Okay, it's serious-time, kids.
We don't have a problem with chick-lit as a genre: plenty of talented, ambitious, and intelligent women writers have published (or tried to publish) female-centered novels delving into issues that, however trivialized, wield a lot of real influence over our lives. Men. Sex. Power. Family. Other women. The subject matter of these books is not so much the problem, we think, nor the mind-numbingly predictable illustrations that publishers inevitably slap on the covers of such books.
The issue we have with chick-lit — and one we wish Ms. Dowd had addressed in her column — is that, like women's service magazines, there's a certain ghettoization to the genre that we're uncomfortable with, nay, angry about. For many hard-working female writers, the only way in which to find a publishing home — and a decent paycheck — is to write marketing department-approved content for other women, and this sends a dangerous message. Namely, that for those looking to find success — and that paycheck — in an industry that is cash-strapped, fading, and predominantly run by men, the paths of least resistance run straight to Glamour and The Dial Press. And although this failure of imagination began in the publishing industry, it has nontheless infected many women's ideas of what they deem possible for themselves. Want to write the Great American Novel? Cute, but you'll have better luck turning your failed engagement or your obsessive love of shoes into published fodder.
It wasn't always like this. (Was it?) When we were growing up in the '70s and '80s, the probability of becoming a Paula Danziger or even Toni Morrison was an equal one, at least in our minds, because becoming a Paula Danziger or a Toni Morrison demanded only that a girl have ambition, drive, talent, and the ability to believe in herself, no matter the subject matter. It was just a question of who you wanted to be. For female writers nowadays, we think, it's more about what others will allow you to be.
More, perhaps, on this later.