Friday, February 29, 2008

Non-Feminist Lit 101

What does everyone think of "chick-lit?"

My general impression is that these books focus on white women balancing well-paying careers with their love lives.  I'm not sure because though I've occasionally picked up a book and read the back cover, vaguely attracted because I recognized a subject-matter similarity to Sex And The City, I've always put the book back down because it seemed kind of "ditzy."  The thing is, these are women who have benefited from the perks of feminism, but none of whom would acknowledge being feminists, not if that terms means standing up for or against something against the cultural norm.

But focus on my "ditzy" call.  Is that fair?  Why should women who enjoy the perks of femininity and the fruits of feminism be labeled?  Aren't they just living their (fictional) lives the best way they know how?  It goes back to feminism.  I want to ask, how can you be so oblivious about the movement that has given you (it must be acknowledged as such, I think) so much freedom?  How can you afford to be so self-centered and utterly oblivious?  (So I've found more accurate labels than "ditzy"...the mere fact that I would use this put-down generally reserved for women, though, to describe something that doesn't appeal to me, speaks to how culture rubs off on us all when we're not careful and, perhaps, how social norms are in us all and bubble out when we're not reflective.)  And, truthfully, though I thought the TV series was great, the criticisms I have of the heroines of "chick-lit" probably also apply to those of Sex And The City.  Heck, Sex And The City was "chick-lit" before it became a TV series.

The thing is, guys like Nick Hornby write about the same thing as it pertains to men, but I don't hear "dick-lit" used to describe his novels.  As a point in fact, it seems that "chick-lit" is a cottage industry while "dick-lit," which is an actual category too, is its ugly, hardly recognized counterpart, basically for the reason that not much of anything readable by general standards is classified in that category. 

So basically, I have two problems, one, how no chick-lit heroines are feminists (I didn't know how to check on this though, other than actually reading it all, so maybe my entire post is riding on bad evidence) and, two, how stuff concerning women's lives, as they are, however they are, is labeled in a sub-category, while similar stuff for guys (I'm depending a lot on the Hornby example here) is recognized with critical plaudits.  I don't care if I think "chick-lit" is just as vapid as Hornby.  It's as vapid as Hornby who gets by with no odious categorizations, that's the main point!

And no self-respecting feminist would say, well, "chick-lit" is empowering.  I mean, where do you go if as a movement all the individuals are focused on their narrow lives and have no values respecting something bigger than themselves?  I know working lives and finding love are real feminist concerns.  I just don't think "chick-lit" addresses those concerns in anything but a superficial manner.  So my position is slightly paradoxical.  I'm defending something and demanding "equal" treatment at the same time as I acknowledge what I'm defending isn't worth all that much.  But I have to say it's worth something, comparatively at least, to say it's worthy of equal treatment.  So one position elevates while the other lowers.

To those who says it's all just fun, I would say, point taken respecting the ultimate value factor, though I would say if all your fun is in the same vein, it's going to influence your "serious" side, and a division between "fun" and "serious" sides is not always workable.  For those who think arguing for equal treatment of hamburger fiction is vapid, I would say, it's these little cultural battles that form the fabric of our existence.

1 comment:

Lisa R. Pruitt said...

Your comment about how culture "rubs off on us" is so spot on. How can this be avoided? What do we do about it? Ongoing consciousness-raising is, I suppose, part of the answer. Lucky me! I teach feminist theory and get to re-read wonderful texts that aid with this process as part of my job.

In any event, I still am not attracted to "chick lit" (of course I also don't have time to read the books that actually do attract me). And that reminds me, there's a heck of a lot of sexism and patriarchy in "good literature," too.