The Outrage of “Chick Nonfiction”

Last month, a searing debate arose when one critic called Jodi Kantor’s newest book The Obamas a work of “chick nonfiction.” New York Times writer Douglas Brinkley used the phrase, saying The Obamas was “not about politics, it’s about marriage.”

And so began a heated debate about women’s writing — to whom does it appeal? Is it always about love? Can it ever be serious or liked by a man?

According to this article by Huffington Post, those two words — “chick nonfiction” — got female authors talking about their under-appreciation in the book industry. Author Jennifer Weiner took to Twitter and an email with TABLET magazine to say this:

“My suspicion is that if a male reporter had written a detailed, well-researched, revealing book about the First Marriage, it would have been praised as a serious work of journalism. However, when the old, pernicious double standards still apply, if it’s a lady doing the investigation, the personal can never be political … it can only be gossip, and the writer, however skilled a reporter, is still merely a chick.”

Weiner has a point. Why can’t a woman write a serious book without it being labeled as non-serious? If a man were to write a book about the Obamas, don’t you think it would have been necessary for him to include information about the marriage itself? No one would be calling it “chick nonfiction” then. It would just be nonfiction, truth, fact.

The double standard in the book industry is alive and well. Let’s hope female authors — particularly the ones with gusto like Jennifer Weiner — can stand up to that challenge and relieve women of the stereotypes they face.

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