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!