Again, I fail to understand the knee-jerk reactions here. The fashionable thing to do these days is to attack chick lit without actually reading the books and without citing multiple examples as to how chick lit utterly fails to represent women. Further, there is the troubling implications behind the claim that chick lit “treats women like they’re stupid” (as yet unanswered by Jessa Crispin or Emma Garman in yesterday’s thread). And I’m sorry, but snarky generalizations about plotting, which hinge entirely on “significant prototypes” instead of considering, as I suggested yesterday, a book that offers a type of realistic sex scene, an issue that is practically invisible in current literature, do not count. Nor do statements (i.e., Comment No. 7 in yesterday’s thread cited as defense) that suggest that books with happy endings or formulaic plots are somehow damaging or regressive to women. First off, unless I am severely mistaken, there is no demonstratable evidence which suggests that women who take their husbands’ surnames are in any way less empowered than those who don’t. (Even Manifesta author Amy Richards, while expressing dismay about the possessive nature of “Mrs.,” confessed in a column that the option of taking a husband’s name is entirely up to the individual.) Second off, even if we dismiss chick lit as fantasy-based, how is a fantasy of a woman snagging a man in any way harmful to women? It seems to me that the fury directed towards Weiner and other chick lit authors should be directed instead to the advertisers who perpetuate images of emaciated women that are far more false than the novels in question. If the message of a Weiner novel is that a zaftig lady can snag a man or maintain a professional career or be a mother (just as entitled as the skinny waif archetype egregiously held up as our feminine paragon), then how is this in any way regressive?
First off, let’s dispense with all of the inferences that have been drawn from Weiner’s initial quote:
I don’t particularly like being angry about stuff. I’d rather hang out with my daughter and write my little books. But I could not stay silent. It bothers me as a feminist that these are other women throwing stones; we’re all women and we’re all writers. And there is a literary divide that bodes poorly for you if you have the misfortune to be popular.
Nowhere in this statement does Weiner imply that anyone is a “bad feminist” (as both Jessa and Maud suggest). She is clearly suggesting that women might want to be more supportive of literature, whether popular or literary, that convey positive portrayals of women of all types. (In fact, interestingly enough, the divisiveness here is not unlike the fractiousness of the Left.) In other words, this is not a case of “good vs. bad feminist,” but “popular vs. literary.” If Weiner’s critics don’t care for her as a popular writer, then that’s fine. I myself don’t care for a lot of so-called chick lit that I have read, but I do enjoy Weiner’s novels, in spite of their predictable plots, because of their observations, which are topics I quite frankly don’t find within the realm of litearture. It’s the 21st century. Really, we should be a lot further along.
Granted, I will acknowledge that there’s some self-interest involved in Weiner’s statement. But given all the threads that have erupted over this issue, I think her concerns have been proven correct.
To cavalierly dismiss chick lit without reading it or analyzing the issue in depth (as, interestingly enough, Maud, Jessa and Emma have all failed to do here), to evade the issue so thoroughly without quoting a specific passage or citing several examples to prove a point, is to offer a defective argument.
Agree or disagree with the Traister article (or, as Maud has done, evade the issue altogether by dwelling not on the argument presented in Traister’s article but on Traister’s past fallacies as a thinker), but Traister has, at least, presented some solid examples here. Nor did Traister, as Maud has suggested, put Jennifer Weiner on the same level as Edith Wharton. She merely suggested that the attacks on chick lit were similar in temperament to those which affected Wharton. It strikes me as infinitely regressive to ignore such similarities, much less to participate in the kind of dismissive banter that seems to pass these days for serious thought.
[UPDATE: Book of the Day weighs in and suggests that “the impulse to criticize ‘women’s fiction’ is at its heart a criticism of women.”]
© 2005, Edward Champion. All rights reserved.