"Mom lit" is born

Oh, great -- another cute category to encompass consumer-driven light reading as well as serious literature by women.

Published December 19, 2006 6:43PM (EST)

I know I probably shouldn't admit to liking "Bridget Jones's Diary," the mother of the dubious genre that is chick lit. But you know what? I did. I liked it so much that I read it several times myself and bought copies for friends, three of whom were guys. (They liked it, too.) My feminist side might not have wanted to associate with her desperate pursuit of men, her obsession with her weight or tendencies toward self-destruction -- but something about the way Helen Fielding wrote it made me laugh.

Less laughworthy is the predictable lumping of nearly all books about young women under the term chick lit -- an annoying trend that the women of Broadsheet have touched on many a time before (see here and here). Like any genre, some of these books are good; others are not ("Confessions of a Shopaholic" springs to mind). Which is why I wasn't particularly happy to see this weekend's New York Times article, "Chick Lit, the Sequel: Yummy Mummy," which claims that there's now a "bumper crop" of 30-something women writing about motherhood -- a trend that's given birth, as it were, to the term "mom lit."

The point that we're seeing a boom in the number of novels about motherhood seems reasonable enough -- even Bridget Jones, whose ongoing saga is serialized at the Independent, has recently given birth. But my first reaction to the new terminology is to point out that "mom lit" is itself a stupid term -- at least "chick lit" is a riff on small, sugary "Chiclets" (though its connection to gum is not entirely clear). Second, I'm annoyed that the term "mom lit" -- like "chick lit" -- automatically dismisses books about women's experience as marginal or inferior. Write about something as messily human and definitively female as motherhood, and your work gets pigeonholed as ladies-only frivolity. As one author told the Times, "It's a little defeating to be thrown into a pot of mommy lit as if nobody except women my age or my grouping would be interested."

Which is too bad, since it's great that people are writing about parenting. And it seems unlikely that these books are going to give some rosy, 1950s picture of a happy housewife with a vacuum in one hand and a baby on her hip. (Though the genre is unlikely to shake off the stereotypes entirely: The Times notes that "mom lit's prevailing aesthetic is Carrie Bradshaw, with a carriage.") I think it's important that people write about motherhood today, with its frustrations and rewards, and give voice to the challenges that still exist for career-oriented women. These writers have the potential to help a lot of women feel a little less alone. I don't mean to put Fielding and her ilk up there with Betty Friedan, but finding a way to laugh about common experience can be cathartic, especially when it's 2 in the morning and you're on baby duty.

Instead of seeing interest areas and achievements segregated by gender, I'd rather see more lists like this one -- Wired's 2006 "Sexy Geek" voting contest, which celebrates achievement in a tongue-in-cheek and equal-opportunity way. At first, I feared the list would have only women on it, which would be sort of lame. But Wired was ahead of me on this one; the list has both male and female geeks on it, and trust me, there are some cuties (as well as some pretty fierce résumés). Objectification, it seems, is much more fun when it goes both ways.

By Catherine Price

Catherine Price is an award-winning journalist and author of Vitamania: How Vitamins Revolutionized the Way We Think About Food. Her written and multimedia work has appeared in publications including The Best American Science Writing, The New York Times, Popular Science, O: The Oprah Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Washington Post Magazine, Salon, Slate, Men’s Journal, Mother Jones, PARADE, Health Magazine, and Outside. Price lives in Philadelphia.

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