Completing this week’s writing prompt offered an unexpected reckoning of my own biases around what’s usually called “Chick Lit,” a subgenre of women’s fiction.
To be honest, I’ve avoided this genre my entire life (both intentionally and unintentionally), as it was always presented to me as subpar or fluff or unimportant, uninteresting, or simply not serious writing. It was writing work that was easy to discard and discredit, just like much of women’s work typically is… And I also avoided it because I thought I had to be a diehard fan of fashion or makeup or weddings or gossip in order to enjoy it. But after diving a little deeper into conversations around chick lit and women’s fiction, I became more intrigued by what I discovered.
I first had to unpack exactly what chick lit is. I already knew that I didn’t really know what it is because I haven’t read that much chick lit in my lifetime up to this point.
In my unpacking, I learned that the term for this subgenre of women’s fiction, chick lit, popped up around the time of Bridget Jones Diary’s publication. At first, as I was scanning article after article about chick lit and what it is, it seemed that authors and publishers created this subgenre because they wanted to use it to attract their audience in droves, an audience which consists of mostly women in their mid-twenties to thirties and comprise a majority of the market share for novel buying. Basically, it was a strategic marketing decision to sell more books, and it worked and still does. And a lot of authors who have tapped into this chick lit audience are unapologetic and proud.
But issues and a bit of contention began to arise when it became clearer and clearer that publishers, reviewers, and critics had very different views regarding the importance and value of chick lit novels, and novels written by women in general, and their authors … which is when important and interesting discussions began to pop up about this subgenre, around 2010.
Around the time of the apex of the chick lit craze it seems more and more works by women were beginning to be categorized, or miscategorized, as chick lit when they could have been and perhaps should have been categorized as literary fiction, domestic fiction, or contemporary fiction…if only they had been written by men. Basically it seems like the publishing industry and critics started lumping a lot of women’s fiction (works of a vast variety) into the chick lit category even if they didn’t necessarily belong there, simply because they were written by women and presumably for women to buy and consume. And as the market got inundated with these works, some properly categorized and some not, their novelty began to fade (pun intended) and they started becoming seen by all as “guilty pleasures” or “beach books”— basically, commercialized fluff.
Or… was this subgenre, chick lit, discarded and discredited from the get-go because it was essentially gendered and therefore considered a less serious version of “women’s fiction,” a genre that was already being relegated to the sidelines— just like other work done by women? Read What Exactly Is “Chick” Lit” or “Women’s Fiction”? Are Their Designations Sexist? to dive a little deeper into this dialogue. And while you’re pondering that, I would encourage you to consider how commercial genres that are typically regarded as male-dominated are perceived in comparison to chick lit — novels that are thrillers, action-packed, about spies and war, etc.
Although chick lit authors earned a lot of money for their publishers and catered to the vast majority of the market for their publishers, these authors didn’t necessarily always get the regard and compensation you think they would have received from their publishers as a result. And critics and reviewers didn’t review their works as often, even though they cater to a vast majority of the novel-buying market. You would think that reviewers would be more likely to review the books that a vast majority of people read… right? Not so much.
Around the early 2010s, authors like Jennifer Weiner began speaking up about how chick lit, and women’s fiction in general, is criticized (or not criticized or reviewed very often at all, actually) and relegated to the sidelines of the publishing industry. And then people started talking more and more about how we talk about women’s writing work with article headlines like Women Are Not Marshmallow Peeps, And Other Reasons There’s No ‘Chick Lit’ popping up more often. For more details on this read A Conversation About Chick Lit and Women’s Writing Work.
So, after unpacking all of the history and conversations had and being had about chick lit and women’s fiction, it seems that nowadays the category “Chick Lit” is fading little by little. Although I could be wrong about that. And I still have the same concerns I had at the beginning of this week when I stated:
Ultimately, 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? I am ultimately pulled toward believing the former.What Exactly Is “Chick” Lit” or “Women’s Fiction”? Are Their Designations Sexist?
At least after unpacking a little bit more about chick lit and conversations about women’s fiction this week I’m more inclined to check my biases around chick lit and women’s fiction from here on out. But whether I want those biases to influence my draft of this week’s writing prompt or not is something I’m still attempting to work through… Although it may be impossible, as they are front and center now.
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 tomorrow.
How’s your draft coming along? Write your own excerpt of chick lit or women’s fiction this week too, and share a link to it in the comments. Or tag me @kecreighton on social: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Medium with a link or to share more about your experience completing this prompt.
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