Time for a new genre for women of a certain age…


Many wanna-be-authors will be penning a new year’s resolution to finally finish that novel. The most important decision writers on their Literary ‘L’ plates must make is what genre tickles their creative fancy.

Comedy is my preferred category because if you can disarm with charm, you’re more likely to get your message across. (Feminism, in my case.)

Scientists tell us that laughter is innate; it originates in the oldest part of the brain, the hypothalamus. Biologists maintain that laughter increases our biological fitness. Anthropologists have revealed that the Eskimos hold laughing competitions and that women, in all cultures, laugh more often than men, especially in all-female groups. Why?

Well, living with the male of the species we have so much to laugh about. Firstly, there’s the fact that hypochondria is Greek for man. (Any man who says he’s not a hypochondriac, well, that’s the only disease he doesn’t have.) Then there’s the fact that many marriages break up for religious reasons – he thinks he’s a God and well, she just doesn’t. Not to forget women are still getting concussion from hitting our heads on the glass ceiling – and we’re expected to clean it whilst we’re up there.

The female of the species is also the butt of God’s biological joke, beginning with being taken hostage by your hormones once a month as a teenager, followed by pregnancy where everything swells to sumo wrestler proportions and childbirth where you’re required to stretch your birth canal the customary five kilometres – concluding with menopause. Then just when everything goes quiet, do you know what happens? You grow a beard.

I have heard so many men, from Christopher Hitchens to Michael Parkinson say that women can’t tell jokes. Of course, this might be because we marry them. (Just joking, guys, obvs.) But perhaps one of the reasons some men don’t want to admit that women might be funny, is because they’re terrified to think what it is we might be being funny about. Boys, to put you at your ease, let me just say that on our all-girl gatherings, we don’t just talk about the length of your appendages …. We also talk about the width, which, after childbirth is much, much more important.

I’ve been writing novels for over 40 years. As my agent pointed out to me, way back in the 80s my novels Puberty Blues, Girls’ Night Out and The Llama Parlour probably kick-started the genre now called “Chick Lit.” (Although I do loathe that condescending term used to describe first person, funny fiction by women. Nick Hornby, David Nicholls and Karl Ove Knausgaard write in the same vein and win the accolade of ‘Chekhovian’, while we female authors get “Chickovian” pink covers, plastered with cupcakes.)

My next two novels Foetal Attraction and Mad Cows created a genre now known as “Mummy Lit.” But how would I classify my current books? The positive reaction from ‘women of a certain age’ to the novel I published during lockdown called HRT- Husband Replacement Therapy got me thinking that we need to invent a new genre for funny, life-affirming novels for women over 50; books which celebrate being older and wiser and encourage women to cut the psychological umbilical cord that keeps us tethered to the kitchen by our heart and apron strings.

This category would prove the antithesis of Anita Brookner type novels where older women wither from unfulfilled longings, wilt away with loneliness and finally get eaten by their cats.

It would also be the opposite of crime fiction where no dog walker can kick a pile of dead leaves in a moody lit woodland without hitting the decaying foot of a female victim who had passed her amuse-by date, or was ‘slutty’ , ‘naggy’ or needed her ‘comeuppance.’

No, this new genre will put women on top and sometimes armed and dangerous. But what to call these books for worldly broads? ‘Broad Books’ perhaps; novels which put the ‘broad’ into broadening your horizons? Or what about the more satirical – “Send in the Crones”? I quite like “Prime Prose” or “Prime-Time Prose” for women in their prime. The ironic “Chook Lit” is a fun idea but would only resonate in Australia.

All the idioms for older women are so negative – hag, bag, harridan, bint, old cow, old moo, grumpy old woman etc. Ageing blokes get the sexy sobriquet ‘silver fox’, but women my age just get put out to sexual pasture. The only vaguely positive term for older women is ‘cougar’ – a term which has been hunted to the point of extinction by the media. Perhaps we could upgrade to another animal, a leopard, say. What about calling this new genre ‘Leopard Lit’ but only focused on one spot; a cosy little spot that goes by the name of G…

I was brainstorming this idea with my three sassy sisters and the expression we hit upon that made us laugh is “I-Don’t-Give-A-Shit-Lit”. Post menopause, most females lose the ability to give a fig about stuff that really isn’t important in the grand scheme of things. Brought up to be demure and decorative, post menopause women are liberated from the male gaze. Also, a drop in oestrogen and an increase in testosterone means that for the first time ever, we no longer care what other people think about us.

Baby boomers have redefined every decade we’ve lived in and now we’re going to redefine getting old. We’ve had the kids, the marriages, the divorces, the promotions, the betrayals, the heart breaks and the breakdowns, and learnt from them all. Now it’s time for a glorious Second Act.

As Kristen Scott Thomas’s martini-swilling character deliciously declared in Fleabag, “menopause is the most wonderful, f—ing thing in the world. And yes, your entire pelvic floor crumbles and you get f—ing hot and no one cares. But then – you’re free! No longer a slave, no longer a machine with parts. You’re just a person in business.” This scene has been viewed over half a million times on YouTube. She goes on to tell an entranced Fleabag that menopause is “magnificent… Something to look forward to.” Clearly ‘chick lit’ no longer cuts the literary mustard for feisty women like this.

Studies reveal that women in their 50s, 60s and 70s are healthier, happier, richer and sexier than any generation in history. These women in their prime are still young enough to have adventures but are also aware that the clock is ticking, making us more candid, confident and unconcerned by judgemental criticism. “Adventure Before Dementia” is our motto.

Women in their prime want to make the most of their friends, men and experiences – and have the money to do so. Yes, it’s always delicious to be whisked off your feet by a Knight in Shining Armani, but we are also happy to stand on our own two sequined Birkenstocks.

If a woman is healthy in middle age, then she’ll probably live to 96, which means there’s a hell of a lot of experiences still to be had – and the witty, gritty, fun and life-affirming I-Don’t-Give-A-Shit-Lit will encourage women of a certain age to go forth and be fabulous.

So, what do you think? Would I-Don’t-Give-A-Shit-Lit tickle your bookish fancy? Let me know.

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