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Feminism & Chick lit: how those two things can co-exist.

If you google Chick lit, you will find the following definition on Wikipedia:

Chick literature is genre fiction, which "consists of heroine-centered narratives that focus on the trials and tribulations of their individual protagonists".

I am sure that there are some romantic comedies that will come to mind. Whether you read them or watched them when they were turned into a movie, you were probably exposed to some form of chick lit at one point or another.

The love story

I remember falling in love with them. One of the first books that I read and actually enjoyed, was Sophie Kinsella's The Secret Dreamworld of a Shopaholic. It was the first time that I read a novel were the protagonist was female and actually lived on earth! In fantasy novels, there was a heroine here and there but in most of the other genres, the woman was the side show.

When I met the main character of this book, Becky, I did not relate to her in a lot of ways. Probably because she was a white woman who walked the streets of London and comforted herself by buying a brand new pair of Jimmy Choos. I, on the other hand was an African girl seating on my bed and comforting myself by reading her story. But, we were both women ( Well, I was a little girl) and that was enough for me!

I laughed with her, I got excited when she bought new boots, I worried for her when she chose to ignore her credit card bills and I fell in love with her falling in love. She was the first character that I truly imagined myself being friends with. I wanted to grow up and be friends with a girl like Becky Bloomwood.

The pattern

So Naturally, I decided to read the rest of the shopaholic series and a bunch of other novels in the same genre of literature. I laughed some more and fell in love with more characters but while I was doing this, I was also reading other things, growing up and figuring things out. I remember questioning a lot of things during my sophomore year and starting to form my own political views. That is when I realized that I am an intersectional feminist. That I am a black woman ( This seems obvious but it is not - that's a topic for another day). I also started thinking that Chick-lits might be doing more harm than good.

I mean:

1. It is hella white and hella straight!

In most Chick Lit novels, the plot revolves around a heterosexual, white couple. They usually live in the city and they always have enough money for overpriced cocktails. In other words, the characters mirror the people who are already being favored in society. It was not until recently that we started seeing novels including LGBTQ protagonists in pop culture, along with main characters of color. So on the representation front, there has been some progress. But we need more.

2. The big issues are missing.

The female lead's obstacles are very safe and simplistic in nature. This is not to say that these women don't have problems- In the shopaholic series for example, credit card debt is her main issue and it's something that affects way too many people - so their problems are real but these books don't really address problems that are specific to women ( Except of course the one that society thinks every woman has: finding :the one"). Rarely do you read about the big issues like glass ceilings, abortions, the side effects of birth control. I understand these books are very escapist ( Is that a word?) in nature but we can at least allude to these issues in passing!

3. There is almost always a knight in shining armor.

Now, just to be clear, I am a sucker for a good love story. I think a cute romantic subplot is always nice but not only do most of these books make the romance the most important part of the woman's life, they also include a lot of the man saving her in the end. Look, I get it! We all need to lean on somebody and all of that but once in a while, can that be the gay Latino best friend instead of the straight white man with deep pockets?

4. These covers are not right!

Someone needs to come up with some different covers for these books. Pink, shoes, shopping bags, jewelry and very feminine dresses. You will find at least one of those items on most covers. There is nothing wrong with these items... but there is also a lot more to being a woman!

The guilt

I hated what they represented but I still loved them. I love a good mystery novel, fantasy novel, thriller or...really, I just love all kinds of fiction except horror... romance novels and chick lits included. They became my guilty pleasure because they provided an escape. They can be shallow and unrealistic but that was one of things that drew me to them. They allowed me live in the much simpler world that the characters inhabited.

I hated some of the things that I read and sometimes the feminist in me was boiling with rage. I actually remember a few times where I had to close the book I was reading and take a moment to regroup before continuing - a few days later.

But then, things started to change here and there. The protagonists became a little more independent, they weren't always a size 0, they weren't always white, they weren't always from Europe or North America. I feel like there is hope!

The feminism

I stopped reading chick lit for some time. I wasn't reading much during my final year in uni but when I would read, I would make a conscious decision to stay away from such novels. In doing so, I realized that there are quite a few things that make reading Chick lit- feminist.

1. These are stories of women, usually by women, for women.

Dismissing them means disregarding a woman`s voice and story ( Even if she is fictional). The truth is that for a long time, women did not have a way to actually share their struggles and with these books, they do. More minorities are actually getting success with their books and using them to highlight points of views that many never considered. Novels like C. Adichie's Americanah or U. Jalaluddin's Ayesha at last have done so much for girls around the world because #Representationmatters.

2. Selfish protagonists

Romance novels are basically the only books in which women get what they want and are not made to feel guilty about it. In many other genres, like in life, we hear more about what is needed from the woman, what she has to do in order to get something or be something, what she sacrifices, what she has overcome and more of these sorts of things. The goal of female lead characters is often tied to taking care of someone or saving a community. In Romance novels, however, the stories usually involve personal goals and selfish goals! Something that women do not get often.

3. Happy Endings!

Black people are getting shot by the police, The wage gap still exists, climate change is real so the weather is kicking our butts, A lot of the men in these streets are trash and period cramps are painful! What I am trying to get at ( By highlighting these very few bad things) is that we have enough problems. Reading a novel that you know is going to end on a high note is always a good idea.

With that, I am going to pour myself a glass of Zinfandel and bury my nose in a Chick lit.

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