Thursday, 7 March 2013

No Chick Lit, Please!

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!

6 comments:

  1. I have to confess I am guilty of using that term and it is derogatory even I use it with an awareness of how derogatory it sounds. I will make a conscious effort to not use it. I really do need to be a bit more aware of what I am saying. My daughter has another term which I have used which I shouldn't. It is a word she uses to describe a certain type of woman, usually middle class but not generally highly educated or professional, she calls them the steppfords (a reference to the stepford wives), they have a particular dress and behaviour code, are conservative to the point of being right wing and they tend to read the kind of books that get labelled chick lit. Language is powerful and I guess as women we need to be more aware of the words we use to describe oursleves and be a little more circumspect and refuse to use and accept derogatory terminology.

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    1. Yes Arabella, it's all about raising awareness about the language we use. If we allow others to give us derogatory names, we shouldn't be surprised at being treated like we didn't count.

      Today is International Women's Day, by the way.

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  2. "Chick" is American slang for a young woman, and "lit" is a shortened form of literature. (Wiki)

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    1. Lara, thanks for your comment! Of course, I know the wikipedia article and I'm not really happy with everything that it says because it plays down the derogatory meaning behind the label. Am I to like light and empty novels just because I'm a woman or a chick in slang? Definitely not! Unfortunately that's exactly what the term makes believe all those who don't know any better.

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  3. Edith

    I had no idea what Chick Lit was either when I first heard it and to be honest I thought it was a dirty word.

    Now there is Teen Chick Lit and YA.

    As for the man books, well I can think of a few but they're not suitable to post on here :)

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    1. Thanks Michelle for another one of you comments! I just found the word derogatory, but hearing from a native speaker that you thought that it was a dirty word... even worse that it's become part of everyday language.

      I agree about men's books. This is not a suitable place to post give any examples.

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