Back in the late 1990s, women readers were flooded with waves of flawed heroines on the quest for success in career and relationships. And a lot of them liked to shop or had other such shallow obsessions. It was “empowerment light”, a feminine feminism that invited women to feel strong in high heels and fitted clothes, lipstick and long hair, say YES to wanting it all and OK if we didn’t get it but got close enough. It was post-feminist in that you could be a feminist without admitting that you were. [Side note: Just admit it. You’ll feel better.]
The books that came from that time spoke in a voice that had been missing or quiet and needed to be heard. They let the protagonists be messy and quirky; the underdog who would rise to great heights, get the job and the guy. It was the literary equivalent of a hot fudge sundae that was calorie-free — it was the golden age of Chick Lit.
Almost immediately after the genre was coined, Chick Lit was derided, never taken seriously by critics despite (or in light of) its sales. Women writers who wanted to be taken seriously felt the need to separate themselves from *that* writing, which was seen a step above the pulpy romance of the Harlequin set. [Side note: The Romance genre is killing it right now with a strong sisterhood of support amongst their authors. Well done, ladies.] While some tried to stay away from a Chick Lit label, others waded in and made a nice living. Some had the good fortune of their books getting optioned for and/or made into feature films or a particular television series. But a few of those lucky ducks still complained that they weren’t taken seriously enough because they wrote Chick Lit. [Side note: Boo hoo.]
Come on, ladies, let’s face it: Chick Lit is the pop music of women’s literature and there’s nothing wrong with that. Yes, classical snobs may turn up their noses to it, but that’s the way the world works. Embrace it. Get over it. Whatever it takes. But let’s be honest enough to admit that, as lovely as “Madame Butterfly” is, sometimes, you just want to listen to “Beauty and the Beat”. [Side note: And you should.]
I have no issue with my first two novels being in the Chick Lit bucket. But some seem to. A few friends were surprised that I didn’t write something more “literary” when I finally published a novel. You see, they just don’t read *those* kinds of books. Fine by me. To each his/her/their own. As I’ve said before, I will never ask a friend if they’ve read my books or what they thought of them if they have. But I do wonder if *those* friends read Zoe Heller. Because I think NOTES ON A SCANDAL is Chick Lit on steroids. Did they enjoy BIG LITTLE LIES? Completely Chicky Litty. GONE GIRL? You betcha, even with Nick Dunne. And it’s not because those books were written by chicks or that chicks are the protagonists. To me, it’s because the characters are women whose darkest, dearest, most darling and dangerous parts are relatable or recognizable — whether we want to admit that or not — and that’s what makes them chicks. They are people we know or would like to or hope we never do, and we are drawn to them. Relatability is the core of Chick Lit. [Side note: I bet *those* friends read FIFTY SHADES, though.]
It’s too easy to get caught up in the words used to describe the genre as an excuse to eschew it. We could call it Contemporary Literature with a Strong Female Protagonist but Chick Lit is easier to say. The writing can be whip-smart, twisting your brain into a frenzy or a delightfully light and just right to take your mind off the harshness of life. It’s not one-size-fits-all, and I admit that some of the genre’s best-sellers were my least favorites. [Side note: I will always have a soft spot for BRIDGET JONES’ DIARY.]
Chick Lit is now old enough to drink. It’s lost some of its shine. Its fanbase is somewhat fragmented. The genre itself is evolving — it has to — but the stigma seems to remain, like gum stuck to one’s shoe. Yet, for all it was, has been and will be, Chick Lit shouldn’t be one more thing that divides or derides women. It’s a genre written by women, for women; supporting it supports women. [Side note: See? Chick Lit is feminist after all.] Maybe give it a chance again, because there’s really nothing wrong with it outside of what it’s been called. And I think women can relate to that.
[Side note: Men are not to be excluded from this conversation, as I know more than a few who do read Chick Lit. Some see it as “research”, peering into the world of women. Others just get a kick out of it. A few more are kind enough to champion a friend. So, gentlemen, welcome to the club! There’s nosh and wine, and a bit of whiskey in the corner. Make yourself at home.]