Why We Love Chick Lit As An Act Of Feminism

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Why Do We Hate Pink?

When I was a little girl, I decided that I hated the color pink. This hatred of pink I carried with me up until college. I would loudly proclaim “Ew, pink is such a GIRLY color” and gravitate towards literally anything else. What does this have to do with Chick Lit as an act of feminism? Well, come, join me on this journey.

When I look back on that behavior it makes me sad. It’s a manifestation of internalized misogyny (when women project sexist ideas onto one another and themselves) that I am only just now comprehending the depth of. We were often taught to hate anything that girls liked, and if you wanted to differentiate yourself you had to reject “girly” things.

Feminist Education Via Pop Culture

Even though I did a fair amount of reading up on the internet on feminism there are a few slightly random pop culture markers that hammered home a few key points. My understanding of feminism was of feminist theory through a political lens, discrimination etc… I never really thought of feminism as joy. I hadn’t yet understood that chick lit could be feminism. 

Oddly enough the song Most Girls by Hailee Steinfeld was a catchy little anthem that just reminded me… hey. Why do we as women try to differentiate ourselves to men by dragging down other women? This is not okay. Like I knew that, and never really partook in mean girl gossip… but if a man said “you aren’t like most girls” I would have eaten that ish up.

Why Do We Hate The Things Teenage Girls Like?

The next non-academic pop culture type thing that really made me re-think my internalized misogyny was this brilliant YouTube video called Dear Stephenie Meyer” by Lindsay Ellis. WOW. Head explode emoji’s all around. 

You know when you know something… but you don’t KNOW it? Lindsay Ellis laid it down for me by asking “Why do we hate the things that teenage girls like”? Teenage boys are allowed to like objectively silly or bad things (transformers, the fast & furious franchise anyone?).

So why do we, as a culture, insist on belittling and demeaning the things that young girls like. Instantly dismissing them as silly or worthless? This happens over and over again in popular trends that catch on with young girls, from books to movies to favorite bands. 

If a young girl likes One Direction then we must mock them for it, and heaven forbid WE like one direction as a society and then have to disclaimer our interest as “ironic”.  I know not every individual is like this but as a whole comedians, news casters, reviewers, even “cool” kids in movies or tv shows will jump on this train. 

We are definitely getting better as a society as a whole, but we can always and should always strive to do better.  Since I was that little twelve year old girl, I’ve read a lot of academic and non academic books and think pieces around feminism and intersectionality.  I’m always striving to learn and grow and challenge my pre-conceived notions. 

Further Reading: 20 of the best books of 2020

Internalized Misogyny

 My journey to understanding internalized misogyny was a long one. I would have ALWAYS classified myself as a feminist, even before I truly knew what a feminist was. However, my feminism was clearly pretty conditional. It was still riddled with the patriarchy. 

Which is okay, I was young, these things are a journey. You can’t know everything there is to know at twelve years old. You learn and grow and challenge your world view. 

The history of misogyny (the hatred of women) is long, and when I was young I used to think that only men could be misogynists. The term comes from the name of a woman hating character in a play named “Misogynos” who was a stand in for a cranky dude named Joseph Swetnam who published an anti-woman pamphlet in the 17th century.  

Internalized misogyny is when women project sexist ideas/ideals onto themselves and other women. It’s a way for women to perpetuate the oppression imposed on them for centuries through our cultural “norms” and behaviors. 

There’s a few ways that internalized misogyny manifests, one we can all probably relate to is women looking down on other women or women slut shaming other women. When we start to tune into the ways that internalized misogyny rears it’s head it’s easier to combat.  

Further Reading: Fantasy Books That Kick Ass

Intersectionalism

College was definitely and eye opener for me, I had a fabulous German professor who introduced me to the concept of intersectionalism before I officially knew the term Kimberlé Crenshaw coined 30 years ago. 

 Intersectionalism can be an oft confused and hated term.  In simplest terms intersectionalism is seeking to describe how race, class, gender and other characteristics “intersect” and overlap with one another for an individual or a group. It seeks to show overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or advantages. 

For instance an able bodied black woman may face many racist or sexist systems of oppression based on their identities being a woman, and black. However they would not face the same challenges as a disabled white man, who would again face different privileges and discriminations than a disabled illegal immigrant or a queer elder. 

Intersectionality is a pivotal foundation for my feminism as an adult. Without it feminism becomes one note. Without intersectionality we fight for only one white washed, straight, able bodied, cisgender form of womanhood. That is not the kind of feminism I want to promote.  

Further Reading: My Foray Into Smutty Books

Moving Past White Feminism

I was a huge fan of Hood Feminism by Mikki Kendall and it really broadened my horizons on what a feminist cause was. I’ve always championed access to medical care, affordable housing, social safety nets, free early childhood education and the list goes on. 

I did not, however, understand them to be feminist issues since white feminism taught me that we cared mostly about equal pay and abortion. Breaking the glass ceiling is all well and good but that doesn’t help you if you can’t put food on the table or find a place to live or are being disproportionately policed in schools.

The road from hating pink to highlighting notes in every chapter of hood feminism had a lot in between it. From understanding that you aren’t truly a feminist if you don’t include trans women in your feminism, to reading Care Work: Dreaming Disability Justice by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha and understanding that inclusive spaces are care. 

Queer, disabled, trans, black and brown femmes are often on the forefront of pushing our understanding of feminism and community. Our feminism is not complete until we include the most vulnerable in our communities.

Chick Lit As A Feminist Act

So what does this have to do with chick lit? Yes I have waxed on for a while now, but hang tight. I’m getting there. Romance and erotica literature is a nearly 1.5 BILLION dollar industry. It is by far and away the genre that brings in the most money. Within the capitalist society we currently reside in, money = power… or does it?

Romantic literature is often one of the most ridiculed literary genres. People often cite it as something they read last, heaven forbid you aren’t seen as cultured. Women and men hide romance novels on kindles not wanting others to KNOW that they are reading something considered so derivative. 

Romance authors often don’t get the same respect as authors of other genres. You write a book, you are seen as some cultured hero. You write a romance book and you are seen as doing something anyone could do. It is often, even in feminist circles, derided as flighty and not serious.

Why though (this is rhetorical, the concepts above tell us why!)? Romance is primarily written by women for women. Is this not the dream? People from a community creating art to be consumed by those within their community? Being able to write free from the male gaze? I’m calling bullsh*t. 

Further Reading: Hilarious Rom Coms

Chick Lit

I do want to say that the chick lit from yesteryear could often perpetuate harmful misogyny itself. There’s a few romance novels I used to adore and have gone back for a re-read and cringe so hard because my understanding (and ours as a society) of consent and desire and sexual pleasure has changed so drastically from when I was younger.  

However these, as imperfect as they were, still were women creating fantasy worlds in which they had agency and power. Yes, even when wrapped up in every trope in the book.

As our understanding of consent, toxic masculinity and women’s pleasure grows and evolves, women’s literature grows and evolves as well. These new understandings of female agency adds an entirely new dimension to chick lit and I am totally here for it.

Even those two paragraphs above sound a little like I’m trying to justify chick lit because of the advances that have been made. NOPE. I just wanna point it out… but it’s okay to like things that aren’t high brow. 

It’s okay to enjoy things that are purely recreational and have no deeper meaning. It’s GOOD to be able to escape into a truly fantastical world or story that has no basis in reality. We do it all the time with video games, books, movies, fan fiction, and the list goes on.

Further Reading: Upcoming Queer Releases

A Journey From Shame to Pride

So I’m here to loudly and proudly tell you that I’m into chick lit. I’m so here for it. This is literature written primarily by women and people who eschew the gender binary. These are books that tell the stories of people’s lived experiences in light hearted or entertaining ways. These are books that can be witty, funny, hopeful, joyful, heartwrenching, terrifying and sometimes just a little silly.

In the past I was ashamed to admit that I liked chick lit. That it was a genre that I turned to over and over again. I would take pride in being a fantasy nerd but not fess up to my massive Nora Roberts book collection. As I’ve taken this feminist journey I now revel in my love of chick lit. 

Particularly now as we’ve made SOME progress in opening doors to writers who aren’t the standard straight white romance novelist. The breadth of voices writing chick lit now brings me so much joy.  I am committed to spending my dollars uplifting women and non-binary writers within this genre that has brought me so much joy and lifted me out of some dark days. 

I hope you’ll join me in moving past our outdated fear of admitting our love of chick lit, our fear of being TOO loving and supporting of silly things that women and young girls like, of being afraid we won’t appeal to men, other women, or society as a whole if we like things not seen as “cool”. 

We are dynamic, multi-faceted humans and we can be bad ass boss bitches and read erotica, we can be a strong stay at home mama and read romance novels, we can be a queer teen and find joy in a YA rom-com.  We can show other women, trans women, & femmes grace and kindness.

 

I also would like you to know… that I really like the color pink.

-Anne

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    2 thoughts on “Why We Love Chick Lit As An Act Of Feminism”

    1. I love this, genres that women like never get enough respect! The whole thing about putting down things that teenage girls like is so true too. How to be Famous by Caitlin Moran has this great bit where she writes an essay about teenage girls and music and its amazing.

      Reply
      • Oooh, I’m going to need to check that essay out! It’s definitely been a journey for me too, but I feel at the end of it I have SO MUCH MORE love and understanding for ALL Women. And I’ve found myself asking people WHY they are putting down or deriding these things in conversation now. haha, I’m fun at parties (when they were a thing).

        Reply

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