Woe Is Me

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Oh the horror!In a recent debate about women’s literature, two British writers polarised women’s popular writing styles into “Misery Literature” and “Chick Literature”. The so-called misery lit is classified by women dealing with bereavement, rape, and child abuse. The chick lit is classified by Prada handbags and the search for romance, sex or both.

Daisy Goodwin’s comments about rape were phenomenally inappropriate: She says she’s sick of women opening novels with rape and wants more “foreplay” in a story. Wow. I’m sure all of the rape survivors out there would absolutely have loved some “foreplay” too. However, I can’t be overly surprised that such a callous individual would be on a panel of judges; being a jerk comes with that territory. I am, though, surprised such tasteless comments would come from a woman.

On the flip side of the debate, Jessica Duchen points out that women may be tending towards more and more grotesque misery lit to make 110% sure nobody mistakes their work for the fluff of chick lit. With this, I absolutely agree.

I found this debate fascinating since my first novel, American Monsters, is a horror novel, but with shades of feminist dealings with issues such as violence against women, misogyny, and how women speak and act back towards the violence acted against them.

American Monsters has all shades of violence against women – rape, incest, medical malpractice, and more. However each of the women responds by developing a superpower that will prevent her from ever experiencing that kind of trauma again or protecting another woman from going through the same. One woman develops a vagina dentata, another develops a silent scream that she can point at her abusive husband, another who develops a taste for testicles with fava beans and a nice Chianti.

While my novel does come into a world that seems to value Stephenie Meyer’s conservative Twilight manifesto, American Monsters is a far cry from it. With all of the Twilight and True Blood hype, horror stories for women seem to being going in the direction of chick lit, something I see as a contradictory phenomenon. Horror has always been the pulsepoint of what society fears, which tends to be women, their natures and association with the physical side of life. Subsuming horror into chick lit frightens me, as it tells me the shades of reality present in horror stories are being glossed over from the actual to a cutesy re-invention.

For example, the sexual violence against a teenage girl in the Twilight novels masquerading as true love is more disturbing than even the scariest Stephen King story.

Horror is a borderland, both in reality and in fiction. Horror is the place where nightmares are real, the terrors of our pasts awaken and hide in dark corners to say “BOO!” unprovoked. Horror is the place where we can take the difficult things that happen to us and do something different, or simply heal through the re-living of that terror, excorsising it from our souls bit by bit. Horror helps us unpack the pain, suffering, trauma so that it stops having such a detrimental hold on us.

Maybe “true” horror stories are the in-between space where misery lit and chick lit can meet, to create stories of empowerment for women. This could also be a space where women speak back to the male versions of what is scary, monstrous, and powerful. Horror could be a viable alternative to both misery lit and chick lit, giving us the opportunity to re-imagine worlds where women find new ways to deal with trauma, partnerships and equality.

Where do you see women’s literature going?

6 Responses to Woe Is Me

  1. Very interesting Sezin. I enjoyed the philosophical discussion your blog post has inspired. Personally I’m of the old school, I guess being in my late 40s allows that 🙂 I prefer to write for me.
    My favorite genre to read and write is horror only because it keeps me entertained. I’m not a machine therefore I cannot follow someone else’s pattern to produce what is required. I did that most of my life in the military then corporate America only to realize it wasn’t a good fit.
    Good luck with your novel! I see I need to find out more about American Monsters.

    • Hello Ingrid, my fellow horror She Writes-er!

      Thank you so much for visiting and reading! I do know what you mean about following someone else’s pattern. This is the main reason why I self-published: I knew that a publisher would want me to change the entire format of the book into more of a traditional style and then the greater theoretical issues I explore would have been lost in the shuffle.

      I’m not sure if I’d call a desire to write for yourself as old-school, I think it says more to being a strong person who is able to say, “These are my limits and these are my choices.” Kudos to you for having integrity, such an important trait as a writer.

      I’ve been meaning to get more involved in the horror writers group on She Writes and haven’t had the time, but I will. Horror is my favorite genre to read/write/watch, and I’m sure we can all have some great discussions.

      All the best,


  2. I had to confront some of these ideas when I did my recent post on Woundology. My post was about being addicted to suffering, and I’m wondering how it could tie into misery lit? I think most misery lit is trying to eradicate the pain by speaking the truth of that pain, therefore being safely outside the realm of woundology. It becomes an addiction or obsession if the writer or audience cannot somehow move beyond the eye of the storm of that pain, so to speak. There has to be some release instead of an over-identification with it, otherwise we are still victims and held back by the power of the abusers.

    I did a course in university on chick lit and lad lit. I can’t say I like either genre, but I understand their place in society, or at least some theories as to how and why they came about and became so insanely popular. In my opinion it’s candy and a big veil over eyes that could be seeing clearly.

    I’m not very familiar with the horror genre, but I’m looking forward to diving in!

    • That’s an interesting take, Vesper. Jessica Duchen’s theory is that women are turning to misery lit so that nobody would dare consider their work in the fluff genre of chick lit, but there certainly could be deeper psychological issues at play. For me, “American Monsters” was a cathartic process to deal with personal traumas as well as bring awareness to other women’s traumas as well. I do agree that obsessing on trauma can indeed hand over personal power back to the abuser, and this is something we must all be aware of. I’ve never heard of Woundology and I’m totally going to read up, sounds fascinating. Can’t wait to hear your thoughts on my novel!

  3. It’s a very interesting idea. Horror has a tremendous potential to explore a lot of ‘dangerous’ ideas in a safe place. Science fiction can do the same, take the idea out of the normal and make it ‘safe’ to explore. That said it’s been years since I’ve read either genre, partly because a lot of the bestsellers in either were formulaic.
    Neither chick lit nor misery lit interest me. In fact I think women’s lit is narrow too. Why not write for everyone, why not explore women’s issues in a way that might allow men to understand us? Idealistic, much??
    I’ll also say that women are undoubtedly harder in their criticisms of other women than men are.

    • “Why not write for everyone…” YES! I totally agree. It may be idealistic, but if we just start doing it then it will catch on. We can call it Universal Lit, Hybrid Lit, or Transgressive Lit, where men and women write outside these preconceived labels. Let’s start the movement! Thanks for this thoughtful comment, Catherine!

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