“Chicklit”: The Single Woman and Familial Alienation
I walked in step with the others, completely conscious that I did not fit in, yet feeling oddly good about it. I liked being an individual. I liked having some spunk about me, even though I felt other women in the street were smirking at me, as if to say I had no fashion sense whatsoever (Anita Heiss 382).
The traditional female romance which has dominated much of twentieth century pop-fiction was about women finding temporary respite in the realm of sensuous romance, away from the conventional roles of wife, mother and daughter. At the end of the romance, however, the female heroine was ironically better prepared for these very same caregiving roles by having secured her one great love. “Chicklit” is a dramatic departure from the high-stakes of the “romance” to the self-deprecating humor and reflexivity—expressive in the title itself—of women breaking with the linearity of reproductive roles and care-giving, and turning to their careers and shopping to meet all their libidinal requirements. The existence of men in their lives is equivalent to desired objects of shopping, or perhaps, a notch lower than these commodities. The genre thus combines unapologetic girlishness and girl power, validating female lives and friendships, even as their everyday concerns might appear somewhat superficial. It has been studied for its flagship post-feminism which implicitly disavows feminism as dated and irrelevant, while some kind of prefab agency is assumed as a matter of course.
The course will focus on the way the genre mediates women’s subjectivities in terms of the language of choice and consumption as well as the costs of self-actualization measured by the loss of love and alienation from the family unit. It will introduce students to the concepts of social reproduction, financialization and post-feminism among others. We will study the genre’s literary precedents (the novel of manners and popular romance), its ethnic variants (African American, Australian Aboriginal, Iranian immigrant) as well as its paranormal forays into “queer” or non-reproductive time zones (vampire and werewolves).
Student Learning Objectives:
You will gain an appreciation of contemporary theories of gender, sexuality, and narrative pleasure.
You will learn to historicize terms such as “romance”, “irony”, “first person narrative”, “confessional voice”, “feminism”, “post-feminism” and “globalization” through dialogue, discussion and feedback on your writings.
You will gain experience leading and delivering focused and thought-provoking oral presentations.
You will gain experience crafting historically- and theoretically-informed essays and reviews.
You will learn to write an argument-based research paper.
Required Readings and Viewings:
Victoria Holt (1980). The Mask of the Enchantress, pdf (excerpts)
Sharon Maguire (2001). Bridget Jones’s Diary (97 mins)
Sophie Kinsella 1997. Confessions of a Shopaholic
Terry Mcmillan (1992). Waiting to Exhale
Catherine Hardwicke (2008). Twilight (126 mins)
Anita Heiss (2007), Avoiding Mr. Right
Desiree Akhavan (2014). Appropriate Behavior (90 mins)
Oral Presentation 20
Generating Class Prompts (Discussion and Reflections) 20
Critical summary (2 pages) of a concept relevant to the course 20
An abstract proposal for the final paper 10
Final Paper 30