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At the mention of the term chick lit, it is unavoidable to assume that it is a colloquial form of ‘chick literature’ or something more elaborate. Campbell (2006) puts it aptly when she says that we should acknowledge that the very term is “demeaning” and probably peppered with a tinge of sexism.
Chick is a derogatory term for the presumably empty-headed girls or young women who are both the characters and the readers; lit is an ironic reference to the assumed lack of quality writing in the form (p. 487).
Most definitions of chick lit outline its characteristics; highlight the general plot, the illustrations on the cover and its target audience which do not quite explain the genre as a whole or do it any justice. This study therefore will use the definition describing the genre as “heroine-centred narratives written by women that focus on the trials and tribulations of their individual protagonists, to appeal to other women” (Kent, 2007 & Smith, 2008).
Chick lit has been at the brunt of a lot of criticism. According to Razdan (2004), it is “wildly successful” and that is where the problem lies. Most critics cannot seem to get past the “covers in pink or fluorescent green, highlighted with flirty, fashionable accessories like purses or high heels” (Ferriss & Young, 2006b). However, it does not end there. The major attack is due to it reflecting postfeminist values through its protagonists, themes and plots.
The characters in chick lit are young women with newly found independence dealing with careers and “the demands of urban pop culture” (Campbell, 2006). Ferris & Young (2006b) describe them as women who commit errors at the workplace, drink excessively at times, are hopeless when it comes to cooking, or are attracted to unsuitable men quite unlike “the flawless women of romance fiction”. In short, these characters generally embrace or portray postfeminist values, acknowledging that feminism has taken place and won them equality but all the same, they do not want to be called feminists because of the indulgences feminism has rejected in the past like romance.
When it comes to the themes, despite their “timelessness and universality”, they seem to be rubbing people the wrong way probably because the lifestyle choices this novels centre around are “seen as a betrayal of feminism and its call for equality” (Davis-Kahl, 2008). Unfortunately for those who hold this view, the themes addressed in chick lit are claimed to be the “representation of sociological truths about women’s lives today” (Knowles, 2004). Although this might seem unsettling, Ferriss and Young (2006b) put forward that chick lit focuses on “the issues dear to cultural critic’s heart”. It appears that some just refuse to acknowledge that times are a changing.
Looking at the plot, Knowles (2004) claims that many variations can be found in the genre itself but the fundamental “structure” of the main character looking for satisfaction in a “romance-consumer-comedic vein” usually characterizes writing in these texts. The inevitable fact for this genre is its “broader focus on relationships” (Davis-Kahl, 2008, p. 5). Almost every novel has a protagonist pining for a man, dealing with issues like weight, self-image, career burnout and other things along the way once again reflecting these post-feminist values.
In her paper, Glasburgh (2006) puts forward five postfeminist characteristics defined by Faludi (1991):
1) negative reaction to second wave feminism, 2) focus on the individual instead of a collective sisterhood, 3) desire for more traditional femininity through domesticity, consumerism, romance, and motherhood, 4) female identity crisis causing fears of a man shortage, a loudly ticking biological clock, and career burnout, and 5) feelings of anxiety over ability to make the correct future decisions.
Based on content analysis on ten chick lit books, she concluded that the protagonists generally did reflect “characteristics of postfeminism” (Glasburgh, 2006, p. 76).
These postfeminist characteristics are what critics are debating about. Some feel that chick lit should be taken seriously because it is about the current generation of women while others feel chick lit is force-feeding the current generation with postfeminist values. This study attempts to explore students’ perspectives on this matter.
1.2 Statement of Problem
Even before the existence of chick lit, women’s writing has suffered a long history of scoffing (Davis-Kahl, 2008). They have been described as “frothy, prosy, pious, pedantic” (Eliot, 1856, p. 35) and women writers have been referred to as “a damned mob of scribbling women” (Ticknor, 1913, p. 141). On the 23rd of August, Beryl Bainbridge, then Booker Prize favourite, called Bridget Jones’s Diary “a froth sort of thing” (Davies, 2001), echoing George Elliot’s words two centuries before. At that point, chick lit had become the new form of women’s writing which was under attack.
This intentional sidelining of women’s fiction has been said to stem from sexism. Both men and women place value on different things such as men on sports and women on fashion and as a result, all things associated with men have been viewed as ‘important’ while women pursuits have been considered ‘trivial’, transcending even into the value placed on books (Woolf, 1929).
Chick lit has now been subject to bashing by critics for more than a decade. The most popular claim is that chick lit is force-feeding society with postfeminism values while supporters of the genre claim that chick lit is merely reflecting today’s culture. Whether or not chick lit has been affecting culture or the other way round is yet to be seen as not much research has been done in that area. Most certainly, chick lit is a force to be reckoned with based on its soaring popularity.
One thing that must be noted in light of this situation is that there has been very little research on the area of chick lit in the academic field. Even in the small number of researches that have been conducted, the majority of it focuses on content analysis from romance, feminist and postfeminist perspectives. This study will focus on the students’ perspectives towards chick lit from a postfeminist approach as opposed to stand alone text analysis.
In their courses on classic women’s fiction and chick lit, Ferris and Young (2006b) have concluded that students were certain that despite the “fascinating cultural issues” raised by chick lit novels, they could not quite contend with the “work of Jane Austen, the Brontës, Virginia Woolf and Zora Neale Hurston” but were unable to state why. This study attempts to go a step further in trying to uncover the issues in which students can relate to and understand the reasons behind it.
1.3 Purpose of Study
This study aims to:-
Find out the perspectives of students towards chick lit in relation to post-feminism.
Uncover the reasons behind these perspectives.
1.4 Research Questions
1. What are the perspectives of students towards chick lit in relation to post-feminism?
2. What are the reasons behind these perspectives?
1.5 Significance of Study
The results of this study will reflect the reception of undergraduate students towards chick lit from a postfeminist point of view. It will also explore the reasons behind these perspectives. These results will help to determine whether chick lit should be incorporated into the syllabus to be considered as part of a genre of literature like classic women’s fiction.
If the reception towards chick lit in light of postfeminism is found to be good, even on a micro-level, it opens up a very viable premise for chick lit to be used as a foundation for teaching literature. Allowing students to utilize materials which they can relate to as a “basis of their exploration” and providing them with the ability to clarify the plus points as well as shortcomings of a book or a genre is powerful (Davis-Kahl, 2008).
Characteristics of postfeminism have been found to be present in chick lit novels to a certain extent. Therefore, chick lit has been claimed to be the document of a new generation quite unlike the era in which writers like Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters lived in. While it is important to note that cultural, social and geographical factors counts for something, the ability of students to relate to a piece of work does a lot to help discuss its literary value.
In fact, these novels have the potential to be used in the classroom to explore the “generational differences in feminism”, uncover the reasons why classic fiction stand the test of time, and to develop an appreciation for the “intricate plots, subtle characterizations, memorable language” of such works (Ferriss & Young, 2006b).
Chick lit can be used as a basis for discussions as to the reasons for the significance of women’s writing, the changes it has undergone, and the opinions of women in fiction, be it popular or literary. This “evolution” that fiction in general and women’s fiction has gone through is an area worthy of study especially due to its “popularity”, ease of access and representation of “issues that modern women face” (Davis-Kahl, 2008, p. 8).
Furthermore, chick lit will be viewed as an important representation of modern women’s writing, doing this “new area of popular women’s writing” some justice (Ferriss & Young, 2006b). This establishment of chick lit as a learning tool or viable area of study in the academic sphere will eventually lead to it being readily available in academic libraries allowing students with interest to gain access to them.
1.6 Scope of Study and Limitations
Participants involved in this research are Year 3 Trimester 2 Bachelor of Arts (Hons) English Language students selected through purposive sampling. This study has a number of limitations. First, the sample may not accurately reflect the opinions of students in general towards chick lit. Secondly, the sample does not contain an equal mix of genders to accurately reflect views towards chick lit. Thirdly, some participants may be unfamiliar with the genre itself and therefore incapable of providing their perspectives towards it. However, a brief set of definitions are provided in the questionnaire to help respondents to familiarize themselves with the subject area.
1.7 Definition of Key Terms
Chick lit : “heroine-centred narratives written by women that focus on the trials and tribulations of their individual protagonists, to appeal to other women” (Kent, 2007 & Smith, 2008).
Feminism: “â€¦the belief in the social, political, and economical equality of the sexes” (Rowe-Finkbeiner, 2004)
Post-feminism : “A shift away from the feminist idea of needing to right the wrongs of a patriarchal society with regard to women” (Faludi, 1991).
Post-feminist Backlash Theory: The claim that “popular culture has been the direct cause of a backlash on feminism, understood as ‘postfeminism,’ by attempting to blame it for the supposed misery of women today and calling for a return to a more traditional femininity” (Faludi, 1991).
1.8 Organization of the Thesis
This study consists of a total of five chapters; Introduction, Literature Review, Methodology, Findings & Analysis, and Discussion & Conclusion.
The first chapter which is the Introduction addresses the background of study, statement of problem, purpose of study, research questions, significance of study, scope of study and limitations, the definition of key terms and the organization of the thesis.
The second chapter, Literature Review will outline the history of chick lit, the history of post-feminism, address the five post-feminist characteristics used in this study as well as discuss past researcher’s study.
The third chapter, Methodology will explain the research design, sampling, instruments used for data gathering, the pilot study, procedures as well as the data analysis.
The fourth and fifth chapter will present the findings and discuss its significance in relation to the study as well as provide recommendations for further research respectively.
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