In the wake of the celebrity nude picture scandal and Emma Watson’s HeForShe UN speech, the unavoidable concept of feminism is procuring more time in the limelight. Countless feminist issues are being addressed today, debated often in the current media and particularly the human rights field. But the feminist discussion does not cease there. Even literature is experiencing challenges as it provokes controversy through the marketable storm that is chick lit. A huge, complex question is raised: is chick lit harmless escapism or detrimental and insulting to female empowerment?
For those of you who haven’t been in an airport bookshop lately, chick lit is the name given to a genre of book which follows a light-hearted formula and is marketed specifically towards females. The plot usually centres on the romantic escapades of a slightly dizzy protagonist in the pursuit of ‘bettering’ herself. Whilst it may also address additional issues of friendship, family and career, these elements are often trivialised in the favour of focus on a love interest. Throw in a sprinkle of shopping, countless references to Marc Jacob heels with cosmopolitan cocktail in hand and you have yourself a best-seller. But is this reading stimulating enough for females today, or rather a brazen insult to the intelligence of women?
We get it. Sometimes you just aren’t in the frame of mind to be intellectually challenged by Ulysses whilst on a long-haul flight, complete with child kicking the back of your seat. In a world awash with death, destruction and your general debauchery, chick lit is a useful form of escapism; a so called ‘easy read’ to accompany a cup of tea and ‘just one more’ digestive biscuit. Do not be mistaken; the ability to write any form of novel is an admirable feat which should be applauded. However, the issue resides in the ideals that these books invoke upon society: questionable prescriptions of femininity and what it really means to be a woman.
The root of the insult ingrained in such a supposedly harmless genre is the idea that the success of a woman’s life can be assessed according to a number of factors. Yet, the most crucial indicator of a stable and contented life always relates to the presence of a love interest. Regardless of the other achievements females boast, their success becomes void if they fail to meet their long-term mission of finding a partner. Yes, women can have it all, but ‘all’ is only attainable if they have someone to share it with. Whilst Female Protagonist X may be a member of the Supreme Court, a self-made millionaire and an enthusiastic Amnesty International lobbyist, there is something missing; her womanhood is compromised as she doesn’t have a significant other half to split a takeaway with over the X Factor on a Saturday night. In essence, she is a half-built woman or a work in progress, constantly in a state of vulnerability. All it then takes is a suitable man to ‘fix’ her, laugh at her endearing flaws and simultaneously destroy the empowered vision of women that females everywhere have worked so hard to promote. Women did not throw themselves under horses for this.
Besides the questionable themes, the formulaic structure of chick lit also incurs some negativity. Breaking Bad can be completely destroyed when someone accidentally gives away the ending, yet chick lit constantly subjects us to the same predictable, repetitive plot but does not provoke the same degree of uproar. The protagonist’s inevitable catch is always about as subtle as a brick, despite the half-hearted decoy introduced in a vain attempt to throw the reader off the scent. Queue light-hearted banter between the two, cavorting around the city and countless avoidable misunderstandings. Hilarity ensues. Yet inevitably they all get their happy ever after ending: complete with joint custody of a dog called Socks and a his/her dressing gown set. Such an ending sets unattainable expectations that females constantly measure themselves against and struggle to live up to. The result? The self-esteem of women everywhere becomes compromised, by the very people who should be helping to build it up. The fairy-tale model seemed to become somewhat obsolete for the majority when they could no longer pull off light-up runners, so why do intelligent women still insist on promoting such an outdated style?
It cannot be ignored that whilst chick lit and its ever-expanding market flourish, budding and refreshing new talent is often ignored at its expense. There is the danger of the next Sylvia Plath being unjustly overlooked by publishers merely because their style does not conform to the strict prescriptions of this genre. Instead, writers enter into the vicious circle; distinctly intellectual women are driven towards perpetuating manufactured content simply to make their books more marketable, and ultimately to be able to make a living out of their love of words. When there are a wealth of vital issues to be addressed vying for attention, racism and financial inequality to name a few, confronting only easy issues is too simplistic. History tells us that for too long women have been told that they are inferior to men: physically, mentally and even morally. It is up to women to combat this stereotype, and refuse to conform to such expectations imposed upon them.
It is time chick lit was redefined into something new. The genre is far too simplistic, and completely fails to tell women’s stories, instead providing a modern and tired fairytale. It’s time literature returned to substance filled content, rather than the substantially superficial; incorporate more poignant issues in an effort to destroy the perception that this ‘easy reading’ is all women like to, and indeed, can read. And above all, let’s leave chick lit where it belongs; safely nestled in the bargain bins of holiday resorts and resting on the threadbare chair of an airport lounge.