Sunday, March 20, 2011

In light-hearted defence of what I write

Long before I got published, a certain section of books was being slotted as chick-lit. I cringed when I first heard the term being loosely tossed about and I still do. Chick lit can mean many things to many people but by and large, any book that is written by a female writer, has female protagonists and does not fall under heavy or serious literature is termed chick-lit. There is a certain amount of condescension in-built in the term. By the virtue of the values that have come to be associated with it, the term broadly suggests that women writers offer and women readers lap up non-serious writing.

I am often amazed when writers themselves have no issues seeing their work slotted as chick-lit. Of course I will be accused of paying too much attention to semantics but maybe the term itself has something to do with this - chick ( often a condescending slag to describe a girl) and lit (not quite literature, you see).

Let us just take the broad parameters that are used to toss books in this pile - woman protagonist, an urban setting, themes such as work, relationships and friends, the use of humour as a literary tool. Now, just change all the woman parts to man parts (oh, wait) and what do you have - oh dear, just literature, wouldn't you say? Some of you will jump and produce from the hat at this time the lad-lit. To this, I have but only this to say - why do we have this need for over-categorization? In my opinion, there are only two kinds of literature - good and bad. Everything else is irrelevant and often detrimental. Let's face it - when it comes to women writers, there is an urge within the community to slot it differently and that's why we not have the broad chick-lit, but also mommy lit (apparently my first book contributed to this), historical chick-lit, hen-lit, working girl lit and so on and so forth. Whatever be the genre, this practice aims at making woman writers and readers intensely aware of their gender. Fluffy or trashy writing is just that, whether it's written (or read) by a man or a woman. Ditto for genuinely engaging, funny, fine story-telling. Let's please not use genres to put the little woman in her place.

I have worked in marketing communication long enough to know that this is probably a case of targeted marketing. Maybe that is also the reason why these books always have similar covers.

After reading many reviews of By The Water Cooler, I have concluded that I am being slotted as a chick-lit writer myself. Well, I refuse to tow the line. I am a writer. I am a humour writer, just so you don't confuse me with a mystery writer and go looking for whodunnits in my books but I am not and never will be slotted a chick-lit writer. And when it comes to my readers, I am willing to be read by dogs and cats and giant pandas, not just chicks.

I hope some filmmaker somewhere is echoing my thoughts when it comes to the chick-flick.

Also, just an aside but Jane Austen dealt with women protagonists and her themes reflected the concerns of women in that day and age (marriage to a suitable boy, the lack of options when it came to financial stability, obligations to the family and so on). Ms Austen was also unarguably one of the wittiest writers we have seen. Would we then call her writing the original chick-lit? Lord, I hope not.

Of course I will be told to take a light-hearted view of things. Fortunately, the thing about being a humour writer is - I already am.


Sachinky said...

I have heard Jane Austen as being referred to as '19th century chick-lit.'

kbpm said...

yeah, i hear you. they can call it whatever, your loyal fans (me! me! pick me!) don't care. of course, you know that!

Aneela Z said...

You are right when you write "there are only two kinds of literature - good and bad"...I have a similar problem with the term "Asian writing"..writing is writing, yes there might be a particular stand point, but in the end analyze the words that make good writing, dont give a "Honourable Mention" for defying DNA type!!

Perfect Witch said...

Atta girl. Your slot as per Me: Humor, yes. Fluffy/trashy. No.
My two cents of sense :P

Pulkit said...

With due respect.. i will disagree that "there are just two kinds of literature: good and bad".
Well, nothing is bad. Its just that you might be having a certain frame of reference.
You might want to categorize them on the basis of impact they have on the readers.

Pepper said...

I heart 'chick-lit'. And everybody who knows me, knows that.

You're right about the definition the world has given to this genre - Female writer + female protagonist + humour = chick lit. But in reality, I know most men will not touch these books. Note - I say 'most men'. I know some will, but here I talk about the majority.

Of course I do not understand the reason for such unfortunate behaviour. Perhaps it is the fear of being associated with a particular 'label'? Or they are conditioned to believe that such a story will not appeal to their tastes. And I think this invisible label would exist even if they did not call it 'Chick lit'. A book having a female protagonist with a light hearted story revolving around her life is enough to keep the guys away.

And since the audience of such books is mainly women - they call it Chick lit. There is little you can do to change that. The world is stupid.

roop said...

jane austen is not chick-lit? ;p

dipali said...

I would call your books contemporary writing! Which I thoroughly enjoy.
(Of course you know that).

rocksea said...

We (I and my wife) both enjoyed your book thoroughly. It was a thought provoking - humorous book. We enjoyed it more since we were going through a similar phase.

That's it. We didn't need to dissect it further :)

SUR NOTES said...

Since the marketing guys decided that women writing on women , using humour, should be marketed as chick lit,
shouldnt the men writing on men using toys (guns, cars and planes)meant for big boys,
be called dick -lit?

Oh i forget, those men writers and readers dont exist since they cant read- they watch films and play video games.

When i was writing the proposal for my first film I was told that since i was a woman i should highlight the women in my film to make funding easy- women filmmakers should make films on women's issues only.

Prats said...

I agree with whatever you said on your post but somehow I don't find the word chick-lit derogatory... Categorization if for the readers to identify the books they want to read. Similar thing goes for Indian Writing (A lot of times the term is used in a derogatory sense as well) but then it sends a message about the contents of the book loud and clear hence serving the purpose to assist the readers on the decision to buy a book

stuti said...

I am (was?) guilty of this Parul. Goes hand in hand with me turning my nose up at well-dressed women, at straightened hair, at coloured hair etc.

but for past 3-4 years, i've been growing up and realising this was just a silly pseudo-something phase. and that there's a LOT before the covers which doesnt meet the eye (for 'chick-lit' and otherwise).

Hoping to not label anything anymore, good or bad. Nice post, this.

Sue said...

I see Sachinky has already said what I was about to. In her time, she was held up against the female Gothick writers.

I share your shudder at the categorisation, you know. Been fighting the 'mommy blogger' tag for some years now. To think I was a blogger for years before I was a mother!

These marketing people are crazy. *taps head significantly*

Perakath said...

(1) Chiclets rock