First of all, I couldn’t possibly overstate the importance of Little Earthquakes (not this book, the Tori Amos album) in my fifth-grade emotional development. I wrote out the lyrics in glitter pen and stared at them while pondering my heart as an impossible cyclone of bittersweet, abstract longing. You too can experience this feeling by watching this YouTube video of the PS22 kids doing “1000 Oceans.” I’m not even embarrassed to admit this, because that album was good.
Anyway, I’m steadily chipping away at my credibility as a person whose blog you should read–but in pursuit of absolutely nothing, I’ll press on. Jennifer Weiner sells a lot of books and In Her Shoes was made into a Cameron Diaz movie so I figured she was worth checking out–and, well, this book is fine. It’s nowhere near as superficial as Lauren Weisberger’s mind-polluting social climber oeuvre, and it details the lives of normal, intelligent working women (with a basketball player’s wife and an ex-celebrity actress thrown in for the always necessary glam-factor). The book is about pregnancy and money and babies and whatever–a bunch of “women things” that will eventually be important to me but will hopefully never be important enough to make me think that every little detail related to said “women things” is automatically interesting.
Jennifer Weiner has vehemently defended the idea of chick lit before–”Female protagonist, urban setting, smart, sarcastic voice. I don’t see why it matters if you’re thrown into this category,” she says in one interview. I realized after reading this book that that’s not my problem with chick lit (and really, that definition is missing a crucial “who thinks about only herself” clause after the female protagonist part). What bothers me about chick lit is the way it makes women–occasionally including myself–glom onto the minutae of someone’s feminine exploits in the vague hope that the accumulation of details will eventually provide some sort of key to understanding (and perhaps also magically transforming) their own lives. I get a feeling that this is a big reason why, for women, every single relationship story seems individual and fascinating; why else would people continue to watch the Bachelor, which is the same every season as well as every episode? Sure, it’s entertaining to watch girls put on tiny dresses and act sincere for some man who probably not only shaves but also airbrush-tans his chest–but there’s a more than a little of “If I see enough love stories, I’ll figure out my own” in the viewership. And, since we assume that the love story is complete once everyone’s partaken of tiny truffle mac-and-cheese bowls at the wedding, this phenomenon can be assumed to go even farther–to a world where stretch marks replace high heels, but the need for shared attention is the same. There are 3.9 million mommy bloggers out there.
When I brought this up with my boyfriend, he said that the energy that women put into this sort of endless, life-normalizing support group behavior is the energy that men put into sports and misogyny. This strikes me as a good assessment, and I don’t mean to imply that either gender has a lock on narrow, superficial fixations. He also said that most people of both genders don’t even see the attraction of not being superficial, which is a chilling (but probably decently accurate) thought. And women may be the primary audience for anodyne, internal-affairs chicky business, but they also make up 80% of the fiction market–so there’s that. Don’t get me wrong with all of this! I think women comprise the better half of the world by a long shot. I just think they (we) are getting fooled by chick lit and everything like it.
The fact is: these stories about women in whatever form have a legitimate veneer of insight on the female experience, but in reality are creating a false idea that a woman’s life has to revolve around an anti-intellectual beehive of relationships, shoes and status; that a woman’s emotional state is something akin to how I conceived it in fifth grade while listening to the other Little Earthquakes–something important, absorptive, and worth hours of daily maintenance and attention. Jennifer Weiner’s Little Earthquakes, despite being very well-written for its genre, was about as insightful as a cocktail napkin with a saying on it.