Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Chick Lit: What is it?

I know use of the term "chick lit" can cause people to have instant hernias or it can make them feel like they want to scream or have a cocktail. But I am thinking about this term today because I recently read I Think I Love You by Alison Pearson and then yesterday I saw "Something Borrowed" which is based on a book by Emily Giffin.
Both of these books take on relationships between women as their central themes, although they both follow the traditional Romantic Comedy formula: girls  love boys, or the same boy, and this affects or might affect their friendship, obstacles are overcome, the girls each end up with the boy they should end up with, sometimes causing the disastrous ruin of their friendship. One of the important sub-themes of Romantic Comedies, however, is the hurtful way some women treat other women.
The formula of Romantic Comedy necessitates a reliance on stereotype: women love to shop! blonde women are fun and bitchy, not troubled by intellectualism! brunettes are brainy and compassionate! the best male friend is also intellectual and cute in a geeky way and he's  in love with the nice girl! But she doesn't love him! I could go on...but I know you all understand.
Now after watching the movie "Something Borrowed" which was definitely the standard formulaic Romantic Comedy, and having read I Think I Love You over the weekend,  I start to wonder whether Romantic Comedy and Chick Lit are the same categories, basically, and whether Chick Lit can ever be more than the formulaic women centered fiction we think of, or would it be possible for a woman to write a book that is considered Chick Lit that fundamentally changes the definition of Chick Lit, or if a book defies that narrow formula it's just not considered Chick Lit.
I know this is not a new discussion, but I was bothered by a few things in "Something Borrowed." One is the notion that getting married means choosing between your female best friend and your male soul mate. It seems, in this configuration, you can't have it both ways. Obviously this is not realistic, but I wonder why so many Chick Lit novels set this up as a fundamental conflict.
The second question is why, when a novel has an important relationship at its core, is this novel automatically deemed less important or weighty than a novel that takes on some other kind of issue?
No, these questions might never be answered, but I guess this is what is on my mind.


ErinAlice said...

I agree. Did you like the movie cause it got mixed reviews which I don't care about anyway but yea I think Romantic Comedies rely a lot on stereotypes. :(

Rae Meadows said...

Thanks, Lynn. I think about the chick lit thing a lot. What is that magical line between chick lit (which I think of as a derogatory term) and literary fiction? Mary Gaitskill's Two Girls Fat and Thin comes to mind. Is it not chick lit because it's dark? I think you're right that women's relationships are seen as lighter fare in books and movies, in the same way that domestic topics are often viewed as "quiet". I find it all kind of frustrating.

Nik said...

So my understanding about the term Chick Lit was coined by Cris Mazza who thought of it more like Gyrlz or Wommin Lit, the kind of lit that was supposed to subvert that kind of girl disses girl for boy action but then it got coopted by the man who buys the lit that is girly and therefore chicky but that's not what it was meant to be. I think Rae's thoughts here about Mary Gaitskill was the original meaning that now is lost and not as punk rock.

Condiment said...

About five years ago when K and I were first dating, we were at the bookstore and I was commenting on all of the chick lit titles laid out there in a row, with near-identical cover art (sassy line drawings and curvy drawn typefaces), and she got all up in my face, thinking I had coined the phrase "chick lit," and how fucked up was that?

So apparently for some the expression is intrinsically vile! For me, it's all about the marketing. If I see something that is being marketed like Sex and the City, in book form, and it's written by a woman, then it's chick lit. But obviously all women are not writing S&F novels (shopping and fucking novels). Lorrie Moore isn't doing Chick Lit, and neither is Cynthia Ozick, or Tina Fey for that matter. Still, there's obviously some money to be made by shoehorning women's stories into the Chick Lit shelves.

I find the discussion surrounding "Bridesmaids" sort of interesting. Written by and starring women, it's kind of being celebrated as a feminist viewing experience by some, which is truly odd, but interesting.

BTW, I said the f-word twice in this comment.. a record!

Counterintuitive said...

An excellent discussion here which, for me, points out the broader problem of labeling some literature "literary" fiction. In this construction all that falls outside (SF, fantasy, chick lit, detective fiction, YA, children's, graphic novels) is necessarily seen as less serious, less complex, less...literary.

Anonymous said...

I haven't read either of those but did read Alison Pearson's I Don't Know How She Does It (or something like that) about motherhood and wow, it struck a chord. Have you read that one?