I don’t read a lot of chick-lit, partially because I can’t be bothered, and partially for the same reason I tend not to read most heterosexual shoujo romance manga. That being that I find them personally insulting.
When I do read them, though, I manage to read the ones that don’t deeply insult me to the core of my being.
There is a small problem with these though, and that is that, with a lot of them, at some point I will just go ‘oh my god, it’s just Pride and Prejudice’.
Can we really be surprised here though? The plotline of a man once thought unworthy becoming worthy is a classic one, and in this day and age there are a limited number of reasons for a man to be considered unworthy without the woman coming across as an entitled bitch.
Let’s face it, we’re not allowed to judge men as unworthy because they can’t provide for us. I mean, it’s not like a family needs to have two well paid breadwinners to have a decent standard of living in this day and age. It’s also not like society still expects us, as women, to do the majority of the childcare and housework and if we were paid; we’d have to be paid a fair amount. Finally, it’s also not like pregnancy could cause us serious harm and illness that could take us out of work for far longer than the mandated maternity leave allows.
Regardless of all these things, society tells us that we are not allowed to judge men based on their ability to provide at all. If we do we are labelled as gold diggers, it doesn’t matter that it isn’t the main concern; we are told it shouldn’t be a concern at all. But this ignores the fact that the desire to not find ourselves in dire financial straits is not the same as judging a man solely by his income.
So, we aren’t allowed to use money as a judgement of worthiness. What we are told we’re getting instead is a judgement of worthiness based on emotional availability and willingness to commit, or, at the very least not being a dick.
Although, consider for a moment that the men who take the role of Darcy are never poor. They are, as far as I know, always rich and capable of providing a good standard of living solely on their own. This may be because Darcy was rich and his wealth was not a consideration for Elizabeth in relation to his manners. However, there is always the possibility that the Darcy characters are only allowed to gain worthiness because they are rich, that publishers believe that we don’t want to read about the lazy and selfish starving artist who learns to grow as a person to become worthy for the powerful politician that he loves. This of course is only an example, but I think what I’m getting at is clear: unless a Darcy is rich, he doesn’t get the opportunity to grow and become worthy.
It is a genuine concern, I think, that we are being treated as though it isn’t really the emotional availability of these male characters that is our main concern. That the claimed reason for their worthiness or unworthiness is secondary to their ability to provide.
What we want in our fiction is taking a back seat to what society is determining as what we should want, and, more importantly, what it secretly thinks we really want; that being to be looked after by a wealthy man.
As I stated earlier a potential partner’s ability to provide is a genuine concern, and there is nothing wrong with it being part of a set of criteria, but we are capable of providing for ourselves and we don’t have to have partners who are richer than us to get that. An equal income, or even a supplemental income would work just as well. Which is not what we tend to get in this kind of fiction, Elizabeth is not getting a financial equal, or someone who could take responsibility in times of illness or hardship. She’s getting someone who can look after her on his own, regardless of whether that’s what she wants, or even what we, the readers, want.
So, Darcy tends to be rich. He may not be the richest man in the picture, but he will be Elizabeth’s financial superior. Money is not an issue for him, and he would suffer no ramifications for becoming involved with Elizabeth.
The only reason he has for not becoming involved with her is his own emotional unavailability and dickishness. He may think he is above being in love with her, or that she will pull him down in some fashion. Whatever the reason, it’s unfounded and can’t compete with his love for her. Over the course of the story, he will realise this and give in, whether it be by himself or from taking advice from a trusted friend. So, he’ll stop being an utter dick and actually pursue Elizabeth.
Of course, Darcy does propose to Elizabeth twice, the first time being a spectacular failure because he went about it in the most dickish way possible short of telling her to make him a sandwich. Darcys these days don’t do this, because society isn’t set up in a fashion that allows a man to propose to a woman before they’ve been together for a reasonable amount of time. Some cultures do allow for this, but not the ones chick-lit tends to be set in.
The chick-lit I read is set up like this a little over half of the time. I think this is because there are very few genuine obstacles to romance these days that won’t make the woman look like a bitch or the man creepy and unworthy. So this overused formula keeps rearing its head over and over again. Always with a rich man and always with a precocious and less financially stable woman.
I don’t know about you, but it would be nice to see the artist/politician set up mentioned earlier, or even an emotionally unavailable woman for once.
There should be more variation in our fiction than just Pride and Prejudice or contrived obstacles to romance.