Ed. Note: This was written awhile ago, but I still stand by every word.
Chick lit. Chick flick. Anything with the word ‘chick’ in it makes me cringe because it is usually said disparaging, and usually by men. It seems to be the most disdainful thing in the word to real men who would rather get a makeover by the queer guys than watch or read anything chick. It is described as light if literature and full of gooey emotions if cinematic. Both are to be avoided at any cost, or so it seems. In return, I have coined a term for the mind-numbing action movies or books that have no character development whatsoever and are full of explosions and car chases. Dick flicks. Ok, Dick lit doesn’t sound as good, but it’ll do. It’s primarily the former, anyway, and it needs to be said with the proper amount of scorn.
“What are you going to see?”
“Oh, the boyfriend is making me see the new Van Diesel movie. It’s a real dick flick if I ever saw one.”
“You poor thing! Come on over this weekend and we’ll rent Beaches as an antitoxin. We’ll eat lots of chocolate and bitch about our boyfriends. Maybe we’ll even do a little online shopping.”
“Sounds great! We deserve it.”
Sound ridiculous? Not any more ridiculous than men griping about the latest Julia Roberts movie or any other ‘feel-good’ movie in general. The last man I dated was as far from a Neanderthal as possible and yet, he still had movie preferences that leaned towards action while I preferred less action more intelligence. He’s a sci-fi buff while I prefer mysteries. All kinds, but more of the psychological thrillers than the shoot ‘em up, gun ‘em down types. Yet, I am the one who liked sports while he rather spend his afternoon in the mall. In other words, we were about as nontraditional as possible when it came to most things, but we reverted to type when it came to movies and books.
I am not protesting stories that center around women at all, what I am objecting to is how they are deemed to be inferior to men’s movies or books. As in with most thing, men are still the barometer. There are movies and there are women’s movie. There are authors and there are female authors. It’s the same with color, of course, with it being assumed that white is standard and of color is the deviation. Which is why a television show about six young white people in New York is assumed to be television fare for everyone whereas, God forbid, if even two or three of those six were of color, it would be targeted much differently and most likely not as popular.
But this rant is not about color-it’s about gender. I hate the whole chick lit thing, but I hate more that there is a proliferation of literature by women that deserve to be called chick lit and are most likely proud to tout themselves as such. It is discouraging to walk into a bookstore or a Target and skim the covers of new books by women. Pick up any of them and read the blurb and it will say something like this: Monique is a twenty-something independent woman who lives in New York City. She has a job as an ad exec and a boyfriend she kind of likes, but she realizes that she is not fulfilling her potential.
There are an astounding number of books with underachieving twenty-somethings dealing with real life. The man is usually a ‘for now’ man, or it’s someone the erstwhile heroine is trying to drag to the altar. These books are a mixture of old-fashioned ‘you aren’t anything without a man’ and newfangled ‘I am Superwoman, hear me roar.’ I have read snippets from various of these books, but rarely make it all the way through a book of this ilk. It depresses me and upsets me that this is the new rage in literature.
In addition, my best friend noticed something about the covers which is disturbing. The woman pictured is cut off in some way. Her head is missing or her legs are, or her arm. There might be a torso shot, or there might be a shot of her from legs down. It’s as if the publishers are saying, the whole woman doesn’t matter. We only need a part of her, and it doesn’t even matter what part or who she is. It’s the objectification of women at its most blatant, and it doesn’t seem to bother anyone else. Or at least, I’ve never seen it mentioned anywhere. It also says that we think so little of the woman that we don’t need to show her as whole. I also think it’s a way of saying, hey, these books are interchangeable, so we might as well just show bits and pieces of the bodies. It also reminds me of corpses, which is not exactly what I want to think about when I’m reading. Unless I’m reading one of my mysteries.
It astonishes me how many of these books there are. Another thing it reminds me of is the romance genre. There is a boilerplate the authors use and just plug in a name, a location, a obstacle to overcome and flesh it out for two hundred to three hundred pages. That’s exactly what these so-called women books of the millennium remind me of. I never thought I’d say this, but there are too many people writing books. Perhaps I’m one of those contributing to the demise of literature, but I don’t think so. I have a unique voice for many reasons, and I try not to fall into the clichés that seem to plague women’s writing in general.
I remember someone saying that writers these days are focusing so much on the mundane that we no longer have true stories. I understand that we needed to get personal, but I think we have gone too far in that department. If I read a story and there is no greater application than the novel itself, I don’t consider that literature. It’s a book you read on the plane and then leave in the airport, but it’s not true literature. I suppose I’m a bit of a snob in my reading, but why not be? There are so many books, why not choose the best? I read a review of a writer I greatly admire-Reginald Hill-and the person said something about Hill trying to show off how much he knew about the English language. He said this as if it were a bad thing, and he preferred the movies because they didn’t get bogged down in the verbiage.
Since when did having a sizable vocabulary become a bad thing? It seems to me that in the last fifteen years or so, the prejudice for proper English and a large vocabulary has turned into the opposite. A person who is too smart or educated is looked upon with suspicion. As someone who uses perhaps a fourth of the words I know for fear that others will think I’m stuck up, I mourn the loss. I love words. I love big words; I love small words; I love words in general. I don’t think it’s necessary to use big words all the time but I also don’t think I should have to give up some of my favorite words because people no longer know what they mean. I know languages are living entities and must evolve, but ours seems to be devolving at an alarming rate. For your information, I don’t find Reginald Hill’s books too wordy, but perhaps that’s because I’m an effete snob. I guess I can’t be effete because I’m female, but I like the word so I’m using it. I think another reason Hill’s English is so good is because he’s British and not American, but I digress.
I wish we could go back to fiction that was fiction and didn’t have to be realistic. It bemuses me that people seem to want everything to be factual these days. In mysteries, for example, there is so much known about criminal detection and DNA and all that, it is impossible to write about it without heavy research. I am on a nostalgia kick and re-reading Nancy Drew books which are cracking me up. There is no way that series could have survived today, and yet, it is still a beloved treasure. I’m not saying we should go back to the days of willy-nilly making things up, but part of the pleasure of reading is escapism. I wish I liked sci-fi better because at least there, you can make up your own worlds with your own rules.
Back to chick lit. For the new crop of books by thirty-something writers, chick lit is an apt moniker. I stay away from it like the plague, preferring something with more bite. I find it all impossibly smug and precocious, and there is not one lick of real emotion in them, at least from what I’ve read. I want stories that transport me even if they could not be real. I want to forget that I’m reading a book that someone else wrote, that I’m not in a world of my own. It seems as if a bunch of young women writers said, ‘Hey, I’ll take my life or someone’s life whom I know and thinly disguise it, and it would make a great fiction piece,’ then ran with it. You all need to stop typing and back away from the computer before you give all women writers a bad name. I do not want to be associated with you, but I know that because of my age, I’ll fall into that category. Which may not be so bad because perhaps I can give some proper soccer mom a much-needed jolt. Wouldn’t that be funny? Picking up my book expecting to read a light romp about life as a single woman in Manhattan and getting something else in return. If it brings one woman back from the fluff side, it’ll be worth it.