Thursday, July 02, 2009

Telling Too Much

The phrase confessional journalism maybe relatively new but the genre is definitely familiar. Hadley Freeman describes its characteristics with remarkable accuracy :

Here's how it goes: a female journalist describes her obsession with her weight/breasts/ageing face/food or alcohol problems/inability to have a happy relationship. The article is illustrated by the journalist looking as miserable as possible. There are tales of daily woe. It concludes with the writer still sufficiently unhappy to be commissionable for another very similar piece.

While online and print media are replete with example of such outpourings - kvetching is certainly not the exclusive realm of women. Men will chronicle just as faithfully their many problems with women, alcohol, career (or the lack of one) among a host of other topics. That Freeman considers confessional journalism a serious setback to "feminism" is a testament to the fragility (if not irrelevance) of the movement itself.

Aside from everything else, this kind of journalism sets feminism back by about 50 years, because not only does it perpetuate offensive stereotypes about women as needy, helpless, childlike narcissists, it suggests that the most interesting thing a woman can offer up to others is her own battered, starved, bloated, enhanced or reduced body. And that seems a lot sadder to me than any shocking revelation I ever read in a single piece of confessional journalism.

Confessional writing is often the interesting thing a man or a woman can write. Take away the designation of "journalism" and describe it as an "essay" and there is no problem at all.

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