Chick Lit, Feminism and the Double Standard, Part II

Maud Newton attacks today’s Rebecca Traister article. And I think that in this case, Maud, who is normally a very thoughtful lady, has made a colossal misstep.

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.”]

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  1. For the record, I have not read Jennifer Weiner and do not purport to offer an opinion on her work. But I have read some of Weisberger’s writing, enough to say that calling women bad feminists for criticizing it is ridiculous.

  2. …a book that offers a type of realistic sex scene, an issue that is practically invisible in current literature…


    And to offer a passage from one of Weiner’s books as an example! Are you yanking my chain?

  3. I don’t often regret things I wrote, but when I wrote on Galleycat that compared Weisberger’s work to Rona Jaffe’s THE BEST OF EVERYTHING, I wanted to take it back the minute I finished reading EVERYONE WORTH KNOWING.

    This isn’t chick lit. It’s just stoopid.

  4. I’ve read a couple of chick lit books – Marian Keyes and a chick-lit/vampire crossover novel whose author escapes me. I thought they were all spectacularly awful, filled with gender stereotypes and terrible writing. Keyes’ “The Last Chance Saloon” was by far the worst – the gay best friend in hospital advising on Prada boots, the slob disregarded in favour of the office co-worker who could advise on lipgloss colours and everything being branded and branded. It read like Mills & Boons crossed with Patrick Bateman (only not half as funny).

  5. I’m so totally and utterly stunned and baffled and plain horrified by everything you say, Ed, that I’m going to have to wait until my brain recovers from the shock to respond sensibly.

    But, one thing in the meantime – you say that the following statement doesn’t imply, as Jessa and Maud claim, that chick lit’s detractors are bad feminists:

    “It bothers me as a feminist that these are other women throwing stones; we’re all women and we’re all writers.”

    This isn’t even an implication, it’s a direct accusation that the stone throwers are being bad feminists. How can you possibly read it otherwise?

  6. Why the knee-jerk reaction? Why attack chick lit? Because being female is a disadvantaged status. One way to gain equality with the dominant class is to divest oneself of associations with ones’ group.

    ‘Chick lit’ is aggressively female. Therefore, women who have subconsiously adopted the ‘join ’em’ method of obtaining equality react aggressively to claims that chick lit represents their life experience. Denigrating this category (and other ‘female’ categories – like romance and fluffy mysteries) is a way of separating themselves from the female mainstream and by implication choosing association with the favored male class.

    Just a thought.

  7. Please explain why “chick-lit” is “aggressively female.” But first, define what “female” is.

    K, so, I’m black. Using your logic, if I denigrate, say, hip hop, does that mean I’m choosing to side with the “white class”? Is hip hop “aggressively black”? If not, then what is? Or does hip hop, like “chick lit,” more often than not promote particular stereotypes that certain people love to box others (i.e. The Other) into?

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