I’m not going to sugar coat it or feel embarrassed anymore: I enjoy a good, well-written book intended for female audiences. Typically, these are called women’s lit or “chick lit,” and feature romance, sex, and, in recent years, women excelling in the modern world. But women’s lit is constantly being portrayed as silly and inane – not worth any serious reader’s time. And why is that?
Consider any book you have ever read with a male lead. Usually, although this is not always true, he has a woman he’s interested in who is beautiful but seemingly unattainable, and they have sex and it advances his character in some way without ever really delving into the character of that woman. She’s a plot device and used explicitly for the character development of the male lead, but otherwise an afterthought. But when a man is portrayed as being the perpetrator of the sexual activity, suddenly the book is more respected, more literary. I’m not trying to say this is true in every case, but, doesn’t this narrative ring true a lot of the time? But how, exactly, is this story, of the man having a lot of sex with a really beautiful woman and advancing his character, any different than chick lit?
In the modern literary world, we cast off chick lit as one of the least valuable forms of writing, but it isn’t justified, compared to the other narratives getting more positive attention. If anything, in the modern world we like to say we live in, we should be celebrating the woman who “has it all” and showing girls of all ages that is possible to be a boss woman and in a committed, healthy relationship at the same time. And obviously, it’s not without obstacles, which many of these books portray. Chick lit helps draw attention to the fact that many women have to break down barriers in their fields or help their supporting characters question traditional gender norms, to have their cake and eat it too. It isn’t all roses from the get-go. And, just as important, in well-written chick lit, every relationship comes with its fair share of drama too, and the heroine must decide if her romantic lead would be a positive life partner. While not exactly the things college women are thinking about right now, New and Young Adult contemporary works deal with many of the same themes: how do I balance my passions, dreams, friends, and romantic relationships? And each different novel offers its own, fun, guidebook, on how the modern woman might go about doing that. These are things women deal with and think about every day. The best chick lit gets even deeper into the psyche of the modern woman: self-consciousness, fears, worrying about money or jobs or the future – it’s all explored in depth.
We laud many historical novels that take a look at the obstacles women had to face before achieving “bliss”, marital or otherwise. At their core, Jane Austen’s works, Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights and novels like them, all have elements in common with our modern day romances. They give us insight into how women were thinking and feeling due to the constraints of their time and the position they were born into. Modern-day chick lit does the same, albeit with a little more sex, but that’s not a bad thing, and shouldn’t be a reason to throw out an entire genre as “silly”. It’s actually entirely sexist to do so. If casual sex was the norm in the post-1830s, I guarantee Darcy and Elizabeth would’ve gotten a little more steamy. And would we throw out the work entirely then? I should hope not, because men have always been free to write about sex without the stigma of becoming a “bad writer” because of it.
Millions of women are reading chick lit because many see in it the possibility of gaining something in their own lives they might be missing, and because its fun to read about these every day people getting what they want. It makes them believe they can have it too. And why shouldn’t they? Chick lit creates a world I want to live in, one the right to vote definitely didn’t give women. A world where a woman can have her dream job, a partner who respects her, and friends who have her back. Now, what, I ask you, is so silly about that?