The chick lit debate

A recent article in The Guardian asked if we should mourn the death of chick lit, a death which may, in the words of Mark Twain, be described as an exaggeration. It all depends on what you mean by 'chick lit'. Is it a catch-all label for all women's fiction, or does it only refer to those with hot pink covers sporting stilettos and Martini glasses? But is there much more going on inside the covers, and the problem is merely the way women's fiction is packaged?

When my first book (pictured) was published, a male friend asked me what women's fiction was, and was he allowed to read it? He also said he never would have picked up a book with a hot pink cover, but he was surprised he enjoyed it. 

Now I don't mind that our books are marketed to women – women are the biggest buyers of books by far – but has this led to the assumption that all women's fiction is the same, and worse, that it's light fluff? There is a whole other discussion to be had about covers and marketing, but this is more about perception. Those of us who read women's fiction know that it's often about much bigger issues: that martini glass could be making light of alcoholism, and the shoes masking some painful body image issues. So why the cutesy label? Because we do mention shoes? Martinis? Love? Or, gasp, is it because it's written by women? I've said it before and I'll say it again, if men write about relationships or domestic issues, they're considered insightful forays into the human condition. Perhaps they're not always lauded, but they ain't called chick lit either. 

I've heard many excellent female authors shrug and apologise for what they write. I've done it myself. 'It's just entertainment'. 'I don't mind that it's called chick lit'. We wouldn't want to look like we're taking ourselves too seriously as writers, for goodness' sakes. That doesn't mean you must write only about serious stuff to deserve to be taken seriously as a writer. Look at Nick Hornby and Nick Earls – both wonderful, funny writers whose books are very much about relationships. Their solid reputations are well-deserved. Just not so sure that female writers of the same ilk are given quite the same status. 

Am I worrying about nothing? Does it matter what it's called? Do you love the girlie covers or shy away from them? And if there are any blokes out there – would you be caught dead reading one?

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