10 Sep 2015

Guest Post: Is it time to chop the "chick" from lit?

A fabulous guest post by Genevieve Gannon
Recently one of the world's most successful authors - Marian Keyes - pleaded with people to stop using the term "chick lit". It's a pejorative label, Keyes argued, used to mock women and anything they love.
"I'm not saying this in anger, it's a simple fact that one way of keeping women shut up is to call the things they love 'fluff'," the Telegraph reported Keyes saying.
The Irish best-seller has overcome whatever negative connotations the label chick lit brings with it, but it's possible her reach would be even greater than her estimated 22 million in global sales if it had never been applied in the first place.
When I started contacting book reviewers to see if they would read my debut novel, Husband Hunters, the editor of a major Australian women's website apologetically told me "our readers tell us their least favourite genres are chick lit/hen lit and romance".
Because of this, she wouldn't review my book. Given it was rejected by a publication targeted at my ideal audience I guessed - correctly - that more generalist websites and newspapers would also be unable to find space for it.
Australian novelist Lauren Sams, who published her first book She's Having Her Baby earlier this year, is also wary of the effect the label could have on her work.
She said she doesn't apply it to her book, but doesn't mind if others do - so long as they are not using it to dismiss her writing.
"Using a term like chick lit is reductive and automatically diminishes the importance and quality of the work in many readers' eyes," Sams said.
Despite review editors' opposition to "chick lit", the perceived disdain for the books written by and for women isn't born out in the sales figures.
At the time of writing, ibooks Australia's top 150 selling books featured 92 books from either the romance category - a broad church that includes everything from regency romance to fifty shades of Fabio penned almost exclusively by women - or general fiction titles by writers like Keyes, Sophie Kinsella and Liane Moriarty. In other words, almost two thirds of the top-sellers were books more likely to be bought and read by women.
It is well documented that women buy more books than men. So why do the book review guardians treat novels geared towards this lucrative market like the literary equivalent of anthrax spores? Many agree with Keyes' assertion that it is because it's a gendered label. Unfortunately, authors and publishers rely in such categories to help them target the right markets. Labels like "sci-fi", "action-thriller" and "chick lit" are useful to help readers identify stories they know they like, and are more important than ever now that so many people buy books digitally.
One way to avoid some of the problems "chick lit' brings with it is to dispense with the gendered term "chick". I've come up with some suggestions of other labels that could describe the genre. 

A contemporary comedy. This ungendered term means Nick Hornby's funny books about men and their ham-fisted attempts at finding love or harmony would be classified as no different to Emily Giffin's funny books about women doing the same.

Short for life-fiction, or alternatively light-fiction, this label would convey to the reader that the book contains the elements typical to chick lit, being that it is nothing so much as a slice of life. The 'Li' in 'Li-fi' could also double as a shortened version of 'light'. The friendly, chatty tone is one of the hallmarks of chick lit.

For cute-journey. The use of the term 'cute' here is a reference to the "cute" in "meet-cute", a movie term used to describe the charming circumstances under which the hero and heroine first lock eyes. The books that attract the chick-lit label tend to invoke that charm, but also follow the classic hero's journey story arc. The character's life is interrupted, the character faces adversity, the character accepts a challenge, rises to the challenge, maybe suffers a knock-back, then achieves personal growth that leads to triumph. 

Simply drop the "chick" which has been deemed pejorative and the term works just fine. Nobody would think the nickname "lit" is standing in for grand, old capital-L Literature and it could be applied to fun, funny books written by men and women alike.

What do you think? Do we need to chop the "chick" from lit? 

Genevieve Gannon is a Melbourne journalist and the author of Husband Hunters and Chasing Chris Campbell ebooks published by HarperCollins. Visit her website.

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