Remember that book you read last month? The one you couldn’t put down? The one you recommended to your co-workers and friends and that dude on the bus? Turns out, you were wrong!
Oops! Sorry about that. Women can’t enjoy literature. Good books are weighty tomes that tackle big problems. And books written by and for women… well, they’re just not.
They’re Chick Lit.
This wonderfully dismissive genre covers anything from Marian Keyes to Jojo Moyes to Julie Powell. Reviews of these books will usually include the word “fluff,” as if the material itself is so weightless, so meaningless, it could float away off the page.
It’s like magic. A female-centered novel is published, and it’s a smashing success. It delves deep into family relationships, death, illness, love, adultery, or maybe all of the above. But once the masses ACTUALLY START READING IT, game over. If it’s on Oprah’s Book Club, forget it. Nothing kills credibility like being commercially successful.
This is not a new problem. And some authors, like Keyes, have been rejecting the term for years. “This is very much a patriarchal society. And I think one way of keeping women less well paid and having to do more work is to mock them and anything they love,” said Keyes in an interview with the Telegraph last year.
Novelist Jennifer Wiener expertly labels it “Goldfinching” in homage to Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch, a book that sold millions but was critically panned in a ‘yes, but real literature doesn’t have quite so many feelings’ review in Vanity Fair.
In an essay for The Guardian, Weiner explains:
It’s the process by which a popular and previously well-regarded novel and, more importantly, its readers, are taken to the woodshed, usually by a critic who won’t hesitate to congratulate himself on his courage, as if dismissing popular things that women like requires some special kind of bravery — as if it doesn’t happen all day, every day.
It’s the same shit over and over. It’s other-ing. Television shows, movies, and books so often show 18- to 35-year-old white males as default. And when their views are presented as normal, everyone else becomes an “other.” So Jonathan Franzen’s novel Freedom was presented to male and female readers, but Rainbow Rowell’s excellent Landline is just for the ladiezzzz.
Writer and editor Lyndsay Kirkham started a project called Seen Reading Women, encouraging people to go public with their lady-reading. Hopefully it’s the first step to understanding the wide world of female authors doesn’t start and end with the one Margaret Atwood novel you read in high school.
Maybe the solution is to flip the script. Book stores could install a “Dude Lit” section and fill it with Hunter S. Thompson and Chuck Palahniuk and Cormac McCarthy novels. All the book covers will be muted tones of navy and olive, and have illustrations of axes and steak. And, most importantly, when someone confesses to liking one of these books (“Catcher in the Rye is my guilty pleasure! I can’t help it!”), we’ll giggle and admit to skimming a James Joyce once.
Or… we could all just read and like what we want, because this Chick Lit shit has gone on long enough.