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Dorothy Koomson, (one of my favourite authors), isn’t so crazy about the term, ‘Chicklit’, and she’s not afraid to say so on her website:

Ms Koomson writes:

…It’s a derogatory term used to describe books that are apparently formulaic, vacuous and written by young women that does nothing to enrich the tapestry of our cultural world. (It’s an accusation that’s been levelled at my books, but as I always say: everyone’s entitled to their own wrong opinion.)

On the other hand, there are many people who say they love ‘chick lit’. That we readers have nothing to be ashamed of devouring those types of books and that some ‘chick lit’ handles serious issues (someone once used My Best Friend’s Girl as an example of this – it probably didn’t occur to them I’d find my books being labelled ‘chick lit’ even in an allegedly positive way rather insulting). Those who champion the cause of ‘chick lit’ say they are trying to reclaim the term, to own it, to make sure fiction that’s – in the main – written by women for women is taken as seriously as other fiction.

It’s funny, but this is a subject that I can take or leave. I don’t read much chick lit I don’t think. The last was a Jane Fallon book if I recall correctly, and although it was ok, it was one of those books that I kept putting down, and forgetting to pick back up again.

Anyway, Dorothy continues:

What both the lovers and haters of ‘chick lit’ seem to have overlooked in all of this dismissing and championing is the term ‘chick’. It’s not the books that you need to be worrying about but the word that basically insults all women. In my mind, it’s like trying to find a suitable place to stub out a cigarette when your house is being engulfed by 50ft flames – you’ve got bigger things to worry about.

I object – rather strongly – to people calling my books ‘chick lit’ mainly because I don’t call myself or any other woman I know a ‘chick’. You see, I’m 99 per cent certain it didn’t come from a place or time where women were considered intelligent, worthy, equal human beings and using that term is just repeating the insult.

‘Ah, yes, but we’re trying to reclaim that term,’ declare the lovers of ‘chick lit’. ‘We’re trying to own it and reclassify it and make it something cool and hip and what every right-thinking female should want to be known as.’ I applaud such efforts, I really do. But I’ve never been completely convinced by the wisdom in trying to reclaim insulting terms and phrases.

You’re fighting a pretty long and dense history of negativity and you’re more than likely to find that although you’re using the word in the new, ‘right’ way, very few other people are.

Dorothy concludes by writing:

I have a novel suggestion for both the lovers and dislikers of what is essentially commercial – i.e. non-literary – storytelling: get together and come up with a new term. I quite like the term commercial fiction but it is a mouthful. I’ve come up with a new term for my books and any authors out there are more than welcome to realign their work in this new genre – as long as they acknowledge that it was my idea (he-he!!). My new term?

Heart lit.

I love books that can touch your heart. Stories, characters and writing that can break your heart, lift your heart, stop your heart, fill your heart. They can be any type of book as long as they move, involve, impassion. That’s what I read for, so heart lit is what I’m going to call any book that touches me so.

My newest mission is to try to get heart lit to replace the C Lit word. Because whilst I’m all for people being honest about the non-literary/highbrow books they do and don’t love – the world would be a slightly nicer place if they expressed their opinions without insulting 50 per cent of the population in the process.

This is something that Ms Koomson seems to feel quite strongly about, but I have to say, I don’t care either way.

I do have a suggestion though, how about Clit Lit? *g*

Any other suggestions?

16 Comments »

  • I don’t care either. I never did cotton on to the term because everything that peeps were suddenly calling ‘Chick-lit’ I’d been calling, well, a book. lol. Fiction if pressed, woman’s fiction if I really felt I needed to give the sub-genre.

    I actually don’t care much for women lit if I think about it. We don’t call Catcher In the Rye, or The Great Gatsby, or Moby Dick, or The Old Man and the Sea, men’s lit. Come to think of it, none of Margaret Atwood’s work is termed woman’s lit, as far as I know, so exactly why is there a certain group of books about women/a woman (targeted to women?) that fall under that term instead of general fiction?

    Next up. I call all my friends chick or refer to other women as chick all the time. No one is insulted when I do so because they know all I’m saying is ‘hey, girl (friend) or ‘that female over there’, etc. But to give Ms Koomson her due, my son (tongue in cheek) likes to point out how unfair it is that I can refer to other woman as chick, but he can’t.

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  • vannesa stole my argument.

    I rarely read stuff that’s labeled or shelved as “chick” or “women’s lit”, so I won’t go off on the quality tangent, but I have never understood the need to label a subgenre of fiction by gender.

    I am probably less offended by the actual word “chick” because I can’t come up with an equivalent term in Mexican Spanish. In fact, I am now curious enough, I’ll have to ask the family to find out…

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  • Emmy
    November 14
    1:41 pm

    Blah. More important things in the world than who calls your book what. As long as people are buying the book, who the frick cares? Unless an author wants to go out on a limb and say that readers can’t buy a book unless it’s referred to in whatever terms an author finds acceptable. That I’d like to see, but I won’t hold my breath.

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  • I don’t care either. The problem I have is that I can’t think of another word that conveys as quickly what I mean than “chick lit”. It also goes with “chick flick”. “Heart lit” doesn’t work for me. If someone has a problem with that genre and is embarassed to read it or has a condescending view – they have their own issues to get over.

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  • If Dorothy is talking about chick lit as I’ve come to understand chick lit, she could call it Books Guaranteed to Make You Rich . . . and I still wouldn’t read the stuff.

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  • I’ve always thought Chick was an anglo version of the word “chica”, which means girl. The only way it’s ever been insulting is if a guy uses it, and even then, it’s more insulting to him because he sounds like an idiot for seeing women in a superficial way. Which is why it kind of applied to some of those vacuous “oh, god, how many weeks do I have to starve for those new shoes?” books that came out in a flood after Bridget Jones. They were books about girlish concerns (incidentally leading on a path to a more womanly outlook.) Chick Lit and Chick Flicks apply pressure to certain girlish fantasies or desires. Whether that applies to Koomson or not, I seriously doubt, but I don’t see any insult in titling the genre aptly.

    Course, I might not be awake enough yet to see the many ways I could be wrong.

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  • Either “No-Woman-I’ve-Ever-Met-Acts-Like-This Lit” or “Don’t-Give-A-Shit Lit.”

    The whole “this is demeaning to women” argument sounds very familiar, and my reaction remains the same: Some people must wake up every morning determined to find something to get offended about.

    What exactly is so godawful about “chick”? Chicks are young and adorable (neither a particularly insultable quality), so the outcry must be rooted in bird hatred, which just isn’t right.

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  • Is there a masculine equivalent to the term “chick”? Dude, maybe? I was thinking guy, but the feminine equivalent to that seems like it would be gal. But if you call it Gal Lit that sounds like Gallit which sounds like gullet and I’m sure that’s derogatory somehow.

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  • I agree with what Kerry (Allen) said.

    About the masculine equivalent thing, if we keep with the bird terminology there’s always Cock Lit up for grabs. Not literally, of course – that might require aloe vera.
    😉

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  • Lleeo
    November 16
    2:08 am

    The whole “this is demeaning to women” argument sounds very familiar, and my reaction remains the same: Some people must wake up every morning determined to find something to get offended about.

    What exactly is so godawful about “chick”? Chicks are young and adorable (neither a particularly insultable quality), so the outcry must be rooted in bird hatred, which just isn’t right.

    Yeah, chicks may be “young and adorable” but isn’t it kind of demeaning to generalize women this way? I don’t mean to get all up in my feminist soapbox, here, but to me, ‘chick lit,’ ‘chick flicks,’ ‘bodice rippers,’ etc. are all derogatory terms that basically convey the same message: the female POV, especially when it delves into ’emotions’ and ‘relationships’ is not as valuable as the man’s, nor as meaningful.

    How many times are we, as women, asked to watch a movie or read a book from a male POV? Sure there’s stuff out there featuring strong female protagonists written or created by women, but very little of it is mainstream and has just as big of a male audience. And a lot of the supposedly ‘kick-ass heroine’ movies and books feature a scantily clad woman who just goes around shooting people while her male counterpart is dressed in camos (sp?) and a baggy shirt.

    I think this is a bigger issue that is tricky and problematic because the male POV and the male protagonist is so ingrained in our entertainment industry that we don’t even question it when our own women-centred shows, movies and books get denigrated.

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  • Hmm, Lleeo, even being a person born of the masculine persuasion I do believe I’ve read just as many books from a female POV as that of a male. And sorry, I just can’t visualize Jane Austen’s Elizabeth Bennet or Little Women’s Meg or Beth wearing scanty garments or camos. No ma’am, not for one moment. Nor can I see Meg or Elizabeth in thigh-high boots.. or brandishing long gleaming phallus-shaped pistols..their heaving bosoms glinting with sweat and their long tresses blowing against their bare shoulders as they chase after villains..their long, curvaceous boot-clad legs striding across the lawn of the Playboy mansion..their succulent red lips turning up in a determined smile as they finally face off the nasty bad boy in a baggy shirt.. his only protection the whip he conveniently remembered to strap to his hip before leaving the Male Only Leather Goods & Sock Shop. Oh hell, wait. What did I miss?

    lol But to be serious, I think genre terms often just reflect the times and trends. For example, IMHO Ray Bradbury’s work can best be described as studies in the human condition and spirit, but you know for years critics generally labeled it Science Fiction. In the end, I think, the best of books make us think and feel no matter what genre they’re categorized as.

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  • Lleeo
    November 16
    7:08 am

    Hmm, Lleeo, even being a person born of the masculine persuasion I do believe I’ve read just as many books from a female POV as that of a male. And sorry, I just can’t visualize Jane Austen’s Elizabeth Bennet or Little Women’s Meg or Beth…

    Tuscan, I think it’s great that you read and enjoy books by Jane Austen or movies like Little Women but I still feel that men like you are in the minority and that there still aren’t as many popular and mainstream texts (including books, movies, television series etc.) that are written/created by women that have a female focus. And I mean that are enjoyed equally by both men and women.

    I find even in university, as an English major, I didn’t really get to read a lot of literature by women until I got into my 3rd and 4th year. All of the survey courses I had to take of the ‘canon’ included mainly male poets, playwrights and writers. And just taking a general survey of what areas of study English profs at my university are focusing on, almost all of the female professors are concentrating on female writing/authors while the male profs go off in different, broader directions.

    I’m not trying to generalize, here, but I still don’t believe that women’s writing and women writers are studied or read as extensively even in academics. Of course that’s changing but can you honestly say to me that a large percentage of the male population is reading Jane Austin, watching Steel Magnolias, or for that matter, reading Dorothy Koomson, Nora Roberts, or going to see the new Sex in the City movie?

    I really feel like there are more women out there who read authors like Dean Koontz and Lee Child than there are male readers who flock to Nora Roberts and Danielle Steele.

    And I more accurate analogy of what I was trying to point out with the whole ‘kick-ass’ woman thing would be Indiana Jones and Lara Croft. They both basically have the same job but wear vastly different outfits.

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  • Whoa there. Indie and Lara isn’t a fair analogy either. Both were aimed at men specifically.

    Indie was always a male fantasy action figure. Doing what men are assumed to want to do–be intelligent, solve problems, fight bad guys, get the hot girl and save the world. He was also a figure in the very conservative 30s.

    Lara was never meant to truly represent a woman’s POV. She was designed as a different male fantasy. Her outfit is “fan service”, something the designers came up with as they figured the majority of their game audience would rather look at a hot female body and they have a good time using that angle. She was created an objectified character and became something that appealed to both sexes for different reasons, thus leading to the film. By the time that happened, the outfits were part of the mystique.

    Long story short, Croft was never meant to be FOR women. She just happens to be a character we get behind anyway.

    Also, while I understand the imbalance of male/female fiction from the past may be upsetting, the facts are that women found it extremely difficult to get published in less equalized times. Yes, you can take courses specializing on women in literature throughout history, but you will never be able to make up for the fact that male literature will outweight female literature in the past by more than ten to one odds. To cover what is considered seminal of each era, you’ll be lucky to fit a female writer, much less an equal amount. It’s just not mathematically feasible.

    What about today’s market, though? Do women outnumber men today? Are we close to equalizing the equation? How much of the market are we earning? And where do those dollars live–genre wise? The majority is in the romance genre, which, in it’s own time–era after era–has never been taken seriously. But those are the works that live on, the ones that we read in schools and in free time.

    Chick Lit refers, literally, to a small niche market. Others might apply it incorrectly, but it’s a specific style of writing and as a title, it’s appropriate to tone. It doesn’t apply to all romance, to all women’s fiction or to all books written by women. Much of what’s out there by women is respected, critically and by readers across the sexes.

    Chick Flicks is a colloquialism that apply to “Weepies”, movies that are designed to appeal to the emotions and usually feature women as the central figures. There are cases of male pov in those movies. Say, “Legends of the Fall”, for example, or even “Last Of The Mohicans”. “There Will Be Blood” is a male weepie if I ever saw one, but there’s no convenient rhyming title for these kinds of movies. (Though, thanks to Tuscan, I have the suggestion of “Cock Lock” going through my head.) You’ll note, no film is ever marketed as a Chick Flick because the term has been replaced with the more accessible “Date Movie”, that can be applied to multiple genres. Chick Flick is outdated.

    As for “bodice rippers”, that term has been outdated since the 90s. Only the people who don’t read the genre or have no understanding of it use it—and generally pay the price of looking foolish for their trouble.

    So, basically, I guess I’m saying that if you wake up in the morning feeling denigrated because people call your work “Chick Lit”–and you do not write for that specific genre–then your only problem is that you’re listening to people who have no idea how to correctly classify literature or read the classification given to them by the publisher. In which case, I suggest to you that you should probably aim your PR in a direction that highlights the genre you do write for or ignore the unintelligent. Both if you’re feeling spry.

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  • Lleeo asked, “can you honestly say to me that a large percentage of the male population is reading Jane Austin, watching Steel Magnolias, or for that matter, reading Dorothy Koomson, Nora Roberts, or going to see the new Sex in the City movie?”

    I do know that more of my male friends read the Harry Potter books than my chick friends, a hell of a lot more. Correct me if I’m wrong, but those are written by a woman, right? Oh, and the books by that JD Robb person..whoever the heck she is… 😉

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  • How many times are we, as women, asked to watch a movie or read a book from a male POV?

    Never in my life have I been asked such a thing. I frequently CHOOSE to do so because I don’t really give a crap in which gender the POV is as long as the story is engaging.

    I personally have not experienced gender to be this great polarizing factor it’s made out to be. I don’t have to be a man to understand and even *gasp* agree with an observation made by a man, and I am personally acquainted with no men who are incapable of comprehending a woman’s observation. If you find yourself in such a situation, perhaps the problem is with the company you keep rather than a convenient, phonetically catchy reference label given to a type of book.

    But then, I’ve probably been brainwashed by the male establishment so I won’t recognize the sinister, misogynistic intent with which the word “chick” has been imbued.

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  • Ah, my friends and I use the term “chick” all the time. No biggie. It’s been reclaimed, as far as I’m concerned. But Karen, that last sentence seriously cracked me up.

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