Monday Musings | Let’s Talk About The Term “Chick Lit”

One More Page Weekend Blogging

This morning, fresh from waking up, I composed a tweet to spread the word about my new review for Marian Keyes’ fabulous new release, The Woman Who Stole My Life:

I hesitated for a few seconds before sending the tweet because it uses the phrase “chick lit,” a phrase that brings up very complicated feelings for me. However, in the end, I hastily pressed “send.” (Addendum: Marian Keyes’ has expressed feelings about the phrase “chick lit” in this month’s Chatelaine magazine. I wish I had read it more carefully because after reading it now, I see that she thinks that the phrase is belittling, even though she feels “fine now” about it. My apologies to Marian; I didn’t mean to be belittling at all, especially since I loved the novel.)

A response to my initial tweet caused me to re-think my word choice again.

Here is me attempting to flesh out how I feel about the term “chick lit.” On one hand, I understand it as a marketing tool for publishers and a guide for readers. For me, “chick lit” is the book equivalent of a romantic comedy, so I hope to find elements of love, despair, and humour, among other things when I pick up a book branded as “chick lit”. Personally, I really gravitate towards these books when I’ve finished reading something really dense, or just feel like a fun, light read. I guess it’s similar to how I feel about watching romantic comedies. I’m almost 100% going to laugh and cry and feel so much better instantly. When something is labelled “chick lit,” I know that it will suit my reading tastes when I’m feeling a certain way.

On the other hand, I do agree that “chick lit” can be demeaning. The word “chick” in itself is infantilizing; it makes me think of a baby chicken – not exactly how grown women want to be perceived (or called). The phrase is also commonly used very dismissively, as if “chick lit” is less deserving of our universal attention or is only for a certain type of person. There’s also the idea that since a book is deemed to be “chick lit,” it must not be for men at all. I find this is unfair and isolating, as many have pointed out before me. Why can men write about domestic life and have it interpreted as “deep and thoughtful” when when a woman writes it, it’s merely “chick lit” for women only?

I’m still unsure of how I feel about the phrase. I’ve definitely been made to feel ashamed for liking books in the “chick lit” category in the past, and have only just openly embraced the fact that I am, in fact, a fan of these books (thanks to the book blogging community, actually!), so I understand how the term can negatively affect a reader and even an author. But, again, as a consumer, it really helps me pinpoint exactly which books fit into a certain category for my “chick lit moods,” so from time to time I find it helpful. Is there perhaps a less offensive way to call these books? I’m not sure if “women’s fiction” is any better.

What do you think about this? Do you find using the term “chick lit” as controversial as I do? Do you have a strong opinion for one side or the other?

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15 thoughts on “Monday Musings | Let’s Talk About The Term “Chick Lit”

  1. Sandra says:

    I hate the term “chick lit”. I agree, it implies that only women should read it. On the other hand, if men aren’t reading some of these labelled books, they are missing out on some good reads. Sorry, but I always think of those old Harlequin Romances when the term “chick lit” is used. I find that there are just too many book labels now. Young adult, new adult, paranormal romance, historical romance, suspense, crime, procedural, mystery, horror, fantasy, science fiction, fantasy science fiction, etc. etc. Is it just me, or did books used to all fit into a few genres?
    I really think “chick lit” has far too many negative connotations, and certainly not too many positive ones. I guess it sells the books though…

  2. Charleen says:

    I think both “chick lit” and “women’s fiction” are audience-limiting labels, which is unfortunate. But they do the job of letting readers know what kind of book it is. If we want them to be called something else, we need to come up with different terms, without trying to redefine what the books themselves are. There are always going to be people who look down on these books, no matter what they’re called. It’s the people who like the books (maybe even those who write the books) but have a problem with the language that need to lead the way if there’s going to be any kind of change.

    I definitely wouldn’t use “chick lit” and “women’s fiction” interchangeably though. To put it in the context of movies, if chick lit is a romcom, women’s fiction is a Lifetime movie.

  3. Naomi says:

    I have always thought of “chick lit” as a genre of book (romantic comedy is how I think of them, too) that women are more likely to read. And, romantic comedy movies are often referred to as “chick flicks”. It’s unfortunate that they have these labels, because I think it has caused men to be embarrassed about reading or watching them. I don’t like the term much, either, but I also know that when you use it everyone knows what you mean, so it’s easy. And the term is catchy, so it might be hard to get people to stop using it. Good post! I have often wondered about what writers think of it. Are they aiming for their books to be “chick lit’, or do they hate it? “Chick lit” is certainly very popular, and I think hard to write good ones that aren’t too predictable.

  4. marieren says:

    I agree there is a problem in closing off and trivializing the genre by calling it things like “chick lit” or “women’s fiction.” I wonder if calling movies that deal with similar issues “rom com” is any better. Maybe just “comedy” could work as a way to describe these books, but comedy in the old sense of the word–as in a happy ending. Not so sure about that one. Just thinking as I write lol

  5. Amy Sachs says:

    I just struggled with using this phrase myself in a post I was working on. On one hand, I like the genre of book that it includes, but on the other hand I know it’s seen as belittling. I know once people see that term, they tend to dismiss it and that’s not what I want. Chick lit can just as easily just be called fiction; and the fact that there’s no “man lit” is kind of problematic too. I think I’m more anti “chick lit”just because of the connotation it holds.

  6. Leah says:

    I don’t like the term “chick lit.” As you noted, “chick” is NOT a respectful word for a woman. If we need a gender-restrictive word (which I don’t think we do), can’t we call it “lady lit,” or some other word that doesn’t feel as demeaning as “chick?”

    But I also think a lot of the attitudes about chick lit stem from really deeply ingrained prejudices against women — that the concerns of women are trivial and less important than the concerns of men. Is a chick lit book REALLY more frivolous and of lower quality than a mass-market crime novel? Probably not. And why is it fine for women to read trashy books marketed toward men, but most men wouldn’t be caught dead reading chick lit?

    I can see that the term is a useful marketing tool — when you pick up a book classified as “chick lit,” you know it’s probably going to be light and funny and have a bit of romance — but I think there’s a better way to convey what a book is going to be like without making the cover pink and hyper-girly.

  7. Karen W says:

    I’m proud to say that “chick lit” books are my favorite. But I also call myself a “mommy blogger” and people tend to hate that as well. Oh well, I will continue to take my mommy self to the library in search of chick lit!

  8. Lacey says:

    I see the points everyone makes about disliking the term. But is it weird that I find it empowering that (even though I would never want to be referred to as a CHICK) we as woman have found our very own niche as authors and readers. I tend to view it from that perspective as we have mastered the fiction world enough to have classified out own section of the genre.
    Who knows, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. 🙂 Nevertheless, I know what kind of story I’m getting when I use the term chick lit.
    Interesting discussion piece. Maybe we should think of a new term for kick butt women’s authors because that’s when I think when I hear the term Chick Lit!

  9. Angélique says:

    I would probably stay away from a book labelled “chick-lit” as it doesn’t sound good to me, like “fluffy-lit” or “girly-lit”. It feels like the book is going to be full of girly clichés, and that wouldn’t be for me. See, I hate pink, make-up, shopping, excessive drama and chihuahuas 😀
    So indeed, if the marketing department of Penguin Canada wants to sell this book to me, they’ll have to come up with a better label. Or actually, no label is best.

  10. Annabel says:

    I’m with Marian on this, chick lit can sound a bit belittling and also sexist…although my husband and my brother have read my ‘chic lit’ I know it’s probably bias but they said they enjoyed it?! Maybe it’s time to think up a new phrase, can we not just go with ‘romcom’??? Fab blog by the way 🙂

  11. ajoobacats says:

    I only became familiar with the term about a year and a half ago and I must admit it goes against the grain of acceptance of women as part of society. The term “chick” is not one I would use to describe a woman nor one I would welcome. I like many books which fall into “Women’s fiction,” however not once when I have read any of these books have I thought a man would not enjoy it and in more cases than not have passed the book to my husband to read after me.

  12. ebookclassics says:

    I enjoy these books too when I’m in a certain mood. I don’t have a problem with the term chick lit because I think of it as a marketing term, but I understand why some people might take offense. I probably say romantic comedy more often than chick lit. The fact is very few men read these books and publishers like to create niche markets to target and sell more books.

  13. DoingDewey says:

    I’ve had similar thoughts about the phrase “women’s fiction”. It’s useful. It helps me find books of a certain type. I know what it means and I can use it to communicate to other people certain features of a book. However, it does basically say “this book is only for women”, which is silly because I think any book can be enjoyed by readers of either gender. “Chick lit” is perhaps even trickier, because it does have something of a stigma attached to it. Even “women’s fiction” is a phrase I saw today used as an opposite to “literary”, so it gets some of that too. I kind of like Tanya’s suggestion of “dick lit” because thrillers are so very much the male equivalent of chick lit. Instead of being the written counterpart of romantic comedy, they’re the equivalent of thrillers and they’re also often quite light. I still dislike the genderedness implied in these suggestions though, so I guess the short answer is that I don’t have the answer, but I’m right there with you!

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