A confession about confessions: I don’t like them.
This is why you’ll see few overshares from me on this site, not that overshares are necessarily confessional, but rather because I fear making them so, and so just sidestep the issue by doing very little sharing.
Of course, I don’t think of myself as a particularly reserved or cool or even, hell, dignified person in my daily conduct. So let me be clear that I don’t think this has much to do with decorum. (As a side note: Screw decorum. Be deliberately indecorous in your life; don’t follow rules just because they’re there. Follow them because they’re right. That’ll keep you going.)
Hadley Freeman has a piece on this in the Guardian right now that is worth reading. (Though I’m told she was a ghost writer for Victoria Beckham, try not to let that overrule your interest; she makes sense here.) Although Freeman’s focused on a number of articles that have been appearing in British newspapers lately, what she says could apply to virtually any example of the confessional genre: memoirs, overly-personal blogs, etc.
This genre has nothing to do with journalists opening a window into what life is like for women today. It does women no favours at all. It is entirely about perpetuating an editor’s misogynistic image of what women are like (self-hating, self-obsessed) and making a semi-celebrity out of the writer in the belief that readers like to read journalists whose names and faces (and breasts) they recognise.
Perhaps these narratives are therapeutic for some, but then, I suspect, they belong in therapy. I say this as much for the protection of the speakers as for my own; if you spend any time writing for any audience, you learn very quickly that people can be counted on to see what they want in your thoughts.
Put more generally, and I think she’s right, is that all this Oprahfied™ encouragement for women to spill their guts these days is not a call to identify with women. It is a call to identify with our servitude, if I might be so grand – to identify with some grand narrative of us as helpless.
It’s of course not coincidental that it’s mostly bourgeois white ciswomen who make money off this sort of thing. We have the unique distinction of best fitting the flighty-bird-in-a-gilded-cage archetype that patriarchy seems to imagine as the natural state of being for white women. We are always in need of some kind of smelling salts, delicate and broken (but not broken really, because look at how beautiful the cage is!).
I don’t subscribe to the modern “we aren’t victims” strain of feminist thought. I keep wondering when “victim” became a slur. But I think that the ways in which the patriarchy damages women, keeps us down, don’t align with these sorts of “woe is me, I am a Bad Woman, look at the scars on my arms” narratives. Consciousness-raising was never about reiterating our circumstances; it was learning how to rise above them.
It’s a simple equation really: there’s you, and then there’s the world. Your own life is small and limited, as is everyone’s. You can choose to live in your house all day long if you like, but it will probably leave you unhappy and lost, unsure of what to say beyond what is in front of you. In this culture, you will get more accolades for staying in the house, proving what people already think, than you will by making tentative steps outside. Just don’t let that be the only thing you consider if you’re feeling alone and trapped.