Twice last week, friends alerted me to the Jodi Picoult article on Jezebel in which the fabulous lady lamented:
…Despite this success – 23 novels in 22 years, eight of which have been number one on the New York Times bestseller list – she struggles to be taken seriously. “I write women’s fiction,” she says, an ‘apparently’ hanging in the air. “And women’s fiction doesn’t mean that’s your audience. Unfortunately, it means you have lady parts.
Women’s fiction. What the fuck does that even mean? No, really. Does it mean literature for women? By women? Why does it need the “women’s” part added on, like a nurse who happens to be a man is always a “male nurse” and not just a nurse? Marketing, schmarketing. It perpetuates the notion that it’s something lesser. Ms. Picoult’s, The Storyteller is certaintly not “women’s fiction” any more than Lief Enger’s, Peace Like a River is YA or Nelson DeMille’s, Gold Coast is “men’s literature.” Oh, right–books written by men don’t get a designation. Men can write books about men, about women, about children with points-of-view from any or all and it’s just literature. A woman writes a book with a female protag and it’s automatically women’s fiction (or the dreaded “chick lit.”) If she writes a male point of view character, she generally writes under her initials, like the amazingly talented and recently lamented PD James. THEN it can be literature without the “women’s” tagged on.
I know there are exceptions, and I look forward to having them listed in comments. Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand comes to mind, and yet when I began listing authors like Margaret Atwood and Barbara Kingsolver, I had to wonder if most of their titles would not be given the “women’s fiction” lable. But you know what–this is and is not the point of this post. What is my point?
<– That’s my point. I will admit, when I first latched on to the notion, it was funny to me on many levels. It still is. The more I embrace it, the more it is coming to mean to me. Why does the “women’s fiction or “chick lit” appellation bother amazing writers like Jodi Picoult? You know what I say to that?
Bring it on.
In my original post concerning this little button I had made, I quoted Eleanor Roosevelt–no one can make you feel inferior if you don’t let them. We are letting them, ladies. We are letting labels get under our skin and define what we do, and how we feel about it. You want to call my work “women’s fiction”? I’ll take that. I’ll own it. It’s an honor I am not going to feel lesser for and no one can make me. We have to stop buying into this. The labels stick and the connotation stands because we don’t embrace it as women, as female authors.
I do not advocate the “if you can’t beat them, join them,” mentality–ever; I do believe that if we allow the label “women’s fiction” to rankle, it’s always going to be seen as a lesser form of literature. Sometimes, to make a point, you have to go beyond debating rationally and do it up big–which is where “I write cliterature” comes in.
I have always felt that the best way to get a point across is with humor. People remember funny. It makes them think. “I write cliterature” is funny, but when shouted instead of giggled behind a hand, it says so much more.