No Need to Check Your Brain at the Door: Chick Lit Gets Conscious

Chick lit isn’t in the coffin yet. Women today are just demanding stories and characters as awesome and complex as they are.

BY: Melissa De Silva

Chick lit is brainless. It’s frivolous. It’s dead. We’ve all heard the common slurs of detractors of the genre. But is it? The last time I checked, chick lit was about the experience of contemporary women – their career struggles, their challenges in navigating the minefield of dating, relationships and romance, and their friendships and family – mostly seen through the humorous, snappy personal lens of Every Woman.

Says Kalidah Jamil, a court interpreter who counts Isabel Wolff and Sheila O’Flanaghan among her favourite chick lit authors, “I enjoy reading chick lit because it’s a delightful form of escapism. After a whole day at work, settling dinner, dishes, whatever, and finally getting the kids to bed, when I manage to squeeze in some time to read in the loo/bus, why would I want to read books on history/politics/philosophy or other cerebral stuff? I want sweet, funny stories about love and life.”

Keeping it Real: Chick Lit as Awesome as We Are

I think that the key to chick lit staying relevant to readers and enticing as a product category is simply for it not sell women short. What do I mean? Well, for example, lots of chick lit deals with men and relationships and there’s nothing wrong with that. These are crucial elements in our lives. But perhaps what publishers and other critics who claim that chick lit is dead (and brainless and vacuous and inane…) see is the barrage of pink-covered books pouring into the market that are crammed with cardboard characters who all seem to be obsessed with an identical (vacuous) goal: landing a date/ relationship/ diamond engagement ring so that things will end happily ever after.

For most of the women I know (and having been a women’s magazine journalist for almost 10 years, I know a couple of women), this isn’t what their lives look like. It’s a whole lot bigger than some guy, no matter how great he might be, and includes jobs, friends, play, volunteering, sports, dogs, whatever.

Sometimes chick lit reader Ahila Sonarajah, a human rights lawyer based in London, says, “The only stuff I’ve enjoyed is where it reflects modern day women and the funniness of being one, but doesn’t pretend there are happy endings. I reckon Sex and the City is probably the best chick lit I’ve seen because it deals with the struggles of being independent, etc without pretending that a woman always ends up with the perfect man. Life is more complicated and often, being independent means you’re not going to have the fairy tale life.”

What Women (Really) Want

So what chick lit critics may not realise is that most women aren’t tired of chick lit at all. They’re just demanding more from the genre, that it adapt to reflect the reality of their own lives, which involves a whole lot more than obsessing whether he will/he won’t  __________ (fill in blank with desired romantic gesture). Because seriously, we have better things to do. And one of them is reading about the kind of woman who’s life is like ours, but funnier and more interesting, so we can be entertained* at the end of a long day. And maybe sometimes, besides laughing, we might cry a little, and even learn a thing or two about ourselves and that big thing called Life.

*Being entertained doesn’t translate to reading about some bimbo whose life revolves around chasing men in between manicures and microdermabrasion sessions.

…In the next post in the ‘Chick Lit Gets Conscious’ series: Hold the Bimbos, Please.

Melissa De Silva is a freelance magazine journalist based in Singapore. She is currently working on a luxe-adventure chick lit novel set in Asia with an international cast of characters. When she isn’t writing for work or play, she paints like a child and takes long walks in tropical parks, squirrel-spotting while trying to avoid evil, thuggish monkeys.