“If Women Like It, It Must Be Stupid”

“Chick-lit.” “Chick-flick.” These terms have been embraced by popular culture and then spit back out again because, while convenient as terms and descriptors, their very existence creates rancor.

But why do the reading (and viewing) interests of women get such short shrift?

In my recent Entertainment Weekly (August 6, 2010), Elizabeth Gilbert spoke to the backlash against her popular book, Eat, Pray, Love. There are many reasons why people don’t like her book. But the first line of the article and something Gilbert said both struck a chord:

When women rally around something in pop culture, it isn’t long before the objects of their affection are loudly trivialized or dismissed.

…..

“If women like it,” Gilbert says today, with calmness and good humor, “it must be stupid.”

Romance writer Jayne Ann Krentz spoke about this rather eloquently at her address at Bowling Green State University 10 years ago:

The truth is that the prejudice against romance fiction, while strong and virulent for generations and arguably exacerbated by the fact that the books are traditionally written by women for women — that prejudice is actually nothing more than a particularly sharp extension of our culture’s overall prejudice against the whole of popular fiction.

A while ago I rather bemoaned the fact that I couldn’t call “Chick-lit” by that name anymore. While I am not fond of “Women’s Lit” or “Women’s Fic” those terms are less demeaning. What terms are you hearing for books about young women’s lives and relationships? Is trying to come up with a name just symptomatic of fiction by or about women not being taken as seriously as fiction by or about men?

A fascinating topic, to say the least. If your group is reading Eat, Pray, Love or another popular book, it would definitely be worth discussing.

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About the Author:

Misha Stone is a readers' advisory librarian with The Seattle Public Library. Follow her on Twitter at @ahsimlibrarian.

5 Comments on "“If Women Like It, It Must Be Stupid”"

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  1. dana.huff@gmail.com' Dana Huff says:

    Interesting thoughts, and I think true. I have taken to referring to books you describe—books that appeal to and celebrate women—as feminist, and though I’m not sure it captures what feminism means to many people, it does capture what feminism means to me.

  2. Neil Hollands says:

    I think this is interesting Misha. I’ve always been troubled by the fact that “chick lit” caught on as a term for this category of fiction. It’s demeaning, but when the publishing industry started using it too, it didn’t leave those of who work in libraries or book stores with much else to do but go with the flow.

    Even “Women’s Fiction” is problematic to me (as is any term for a kind of literature that uses a gender or ethnicity to describe the work). I know from work experience that I’m not the only man in the world who dips into these novels, but the way the books get categorized leaves us out in the cold. I’ve heard “domestic fiction,” but many of these books aren’t domestic and the term is so bland that it doesn’t exactly invite readers.

    It would help if “romance” hadn’t been co-opted as a term by a certain subset of romantic fiction.

    Sometimes I think the best step is to retreat from the genre categorizing, or if we’re going to put books in categories, then stick with older, subject-based ideas like “travel nonfiction,” or “memoir,” or “coming-of-age,” or even just “contemporary fiction.” If we must use a genre label, I prefer “women’s lives.” At least that doesn’t apply that the reader ought to be of the same sex.

    Ultimately, to me, that’s the core of the problem here: We would never assume that books about men were only of interest to men. But as long as publishers and booksellers succumb to dumbed down, sexist marketing plans that assume that stories about women will only be of interest to other women, I’m not sure there’s anything that labeling can do to fix the problem.

  3. rebeccavnuk@gmail.com' Rebecca says:

    great post Mischa!
    Neil, I would love to quote you from your response – I’m going to write the Genreflecting book for Women’s Fiction, and I love some of the points you make. Will be in touch with you if I use you verbatim… : )

  4. misha says:

    Yes, Neil–I thought your response was quite nuanced and astute. It’s a complex issue. Looking forward to your book, Rebecca!

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