Last week as I was cooking up my beloved fake meat for a big Sunday brekkie, I was listening to the gang at NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour discuss The Fate of the Furious, the latest film in the mega-successful action franchise. Their take was light-hearted but generous: exploring the pleasure and context of the film as a whole. It made me wish that popular women’s culture was treated with the same level of respect.
While women buy and read the most books, the literary establishment favors reviews and coverage of books written by men. And it’s not just the NYT guilty of dismissing this form of women’s work. How many times have you heard a “highbrow” male literary author heap shit on a “lowbrow” male thriller writer? I’d guess never. Speaking generally, men don’t draw cultural distinctions between their genres, because a) they don’t experience internalized sexism and b) popular male writers are not dismissed in the same way popular women writers are. This is not the same for women. Some of the most outspoken critics of (and I do hate this term) chick lit, are women authors and readers. Why?
I take my job very seriously. I work hard on my books, and telling stories about the modern female experience really means something to me. I love connecting with readers, but I no longer casually browse review sites. I have a relatively thick skin, but it only takes yet another “this is a fluffy, brainless read”-type review to really bum me out. While it’s impossible to be objective, I don't think The Regulars is fluffy or brainless. That hurts, but what hurts more is understanding that consistent sort of feedback in a global, historical context.
We live in a world where women’s ideas are devalued or flat-out disbelieved. Things designed for women and female audiences face disproportionate amounts of vitriol: Lena Dunham’s naked body (not pandering to male pleasure = gross), Fifty Shades of Grey, Twilight (speaks to female fantasies = stupid). I’m careful to watch my own reaction to culture created by women. If I find myself needing to defend a position that “my books aren’t chick lit”, I ask myself why. What is gained by dismissing other women’s work, work that is enjoyed by other women? Does dismissing “lowbrow” culture come from a place of love or fear?
Publishing books enriched my life in so many ways, and one of the most significant is perspective. Just because something isn’t for me, like, perhaps, The Fate of the Furious, does not mean it is worthless and stupid. I challenge myself to remain open-minded and curious about all forms of culture, especially those created and enjoyed by ladies. I encourage you to do the same.