Taking a Stand

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?

heart2 <– 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.


Filed under Romance, Women's Issues

18 responses to “Taking a Stand

  1. stregheria13

    Great post! I agree we shouldn’t let it bother us, but I can also see the frustration, especially for well-known, bestselling authors.

    A new hashtag for Twitter? #Iwritecliteraturepower 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Awesome as always, Terri! I love the idea of a hashtag. #cliteraturepower #clitlit?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Terri-Lynne DeFino

      Glad you liked it, MB. It really bugged me last week, that a writer like Jodi Picoult is made to feel that way. 😦
      CliteraturePower! (We should have rings, like the wonder twins…)


  3. Love the post and agree with most every thing you say. It’s not right that women’s writing has to be reduced to such labels.

    However, while I find the use of “cliterature” amusing, there’s a reason I don’t want to embrace it fully. Because in it’s own way, it’s a kind of label and a term that could be perceived as marginalizing the romance genre. I mean, what could be harder to write about than falling in love? To get that kind of deep relationship across on paper. And yet most people dismiss romance as simple and meant to tantalize readers with hot guys and sexy gals. I imagine people who don’t write romance seeing “cliterature” and lumping it with the latest phase of erotica or the bodice-rippers mostly associated with the genre. The humor, I get. Hey, I’m blond and get take a dumb blond joke in stride. But there are people who like to believe it’s true. And that’s my only wee issue with cliterature…because there are people who will see a word like that and say “see, it really is what it’s all about.”

    And it doesn’t mean I’m labeling myself as others see me. Hell, I write romance and am proud of it. But maybe I’m tired of every person I meet asking if I write books like 50 Shades of Gray just because I write romance. And yes, they ALL ask. So the phrase cliterature just sort of reinforces those kinds of stupid questions to me.

    Lol, sorry. I guess I take things too seriously. Really, I have a sense of humor. Really I do……..

    Liked by 1 person

    • Terri-Lynne DeFino

      “But there are people who like to believe it’s true.” And that’s exactly my point. I know many, probably most, will not agree with me, but I absolutely refuse to cater to those who like to believe it’s true. Nothing is going to change their minds. Nothing is going to make them see romance or women’s fiction as anything other than something less than “real” literature. The tongue-in-cheek approach, to me, says, “Yes, I know what you think of what I do, and you know what? I don’t care.”

      My general appearance pretty much says the same thing. As does the name of my blog. You know me, Shar. No holds barred. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Love this post! Ah – the labels that the marketing department needs so the seller knows what shelf to put our books upon. I often wonder how a work of prose may be labled literature by one yet mind candy by another…and why we, as writers and consumers, give that power.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Terri-Lynne DeFino

      And who decides, right?? I keep coming back to that “male nurse” thing. It always bugs me. Like, he’s not a “real” nurse because he’s a guy? Like there’s something abnormal about his career choice? “Women’s fiction,” is ONLY marginalizing if we allow it to be. Still doesn’t make it any less annoying that there is such a thing as “women’s fiction” as a genre, but not “men’s fiction.”


  5. A good friend of ours, Phyllis James, died this week. She wrote murder mysteries and took as her pseudonym a name she considered “gender neutral” because 1) “genre” books were looked down upon; and 2) mysteries by women were also disparaged. She was one of the most erudite and literate authors of our day, yet felt the need to disguise her gender. Rest in peace, P.D, James.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Terri-Lynne DeFino

    The Baroness wrote one of my favorite books, Children of Men (there was a movie as well, and one that bore almost no resemblence to the book.*) I had no idea she was a woman for years after reading it. If you’ve never read it, do. It’s an amazing bit of commentary on the world, gender, and how one view’s ones own personal identity.

    *The book, IMO, was about the end of MAN’S rule in a very intimate way. In it, all men were sterile. Hmmm…commentary? In the movie, it’s the women who are sterile. Totally lost the gist of what I believed PD James was going for.


  7. Literature is literature. It’s often excellent regardless of the author’s “parts.” Man, if that certain publisher (you know who!) had ever thought ‘that way’) it would never have published that string of fantastically fantastic novels. Nor would they have the world’s best editorial staff. –ETR


  8. Hi Terri! Another great post. I agree with your argument to “own” what we do and who we are, but I still say that in the long run, the rhetoric that defines “woman” and “women’s” as somehow “lesser than” will need to change. Not just in literature, but in almost every sphere of life. We have made a lot of progress since the onset of the women’s movement in the 1960s, and I’m actually hopeful that things can & will keep changing. In the meantime, I’m happy to own the labels, but I still dream of a day when the labels define something “different” rather than something “lesser” – not just among writers in-the-know, but in the popular imagination.


    • Terri-Lynne DeFino

      Thanks, Karin. And I agree with YOU–I hope for the day such labels aren’t in evidence in all aspects of life, and that we celebrated the differences without one being the lesser by default.


  9. Jen

    You mentioned “Peace Like a River”!! 💗💗💗


    • Terri-Lynne DeFino

      One of my very favorites. Actually, among all our book club books, it might be my second favorite. My first is still City of Thieves. We missed you last night!


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