The Women's Words

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I am a bookworm. A bibliophile. A lover of the written word. If given the choice between going to a party and staying in with a good book, 98% of the time I will choose the book. I read all types of books from sci-fi/fantasy to historical fiction to young adult novels to contemporary fiction, but lately I have noticed that books I read that are written by women or about women don’t seem to get taken as seriously.

For some reason female-driven literature has gotten the term “chick lit”. If you haven’t heard that term, it is basically the same thing as calling a movie lead by a female a “chick flick”. Neither term is particularly flattering. However, in terms of literature, the term “chick lit” is used to categorize novels written by women about women. Sounds pretty broad, right? It is.

In an article published on the Women’s Media Center website, writer Courtney Young looks at how we talk about “women’s lit” or “chick lit”. The article talks about how some in the publishing world get sick of the amount of women writing about grief, rape, or dealing with divorce, and that some have begun categorizing those books as “misery lit”. The article did a great job of refuting the notion that too many female author’s are writing “misery lit”, by quoting music journalist Jessica Dutchin:

“Most women writers who want to be perceived as tackling themes beyond the buying of high-heeled shoes and the seduction of Mr. Perfect loathe the concept of chick lit—which is a marketing phenomenon more than a literary one—and don’t want their work to be mistaken for it,” she wrote. “Therefore we have resorted to the tactic of choosing themes that are as dark and miserable as possible.”

Young’s article articulates what I think a lot of female readers have felt for a while, there is a certain amount of sexism in the book world. Not just in the fact that we discuss “women’s lit” as a subcategory of fiction instead of in the same league as male authors but there is also sexism in the book lists and awards. The article finishes up touching on everyone’s favorite topic, the Twilight series, and how bad an example that is for the young adult genre and the sci-fi/fantasy one as well and that there are better examples of both genres out there.

I would have to say that as a feminist and a book lover, it frustrates me that there is still such a divide in how we discuss women-written literature, that it is in such a way that it appears to be taken less seriously than the male counterparts. Terms like “chick lit” only increase the divide. While the debate on how we talk about literature may seem insignificant in the grand scheme of achieving gender equality, it’s a tangible illustration of the differences of how society, the media, and scholars perceive men’s contributions versus women’s contributions.