In attempting to find less white, mainstream examples of chick lit, I began to think that “alternative chick lit” is an oxymoron. After all, in a genre known for its light-heartedness and uncritical focus on sex, designer shoes, and Cosmopolitans, it can feel like a world that belongs only to the privileged. Many scholars and critics agree, calling chick lit “fun … without philosophical musings” or “apolitical,” a genre “whose light-heartedness and optimism upstage social criticism.”
Though avid fans might insist there’s no harm in just having some fun (it’s all girls wanna do, after all), I have to worry that these limited definitions of chick lit are inevitably exclusionary of any woman whose identity is other than white, cis, hetero, able-bodied, conventionally attractive, middle- or upper-class, and college-educated “chick.” I find it hard to imagine that any woman floats entirely apolitically through life on strappy Jimmy Choos and sipping non-fat lattes; but when we talk about women who are marginalized, blissful ignorance to the politics of gender, race, ability, sexuality, economy, and education, seems impossible, and to insist on it can be deeply problematic. If chick-lit protagonists must be perpetually naïve and apolitical, can any marginalized woman comfortably exist within the genre?
Terry McMillan is often cited as the mother of chick lit for black women, but she abhors the term. She calls it a “cheap shot” and says that while women writers might write about “matters of the heart,” she argues that these matters are about a lot more than sex and romance. And her writing often points to political issues affecting black American women.
In McMillan’s How Stella Got Her Groove Back – about a 42-year-old single mother who falls in love with a younger man in Jamaica – is on the surface about sex, lying on the beach, and shopping. (more inside…)