Edited by Malavika Suresh
Chick Lit is a genre of literature. It usually involves books that are written from a female perspective and generally addresses the trials and tribulations of modern womanhood. Usually, these issues surround romantic entanglements, female friendships, and matters in the workplace. They are light-hearted and humorous reads, and often, do not pose to be anything more than that. However, the main trope in these novels is the perfect ‘happily ever after’ that the protagonist seems to find with the man of her dreams. These men are usually one-dimensional men with their only personality being a good boyfriend. They tend to set unrealistic expectations for a romance amongst their readers and set an unhealthy precedent about their ‘perfect man’ for women who read these books.
The lineage of this genre of ‘girly, chatty’ books can generally be traced back to Bridget Jones, and her famous diary. In Bridget Jones’ Diary, the protagonist spends most of her time worrying about her appearance and the men in her life. Her days are filled with constantly bemoaning her fear of dying “fat and alone” and eaten by dogs. When she isn’t criticising her own body and projecting her internalised fatphobia (which calls for a whole other discussion), she is tormenting after the men in her life. The men in question, Daniel Cleaver and Mark Darcy, and their personalities, could not be more opposite to each other. Daniel is Bridget’s boss at her publishing house job, and is, for lack of a better term, a ‘fuckboy.’ The red flags to show that he is one is littered everywhere. He sends inappropriate emails in a workplace setting, leverages his position of power over her as her boss, and touches her without her consent (seriously Bridge, this guy?). Despite all this, she fantasises about their wedding. Finally, (and, might I add, inevitably) when his no-good tendencies come out, and it is revealed that he cheated on his fiance with Bridget, she develops the right mindset and breaks off contact with him. She quits her job and, for a minute there, our faith is restored in her. However, when Daniel, the-human-toolbox, returns after being dumped by his fiance, she deliberates taking him back.
Our other contender for Bridget’s heart, Mark Darcy, ain’t it either. He can perhaps be seen as being the same haughty, conceited man as his namesake, the other famous Mr. Darcy, of Pride and Prejudice fame. After initially insulting Bridget, he falls for her after seeing her as the object of some other male’s affection. The reason behind him being deemed as the ‘perfect’ man is the stark difference between his personality and that of Daniel’s. He is quiet, while Daniel is abrasive. He likes Bridget for “exactly who she is” while spending time with Daniel makes Bridget want to change her looks, become thinner, and ‘hotter.’ So, Mark Darcy is perfect, but only in comparison to the vile Daniel Cleaver. In the real world, however, Darcy is a man with the bare minimum requirement to be a decent human being and has the emotional range of a couch.
At the end of the day, the two main male love interests in Bridget Jones’ Diary are the embodiment of black and white. Daniel is a good-looking, piece of garbage without a bone of decency in his body and, on the other hand, Darcy is a boring, average-looking guy with mediocre decency. One is a traditional ‘bad boy’ while the other is the apparent embodiment of a ‘good guy,’ but neither one of them exist in the real world. People in the real world exist with grey personalities, with both good and bad in them, but apparently, not in the BJU (Bridget Jones Universe).
Another book with a similar format which was targeted to teen girls, The Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot, did not have male love interests with the same black and white personalities, but rather just one completely ‘good’ personality. The protagonist, Mia Thermopolis’ main love interest, Michael Moscovitz, is the ‘perfect guy.’ He is the ‘ideal’ boyfriend. He is super smart, super handsome, and has the emotional capacity that is quite unlikely to be found in an 18-year-old boy. He graduates high school as a valedictorian and is awarded early admission into an Ivy League school. According to Mia, with his dark hair and brown eyes, he is the “third best looking guy” at her high school. On top of everything, he is very understanding and compassionate towards Mia. He is the perfect boyfriend for every teen girl ever. But, as is the case with Daniel and Darcy, he isn’t real. Real teen boys are imperfect. They are childish, immature, they don’t have the perfect body or smile. They may carry a little bit more weight around the waist. But, somehow, these chick lit seem to promote dashing, brooding, confident boys as the men of our dreams.
While chick lit will always make for a light-hearted, fun, and exciting read, it’s important to be able to distinguish the fairy-like romantic elements in them and realise that real life is different. We have achieved having relatable female protagonists in these stories. It’s high time that we stop satiating our need for perfection and learn to write some imperfect yet real men.