Huffpost Books

Is 'Chick Lit' A Valid Literary Category? (DEBATE)

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There have been many arguments for and against the label "chick lit". Since we have a new feature called 'Change My Mind', we figured this heated debate around categorization would be a good place to begin.

Answer the question below, then read arguments for and against the term by expert bloggers, Chloe Spooner of Chloe's Chick Lit Reviews and Bethanne Patrick of Bookriot.

Then vote again - and see how many arguments have succeeded in swaying opinions.

And don't forget to add your comments on the question below!


Pre-debate poll:

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‘Chick Lit’ is a valid literary category

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Who makes the better argument?

Chloe Spooner Book blogger

I have a significant issue with the negative connotations associated with the Chick Lit genre and, in particular, those stemming from the media who are constantly foretelling the "death of chick lit."

From my observations as a fan of the genre who also tweets, Facebook's and blogs chick lit content, it still certainly has a strong place in the book market, and has its fans who will always be more than happy to read "chick lit".

Unsurprisingly, people automatically assume several things when they hear the term "chick lit" -- pink, girly covers, idealistic female authors, stories about women falling in love with men, 'happily ever after' endings and light, fluffy reads.

In reality, as someone who reads roughly 150 chick lit books a year, I can whole-heartedly disagree with those assumptions and I hope to dispel some inaccurate perceptions.

I think it is the term itself is part of the problem. "Chick lit" is similar-sounding to "Chick flick" -- which is indicative of a sweet, soppy and romantic film which involves two people who end up falling in love with each other.

Furthermore, the adjective "chick" indicates it is a female-dictated genre, thus completely alienating male readers from its potential fan base.

While the primary market being targeted is women, this should not mean that men need to be put off from reading a first-class literary work. From what I have read in the genre in the last few years, the books are grittier than you'd expect, the authors aren't afraid to tackle more controversial topics, they cover a range of ages from the young women we expect these books to be based around, through to more mature women, and they do not always give us the happy endings you might expect.

I've read chick lit books dealing with infidelity, assisted suicide, death, infertility, adoption, murder and domestic violence.

Why should women be embarrassed to be seen reading chick lit? Those that make judgmental remarks about people who read chick lit clearly have never read an emotional rollercoaster of a novel from the likes of Elizabeth Noble or Jojo Moyes, experienced the laughter and realistic tales of Sophie Kinsella or Milly Johnson, nor the edgy and shocking tales woven by Dorothy Koomson, or the fabulous twists and turns contained within one of Melissa Hill's novels.

Bookstores should certainly not be afraid to stock chick lit, and promote the fact as well. I was disgusted to read that a popular British bookstore is to drop the term 'Women's fiction' after two, yes two, women decided to complain about the "pink fluffiness" and how they were offended by it.

My response? Don't buy it. Just because two women decide on behalf of the entire female population that a category isn't valid, does not make it so.

I, for one, enjoy going into a bookshop and seeing the bright, fun covers of chick lit, that stand out amongst the more serious titles, and I know what I'm looking for on the shelf too. Women who love chick lit often go into a book shop to seek out the latest release from favourites such as Kinsella, Jill Mansell, Jenny Colgan and more, so why should we be denied our right to buy the books we like because it MIGHT offend someone else?

Also, why should we be afraid to call a spade a spade? Why can't we name it "women's fiction", because that is what it is -- the target market is women. I don't want to sit down after a hard day at work, and read a violent crime thriller, or the tale of someone who has been abused since they were a child.

I want to read a story that is well written, has realistic and likeable characters that I can relate to, going through things that again I relate to or know about, and I'm going to be happy reading.

I don't know of many authors who don't like their work being classified as 'chick lit', or even 'women's fiction', and those that claim this are clearly kidding themselves.

It's a genre that has proved that it has selling and staying power - many of the big publishers have subsidiaries dedicated to just women's fiction, there are countless blogs and sites out there devoted to the genre, and readers who will always pick a chick lit book over any other - and I'm proud to be one of them.

Long live Chick Lit.

Bethanne Patrick Writer, Author

HuffPo Books emailed to ask me if I'd be willing to write a piece "against chick lit."

My first though was "How do I write against something that not only already exists, but has existed for quite a while?" The ship emblazoned CHICK LIT has sailed, its figurehead modeled on Bridget Jones, its sails billowing as millions of eager readers turn pages, its hold stacked with pallets of pink-jacketed novels.

All right, I'll bring the seafaring metaphors to a close, but I used them deliberately. How, pray tell, is the average 19th-century seafaring novel, piled to its riggings (there I go again...) with detailed descriptions of rope-hammock quarters and officers' banquets less or more serious than a Joanna Trollope chapter about a "hen party?"

I'll put it anecdotally, too: I recently interviewed a male author who confessed that he has a weakness for thrillers. "After all, that's all there is at the airport when you're between books--thrillers and chick lit," he said. I responded that he must mean "lad lit." "Oh, well, no, thrillers are thrillers," he said, without an ounce of irony.

This, then, is why I am "against" chick lit. It shouldn't exist in the first place! When a book appeals largely to an audience of the male gender, it's a "thriller," a "mystery," a "procedural," and so on. When a book appeals largely to an audience of the female gender, it's a "cozy," a "romance," a "novel of suspense," or "chick lit"--anything to make it seem less exciting, less danger-filled, less...important.

As a reader with catholic tastes and a solid background in literature, I have some ideas about the cultural suppositions behind chick lit's "three paces behind and slightly to the right" place. Societies around the world (not just the Western ones who currently have the leisure to debate things like chick lit) consider women second-class citizens, and women's pursuits less important than men's.

Although many a male-plotted spy novel has a silly rationale behind it (they're not all about saving the world and/or freedom), somehow when the gents decide to pull off a heist simply to save a friend's honor, it's considered Really Serious Business. Let the ladies attempt same,

and it's Chick Lit. If a man pens a light look at domestic doings, it's a "comic novel." Let Joanna Trollope write one, and it's an "Aga saga" (so-called after the iconic enameled cookstoves in upperclass farmhouse kitchens--the heart of the home and its female inhabitants, supposedly).

Female authors and critics have long bemoaned the fact that any woman who deals with matters domestic risks being shunted straight into the "women's literature" bin, but at least that unhelpful phrase is not downright snide.

Yes, I wrote "snide." Please don't try and convince me that the word "chick" is anything other than derogatory to women. What is the male equivalent? Girls = Boys, Guys = Gals, Ladies = Gentlemen...what is the opposite of "chicks?" There isn't one, and I'll tell you why:

"Chicks" isn't simply a gender designation--it's an infantilization. A "chick" is an immature chicken--neither hen nor rooster nor good plain offspring. This is borne out by that arbiter of etymology the OED itself, which cites the first use of "chick" for "woman" in 1927's "Elmer Gantry" by Sinclair Lewis: "He didn't want to marry this brainless little fluffy chick."

"Brainless," "little," and "fluffy"--just a few of the adjectival reasons that women object to the term "chick" as signifier. What are the equivalent terms for men? "Dude?" "Bro?" While many men would laughingly claim they wouldn't mind being called either, there's no "Dude Lit" section in your local bookstore, no doubt because those men laughing would be embarrassed to be seen shopping in that section.

Yes, there's a certain kind of book that tends to appeal mostly to women, just as there's a certain kind of book (W.E.B. Griffin, anyone?) that tends to appeal mostly to men. So why deem it "chick lit?" We don't have a special term for the books that appeal primarily to men, so why do we need one for books that appeal primarily to women? Can't we just know them when we see them?

Maybe it's for a simple reason. Those who would cling to "chick lit" as an appellation might be rightfully afraid that putting those books on shelves based solely on merit might result in those shelves being quickly picked clean and restocked, while some others might not sell as well. After all, women hold up "half the sky" as an African proverb states--and account for well over half of the modern book-buying public.

Let's get rid of "chick lit." It's good for women--and it could be good for publishing, too



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‘Chick Lit’ is a valid literary category


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