What is Chick Lit?

What is “Chick Lit” ? This term is bandied around quite freely these days, and from my observations, can mean quite different things to different people. I think it’s really interesting to look at how words/terms evolve in language over quite a short period of time, so I thought I’d do a a very quick whip round the web and see the different interpretations I could find.
According to Wikipedia, the term “chick lit” appeared in print in 1988 as US college slang for a course titled “female literary tradition.” In 1995, Cris Mazza and Jeffrey DeShell used the term as an ironic title for their edited anthology Chick Lit: Postfeminist Fiction. The genre was defined as a type of post-feminist or second-wave feminism that went beyond female-as-victim to include fiction that covered the breadth of female experiences, including love, courtship and gender.
It is said that the novels Clueless and Bridget Jones Diary (both inspired by Jane Austen’s works) kicked off the modern day chick lit genre.
Some will say chick lit often features hip, stylish, career-driven female protagonists, usually in their twenties and thirties. The women featured in these novels may be obsessed with appearance or have a passion for shopping.
It is true that the use of ‘chick’ refers to young women, stemming from the early focus of the genre on young women’s issues.
The definition I use however more closely aligns with Amy Sohn’s of The Publisher Weekly’s assertion that the genre is about women who can stand on their own two feet. The main feature of Chick lit is the protagonist who is female, often, but not always trying to make it in the modern world dealing with issues that women face. Chick lit is no longer limited to teens or those in their twenties, and often the focus isn’t on romance. The key elements are a strong female protagonist and dealing with issues faced by women of all ages in today’s society. I see people are now using the terms Mommy lit, Widow lit, Christian chick lit, Mystery chick lit as subsets of the Chick Lit genre. Contrary to the stereotypical definition, quite often the storyline/moral message is about finding inner happiness and rejecting the superficiality of material trappings and an obsession on appearance. That’s the type of “chick lit” I like to read anyway… :)
There is an excellent post on a site called Chick Lit Books, exploring the same question as I pose above. They however go on to explain how they believe Chick Lit differs from regular women’s fiction:
“Well, it’s all in the tone. Chick lit is told in a more confiding, personal tone. It’s like having a best friend tell you about her life. Or watching various characters go through things that you have gone through yourself, or witnessed others going through. Humor is a strong point in chick lit, too. Nearly every chick lit book I have read has had some type of humor in it. THAT is what really separates chick lit from regular woman’s fiction.” (chicklitbooks.com)
Or is it all just a marketing ploy? See this very interesting article, “The Great Chick Lit Cover Up” from The Guardian who say that publishers are now adding chick lit-style covers to any book written by a woman, whether it fits the genre definition or not.

What do you think?

This post was inspired by the perceptive comments left by Becky and Bernadette on my recent review post for Kerry Greenwood’s Trick or Treat. Thanks guys!

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  1. I have definitely seen the trend that no matter what kind of book, if its written by a female author, they'll slap a pink, light blue, or lavender cover on it which makes it somehow appear to have a trite topic. I love 'chick-lit' but I wish that it could stop being used as something derisive. Stories about women standing on their own two feet, like you said, are great things and women authors should be applauded for writing them.

  2. It is my understanding from Jane Porter who writes for Hachette, "Flirting with 40, Odd Mom Out" etc. that the terminology "chiciLit" is dead, it's now considered women's fiction. However, I still see the term used in reviews.

  3. Oooh, I love what you wrote in that review. I can totally identify with that character Maureen – I'll definitely have to look up that book!!!

    I cringe at the shopping and appearance obsessed version of the defintion too – that's why I wrote the post. Let's just hope the stronger sassier version of the definition of Chick Lit cements itself in language in the years to come…

  4. I definitely like your definition of what it means more than the 'traditional' definition that always makes me cringe. Last year I read a Scottish crime fiction novel by Denise Mina called Garnethill which I loved and I wrote in my review "…this is the kind of book that people should think of when they hear the term chick lit. Maureen (the protagonist of the novel) is funnier than Bridget Jones, has better friends than Carrie Bradshaw and is the kind of practical, non shoe-obsessed woman that fiction needs more of. She is ‘pathologically independent’, a loyal friend, a helpful though perhaps misguided patient (she makes up stories that she thinks will make her therapist happy) and doesn’t define herself only terms of the bad things that have happened to her. In a nutshell she’s fantastic." For me the book was the opposite of all the things I didn't like about the term chick lit but perhaps I was just using the wrong definition :)