When I first heard the term “chick lit” a couple of years ago, I really wondered what that might be. Of course, I was acquainted with the meaning proper of the word “chick” and I knew that “lit” was short for “literature”, but as a non-native speaker of English I wasn’t quite sure about the possible connection between those two words. Naturally chicks don’t know how to read except those in cartoons and fables, so the books couldn’t be meant for them. Maybe it was literature about chicks? A branch of agricultural writings perhaps? It appeared just too bizarre to me that there should be a whole genre of books only for chicken breeders.
According to all dictionaries that I then consulted, a “chick” is – as I had expected – a young bird, especially one that is newly hatched. The second meaning of “chick” was definitely more revealing: men also use the word to refer to girls and (above all young) women. Also in German women are sometimes called chicken, more precisely hens, but in general this usage is all but flattering. In fact, it’s often rude and condescending. I was really amazed to find that many English-speaking women don’t seem to see any harm in being called a chick. I’d feel insulted. After all, a chick is a baby animal, thus small, cute, maybe a little bit clumsy, rather helpless… and totally inexperienced. Not exactly a compliment, is it?
And how about chick lit? What is it? Fiction for, by or about women who fit into the cliché from way back when we had no rights and no lives of our own? Not very likely. Feminists wouldn’t have accepted the label. And yet, there’s at least a grain of truth in it. Chick lit is often sweet and spicy, thus romantic and humorous, but not necessarily. In any case, the genre comprises light reads rather than very deep and serious ones. So why not call it light women’s literature? Unfortunately people don’t like changing their habits and they tend to stereotypes. As a consequence every woman writer will find it difficult to avoid her work being labelled chick lit also in the future, especially if the protagonist is a woman. And every woman reader is expected to prefer chick lit. I don’t!
I wonder if there is a male equivalent to chick lit? Somewhere I stumbled across lad lit, but I also learnt that readers wouldn’t accept it. Maybe they’d prefer bull lit? Feel free to make your own word associations!