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Rewriting the romance: new femininities in chick lit?

Gill, Rosalind and Herdieckerhoff, Elena (2006) Rewriting the romance: new femininities in chick lit? Feminist Media Studies, 6 (4). pp. 487-504. ISSN 1468-0777

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Identification Number: 10.1080/14680770600989947


In the last 10 years popular publishing has been transformed by the development of a number of new genres that have claimed to "rewrite" contemporary romances. Many publishers have launched new imprints with more sexually explicit titles aimed at women (e.g. Black Lace), have commissioned fictions that deliberately build on the popularity of TV shows like Sex and the City and Desperate Housewives, and have marketed new subgenres such as "mum lit," "lad lit," and "dad lit." Chief amongst these new genres is the phenomenon of chick lit, which burst onto the publishing scene in the wake of the extraordinary success of Helen Fielding's (1996) Bridget Jones's Diary. The focus of this paper is on how chick lit should be understood. Is chick lit "rewriting" the romance? Do chick lit novels offer new versions of heterosexual partnerships? How different are their constructions of femininity and masculinity from those of "traditional" popular romances such as those published by Harlequin or Mills and Boon? To what extent do these novels break with conventional formulas, and how, if at all, are they positioned in relation to feminist ideas and concerns. In order to address these questions the paper is divided into two main parts. In the first section, a review of feminist writing on popular romance is presented, which outlines the different perspectives on romantic fiction and explores the extraordinary tenacity of notions of heterosexual romance against the backdrop of significant cultural and demographic changes, including divorce on a hitherto unprecedented scale, an increase in the number of single person households, and a diversification of family forms (including stepfamilies, lesbian and gay families, and the notion of "friends as the new family"). The second section offers a detailed analysis of twenty chick lit novels published between 1997 and 2004, examining constructions of sexuality, beauty, independence, work, and singleness. The paper concludes that chick lit articulates a distinctively post-feminist sensibility characterised by an emphasis on neo-liberal feminine subjectivities and self-surveillance and monitoring; the notion of the (sexual) body as the key source of identity for women; discourses of boldness, entitlement, and choice (usually articulated to normative femininity and/or consumerism); and a belief in the emotional separateness of men's and women's worlds. It is also characterised by an entanglement of feminist and anti-feminist discourses.

Item Type: Article
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 2006 Taylor & Francis Group.
Divisions: Gender Studies
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HQ The family. Marriage. Woman
P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General)
Date Deposited: 11 Jul 2007
Last Modified: 16 May 2024 00:29

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