Is it possible to make chick-lit fiercely feminist?

Date

Georgia Clark

<i>The Regulars</i>, by Georgia Clark.

The Regulars, by Georgia Clark. Photo: Simon & Schuster

Growing up, I read every single Sweet Valley High. I was singularly obsessed with Lois & Clark. I sang along to Madonna, Kylie, Whitney and Britney. I devoured the sexual tension, the coy flirtation, the romantic delights and disasters imbued in every page or scene or lyric of candied pop fare. And I never thought twice about the fact the characters were always and without exception, aggressively heterosexual. The monolithic approach to what was normal was unquestioned, so much so that simply bringing together two individuals began a love story.

Girl. Meets. Boy.

My world cracked open when I started university in Sydney. Here, I fell in with the rag-tag student activist crowd. I was drawn to their passion, their politics and the way really anything passed as a haircut. Our t-shirts shouted our desire to Smash the Patriarchy! Free the Refugees! and Stop Jabiluka Mine! Popularity was ranked by just how radical you could be. I upgraded from environmentalist to Marxist to anarchist in the space of one zine-making workshop. I became a feminist. I met lesbians. Cool lesbians. Fun lesbians. I wanted to stick my tongue down other girls' throats too. So I did.

Author Georgia Clark.

Author Georgia Clark.

The new lens I'd acquired made me understand pop culture as not safely benign or the fair results of a global popularity contest, but as something that reflected the values and interests of the straight world by rendering invisible the attractions and ordinary lives of the LBGT+ community. I was introduced to writers like Margaret Atwood, Sarah Waters and Jeanette Winterson, literary writers who understood me and my burgeoning new desires. But I missed my pop culture: my clever, romantic, playful fare. I stuffed myself on the lone warriors; Buffy, Bikini Kill. But I was still hungry.

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Author Roxane Gay has written eloquently about her desire to see herself reflected in pop culture. "The movie industry continues to ignore audiences of colour," she writes. "It continues to ignore the simple fact that people of colour want to see their lives reflected in the movies they watch. Representation is not a lot to ask."

I felt the same way. The experience I wanted to see? Girl. Meets. Girl. And not girl-meets-girl-and-everyone-freaks-out-and-one-of-them-ends-up-dying. Girl-meets-girl-and-it's-emotional-and-funny-and-gasp-maybe-it-actually-works-out.

I wanted to see stories where characters weren't just feminists, they were different kinds of feminists, who could discuss their politics or joke about them. Stories where characters worried about things I worried about: making rent while trying to make a difference or meeting someone cool by online dating. Stories that reflected my life and my values. Unapologetically. Honestly. In a way that was normal. Ordinary.

I was starting to see more of these kinds of stories on the small screen (ie. my MacAir). Parks and Recreation was a successful comedy about a feminist in politics. Broad City and Girls tackled the project with gusto, tits and weed. Zooey Deschanel's New Girl was openly a femmo, Queen Fey's 30 Rock was in on the joke. And let's all take a moment to remember the opening shower scene in Orange Is The New Black. But contemporary fiction of this nature was not as easy to find. Not impossible: I discovered authors like Emma Straub, Maria Semple and Sloane Crosley. But smart women's fiction with levity, sometimes called chick-lit, is usually about the sexual or romantic exploits of straight, white, wealthy women who adore high heels and who almost always get the emotionally-unavailable-oh-now-he's-not guy.

I've never owned a pair of heels or had a boyfriend. So I had to write my own story.

The Regulars is about three young women living in Brooklyn (where I now live) who get their hands on something called Pretty, a magic potion that turns you into your ideal physical self for one week at a time. The three women, Evie, Krista and Willow, are mash-ups of myself and people who I've been close to: roommates, ex-lovers, good friends. They are queer and ethnically diverse, young and hungry, dazed and confused. They are, I hope, real. And they all use the Pretty to address the universal female experience: not feeling pretty enough.

In her non-fiction novel The Sex Myth, Daily Life contributor Rachel Hills writes about the cultural and emotional value we've invested in sex, an indicator of desirability, popularity, and relationship health: "The belief that sex [is] more special, more significant, a source of greater thrills and more perfect pleasure than any other activity humans engage in". For me, I could interchange sex with being beautiful.

I'm going to guess you know, on an intellectual level, that women should not be valued for our appearances. That models are Photoshopped. That beauty standards are by-and-large, unattainable, silly, and bad for our health. But I'm also going to guess that, like me, this conscious knowledge has not resulted in an all-day-every-day rock solid ego. That sometimes, you have felt ugly. That sometimes, you have felt so desperately sad at the face staring back at you in the mirror it drives you to despair. You have told yourself, 'But I am happy, and healthy! I am well-loved and clever and, in good lighting, I can be pretty damn cute!' And yet, the feeling - the what-would-life-be-like-if-I–was-beautiful feeling - has persisted.

It did for me. As did the feeling I wanted to write about it in a way that was raunchy and funny, modern and kinda cool. Because I love stories like that. And I wanted to write them about us.

The Regulars is out through Simon & Schuster on August 2. Find out more at georgiaclark.com