essentially fiction about relationships and more domestic concerns and home life and family life in the twenty-first century— as “women’s fiction” or “chick lit,” such fiction will always be considered as being on the outskirts of contemporary fiction or domestic fiction. Although in reality, it could be argued that such fiction is much more central, if not completely central, to contemporary fiction and how we understand readers of fiction in our contemporary world.
Stay tuned for the draft of my few paragraphs (or more) of “Chick Lit” or “Women’s Fiction.” It’ll be posted on the blog on Friday.
Discover anything interesting you’d love to share as you’re writing this prompt too? Comment below. Or tag me @kecreighton on social: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Medium. And be sure to scroll down to subscribe to Daily Drafts & Dialogues posts to get more inspiration as you complete this week’s writing prompt.
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