Is a book that focuses on Michelle Obama's key role in the White House automatically for chicks? That's what one reviewer thought — and his comments may be more important than he knows.
Here's the passage in question, from Douglas Brinkley's Times review of Jodi Kantor's The Obamas:
The difference when a head of state's spouse performs an advisory role is that both the content and its consequences resonate through a lot more than one household. And that's the point of Jodi Kantor's new book, "The Obamas." Call it chick nonfiction, if you will; this book is not about politics, it's about marriage, or at least one marriage, and a notably successful one at that.
As digs go, you could get a lot worse than "chick nonfiction." Brinkley's review is largely positive, and as many very successful writers of women's fiction might ask, what's wrong with chick lit anyway? Nothing — but Brinkley's piece also contains some more subtle hints that he maybe doesn't take Kantor all that seriously. He calls her portrayal of Michelle Obama a "hug," for one thing. Then there's this: "On a couple of occasions, the tabloid scent in the book is so strong that one would be forgiven for thinking Kantor writes for Us Weekly, not The Times." Would Brinkley have smelled that "scent" so strongly if The Obamas were written by a dude?
Little slights like this aren't especially surprising, especially for women writing in traditionally male fields like politics. What's really interesting is how Brinkley feminizes Kantor's whole project. The entire point of Kantor's book seems to be that the Obamas' marriage has a huge impact on the presidency, and thus on the direction of the entire country. Brinkley himself even acknowledges as much, right before that "chick nonfiction" comment. So if their relationships affects all of us, why is a book about it just for chicks? Maybe Brinkley's thoughtlessly sending The Obamas to the pink ghetto because a lady wrote it — but I think it goes deeper than that. I think Brinkley's whole approach speaks to the idea that marriage and relationships in general are somehow women's issues. Which makes it easy to dismiss them (to the detriment of many relationships) — except when they affect our nation's government. With an offhanded comment, Brinkley may have unintentionally pointed out something pretty crucial: sometimes, "chick issues" are really fucking important.