If Keyes had a penis, she’d just be listed as fiction since she writes about drug abuse, alcoholism, depression, rape and violence against women. “Chick lit” is the dismissive term used to label books written by women aimed at women-only audiences about subjects that “real” women are supposed to read. It’s the literary equivalent of Sex and the City’s mantra about buying shoes if you don’t have a man otherwise your life isn’t worth living. I don’t read books which are published under the genre of “chick lit” because, like romcoms, they reinforce the same old misogynistic bullshit about women. Frankly, I get enough of that whilst trying to watch the evening news. I’m not going to waste my time reading books which reinforce my status as the lesser human especially since I don’t buy into the discourse that I only have value if I pass the Patriarchal Fuckability Test; you know be being 18, blond, malnourished and willing to blow any man who snaps his fingers at me.
That’s what pisses me off so much about Keyes being labelled “chick lit”. It’s just not. Writing about the aftermath of rape and domestic violence isn’t “chick lit”. Exploring the issues around addiction, depression and abortion isn’t “chick lit”. These are the everyday lived experiences of women’s lives and, whilst Keyes is a brilliant and funny writer, the issues she explores aren’t patriarchy-approved topics. The patriarchy only likes books about shoe shopping and women desperately searching for a man to “complete” them. Keyes writes about real women with real lives struggling within a society which punishes women for not passing the Patriarchal Fuckability Test.
I would never have read anything by Keyes if a radical feminist I know hadn’t passed me her copy of This Charming Man. I just saw the pink covers and walked right past her books. And, I would have missed so many incredible, brilliant and thought-provoking books. In fact, as I’ve been boring my friends senseless with my new adoration of Keyes, a number of them have pointed out that not only have they been reading her for years but that Keyes’ books have been directly responsible for them seeking help about specific issues in their lives. That’s the real power behind books written by women for women: changing our lives and destroying the Patriarchy from within. It’s a travesty that the rules of cultural femicide dictate that Keyes’ needs to be published as “chick lit”when she is nothing less that a true Feminist writer defending and redefining the sisterhood [but I am so glad that Helen isn’t my sister].