There's a whole discussion that happened last week on Ran's Board
which my friends from there most probably know all about, but about which I'd be curious to have some other opinions. (BTW, I use the nickname "Stranger" in those forums).
It all started with a post
about Kushner's novel Priviledge of the Sword
started by Pat, who beyond his activity on that forum also manages a Fantasy blog
, which I think has a pretty good reputation.
Anyway, one of the thing that caught my eye was that Pat, among other things, called Priviledge of the Sword "chick lit through and through"
. Other people gave good or bad opinions about that novel or Kushner's novels generally speaking. Ran, notably, denied that it was Chick Lit, whereas Calibandar called it "the girliest books I've laid my hands on in recent years".
Discussions about the "male-ness" or the "girly-ness" of specific books is something I have seen often, and which I may have sometimes made use of myself, even though I don't like it, to refer to some hard-to-define aesthetics. So I started a thread about that subject, using Pat's thread as an example, in which I asked a lot of questions to people : Chick Lit, What is it? Why isn't there any Boy's Lit?
I had two agendas with this thread : pointing out the sexism in calling some books Chick Lit in order to dismiss their quality, and questionning which specific images and idiosyncracies were associated with which gender and why. The thread saw much more discussions about the first point, both in agreement and disagreement, although some people did good effort to answer my second point as well. The discussion grew in some points somewhat heated and even wanky, but wasn't uninteresting.
A certain amount of people did agree that "Chick Lit" described a specific genre of book about female protagonists in urban, modern setting with an irreverant tone and some sexual situations, that such a genre had nothing to do with Kushner's writing. Some people also agreed that Chick Lit wasn't a good name for such a genre because it described what kind of market the genre is aimed at instead of the content of the books; and because it can cause confusion about other books, like Kushner's. Although lots of people still disagreed about that, so I'd hardly call it a consensus.
Last part of this little debate, Pat's eventually posted his final review of Priviledge of the Sword
at his blog yesterday. Unsurprizingly, he was still mostly negative about it, but also persisted in calling it "Fantasy chick lit"
and "one of the 'girliest' novels [he's] ever read"
, moreover he extrapolated this description by saying :
"There's a very "girly" approach to the narrative. It focuses on undying/forbidden love, corny romance, flowers, jewelry, gowns, fabrics, and an inordinate amount of emo moments. For crying out loud, the characters shed more tears in this book than bridesmaids at a wedding! There is only so much crying one can take, after all. In addition, the emo male characters are not authentic."
You'd think he was talking about about badfanfics ^^ I'm not entirely surprised by this reading because earlier at Ran's Board, I'd seen ErrantBard, who appeared quite sane otherwise, say about Swordspoint
what I would say classify it as "chick-lit" in my mind is, from memory:
Flowers and effeminate looking men with open shirts on the cover, first
Prominence of homosexuality in the relationships
Invincible yet sensible, fragile, honourable hero.
Insufferable whiny useless support characters you're supposed to pity rather than wish dead, for some reason
A plot revolving around the feelings some people have for each other.
A number of which terms had me raise my eyebrow in regard of Swordspoint. But hey! People read books are see different things in it. It happens.
It makes sense that a certain lack of sensitivity about specific genres that one doesn't like mean that one blurs the distinction between those genres. Thus romance, mannerpunk, and Chich Lit elements are all confused and equally dismissed as if they were equivalent although to anyone looking into those seriously it's obvious they're very far from being the same. The fact that all these different elements are, for some reason, associated with female taste and female writing is of course what makes such confusion problematic and sexist.
The thing that really makes me angry there is that several people as well as Pat have defended their use of the term by saying "what is so bad about works written by women that cater to what women want to read?"
even though they're very obviously using the word "Chick Lit" or "girly" to dismiss and criticize a specific type of writing : "corny romance"
, "inordinate amount of emo moments"
, "the emo male characters are not authentic."
That's not the description of a genre of writing that one doesn't like but that's still considered as legit. That's a description of bad writing, through and through. A bad writing that is typified as female.
Now, while I'm still infuriated about the structural sexism of such use of terms, I'm also still curious about which elements are associated with specific genders and why.