In between midterms, essays, and halloween costumes many of us will be trying to sneak in a break with some easy, enjoyable reads. Unfortunately, in our culture there is a certain stigma that gets attached to our most entertaining, addictive and salacious novels. Is calling novels “chick lit” patronizing? Yes. Grouping literature that revolves around complex females together is trivializing the fictional women they represent and the real women who read and relate to it. After all, we don’t stereotype classic male literature as prick lit.
Henry James wrote A Portrait of a Lady in 1881. It follows the story of a privileged young woman’s romantic dealings, search for independence and questionable decisions. This mimics the basic plot line of “chick lit.” However, James’ novel is canonized and revered as a great work of literature while iconic modern novels like Gossip Girl, Bridget Jones’s Diary and Something Borrowed are regulated to being fluffy rom-coms without substance. What makes James’s novel superior to the work of any of the modern, witty female writers that line the shelves in bookstores today?
Harry Styles was asked if he “worries about proving credibility to an older crowd.” He grows animated in his response: “Who’s to say that young girls who like pop music—have worse musical taste than a 30-year-old hipster guy? That’s not up to you to say. Young girls like the Beatles. You gonna tell me they’re not serious? How can you say young girls don’t get it? They’re our future. Our future doctors, lawyers, mothers, presidents, they kind of keep the world going. They don’t act ‘too cool.’ They like you, and they tell you. Which is sick.”
This quote really encapsulates the best things about teen girls: the unadulterated love that they feel towards their idols.
Styles captures here what so many men of his generation and earlier have missed. When something is loved by young girls, it doesn’t make it “less than,” and we need to stop clumping diverse arrays of movies, novels and music into one group that is classified as subpar. Regulating women to the low brow ghetto of “chick lit” ensures female writers don’t break into the top tier of the literary canon. This safeguards the literature hierarchy and keeps it an old boys club. Instead, authors of “chick lit” are forced into the abbreviated “lit” ghetto; there is a huge difference between “lit” and “literature.”
There has never been a legitimate explanation of what “lit” is and why some genres are abbreviated to lit while others maintain the full title of literature. With some extrapolation it’s not difficult to determine why some books and genres are considered literature while others are low brow “lit.” The distinguishment between the two is meant to create a divide that shows what is high brow, meaningful literature for the intelligentsia while the “lit” is the garbage pit where the drooling masses get their kicks. How are the two separated? Overwhelmingly by the amount of women that read each genre. For example, “misery lit,” a type of literature that focuses on the trial of the protagonist, has a readership of 80-90% female. Much like “chick lit,” “misery lit” is vulgar because of its female audience.
While there is no denying that female writers publish plenty of light and fluffy “easy reads,” it’s also forgotten that male writers are just as likely to churn out equivalently cliché work but are still taken more seriously. Why are we trying to persuade young girls that enjoying media that characterizes independent, spirited and relatable girls as stupid takes away from young girls’ ability to grow into intrepid, confident individuals? When we limit girls, we limit our future.
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