Female authors and the perception of chick lit

To Kill A Mockingbird? Written by a woman. Beloved? Written by a woman. Jane Eyre? Written by- well, you get the point.

To Kill A Mockingbird? Written by a woman. Beloved? Written by a woman. Jane Eyre? Written by- well, you get the point. There is no doubt that females can write and across a number of genres. Indeed, some of the world’s best literature is the creation of womankind. In spite of this, there seems to be an enormous amount of pressure on female writers to avoid typecasting.

Helen Fielding has rocked the literary world this week by admitting that she has considered writing under a pseudonym in order to avoid being typecast as a writer of ‘chick lit.’

The award-winning author of Bridget Jones’ Diary, The Edge of Reason and Mad About the Boy regularly comes top of the bestsellers list but has expressed a concern that her synonymy with the rom-com genre would hinder her transition into more serious literature.

When asked about a potential comeback at the Hay Festival, Fielding said: “I’ve absolutely thought about that, yes. I think it would be great to just write a book and put it out there. But it might get spotted because I think I’ve got quite a distinctive style.”

Guilt free pleasure

Chick lit, literature for “chicks,” gained momentum in the late 1990s as commercialism and realism were the trends of the decade, and has remained a firm favourite on the bookshelves of girls the world over.

Plucky heroines dealing with life’s troubles and strife whilst choosing between the “wrong guy” and the obvious-to-everyone-but-her true love provide great escapes from reality. Is it any wonder authors such as Marian Keyes and Adele Parks still regularly grab the top spot in book charts?           

Chick lit as a term is demeaning and underestimates the quality of the genre; it openly suggests that its readers are stupid and incapable of reading complex literature. Light reading does not have to mean vacuous and empty fiction.

To capture the human condition within the confines of a novel is a great skill—the talent of such authors should not be undermined. Granted there are a few staple authors of the romantic genre- step forward Cecilia Aherne and Sophie Kinsella: the Jennifer Anistons of the book world.

Of course this doesn’t mean they should feel confined to a life of only writing about the chick lit clichés.

Identity crisis?

Typecasting can be a huge pressure on an author’s career, and no one is more familiar with that than J.K. Rowling. The creator of the massively successful Harry Potter series is no stranger to the perils of gender stereotyping in publishing has had to compromise her name twice under the burden of being typecast.

In 2013 she was revealed to be the author behind the acclaimed crime novel The Cuckoo’s Calling. She adopted the alias of Robert Galbraith in order to shield her latest literary effort from the inevitable comparisons to the fantasy Potter books.

Upon the leak of the Galbraith’s true identity, sales of The Cuckoo’s Calling went through the roof, so it certainly did not do Rowling’s bank balance any harm, but would people have read the book in the first place had her name been associated with it?

I personally see no problem with so-called “chick lit.” It can allow us to slip away from the real world and is definitely worth more credit than it receives. We can learn a lot from the Becky Bloomwoods’ and Bridget Jones’ of the world- whether it’s to avoid excessive shopping like it’s (literally) going out of fashion or that ironing your hair is definitely not a good idea.

It is a shame that these top-class authors feel hindered by the male-centric publishing world. Authors such as Fielding truly are victims of their own success.

What do you think? Does such a perception exist? Have your say in the comments section below.