By **Erica Wright**
The Oxford English Dictionary is curiously silent about my favorite new term, “dude lit.” When you type in this useful phrase, you get “duddery,” “duddle,” and of course “dude,” which, it turns out, is a man with “exaggerated fastidiousness in dress, speech, and deportment.” Apparently, I’ve been using it wrong as a referent to a twenty-something guy who wears baseball jerseys and has tendonitis from texting. (There is a term for this, “Blackberry Thumb,” also not in the OED.) On the other hand, “chick lit” does get an entry, listed as “occas. depreciative” and cited in a 2000 use by I. Edward-Jones from My Canapé Hell: “It was one of those chick-lit book launches about fat thighs, low self-esteem and vomiting.” Oh, yes, of course, one of those books.
If I had my druthers, the phrase “chick lit” would be excised from our vocabulary.
Why, you might ask, are my panties in a twist? Is it because my uterus is wandering? No, it’s because in Charles McGrath’s New York Times article about the new film of Jane Eyre, he referred to Charlotte Brontë’s literary masterpiece as chick lit. Even couched in complimentary terms (“arguably the first and most satisfying chick-lit novel”), it’s still patronizing. It speaks to a debate I’ve simply had one too many times about great novels in which Thomas Hardy and James Joyce win out over Brontë and Virginia Woolf every time. And by “win out,” I mean the dude I’m talking to speaks louder and more forcibly. Has anyone read Tess of the d’Urbervilles lately? Unless you’re into overwrought prose and sadism, I wouldn’t recommend it.
On the other hand, not only does Jane Eyre combine the limited pre-existing novel genres (gothic, sentimental, social realistic, Bildungsroman), it outstrips them. As the reader peeks into the bleak circumstances of being penniless and female in mid-nineteenth century England, he is also chilled when Mr. Rochester nearly burns alive and moved when Miss Eyre expounds on equality: “it is my spirit that addresses your spirit; just as if both had passed through the grave and we stood at God’s feet, equal.”
If I had my druthers, the phrase “chick lit” would be excised from our vocabulary. Surely there are marketing terms with less condescension. We could revert to “comedy of manners” or film’s go-to “romantic comedy.” Barring complete expulsion from the English language, we can at least even the playing field a bit by using the male equivalent more. I am unsure of the first usage of “dude lit,” but Maria Russo employed it as early as 2000 in an article for Slate, and Laura Fraser aptly defined it in her 2010 article “Chick Lit vs. Dude Lit” in The Daily Beast: “As a genre, Dude Lit books generally propel a confused, often drug-addled or alcoholic, narcissistic, philandering male protagonist to, well, not self-discovery, but some semblance of adult behavior.” Fraser has already done the work. The editors of the OED just have to add it to their database and, in doing so, ensure an equal opportunity for insult.
Copyright 2011 Erica Wright
Erica Wright is the poetry editor at Guernica. Her “interview with John Ashbery”:https://guernicamag.com/interviews/507/houses_at_night_1/, “Houses at Night,” appeared in Guernica’s February 2008 issue. Read her Q&A with author Amy Greene “here”:https://guernicamag.com/blog/1969/erica_wright_q_a_with_amy_gree/.