The Confessional Essay? Or is that, “Oh, another Whoa-Man [just] giving us some Sentimental Heart Gut”

Here’s an article I thought fitting. I recently wrote a confessional piece for the Huffington Post, which is slotted as Anonymous for the privacy of the ‘victim’ writer. That was interesting to me that they would present the work in such a way; though it’s questionable how many men would really read such a piece from the blog.

The first-person essays boom: top editors on why confessional writing matters” An effective piece via The Guardian on Personal Essay Writing and Why there is a Gender Divide?

Editors of Hairpin, Jezebel, The Guardian and Fusion were asked to speak on the matter–

Here are some of my personal favorites. Responses I found most thought provoking:


“I can’t tell you how often I have encountered the attitude that because these stories are about women’s lives, they are somehow superficial, silly, or unimportant. Women’s lives – our stories – are not unimportant. They often reflect the feminist maxim that the personal is political.

The whole language of “oversharing”, “TMI”, and “confessional blogging” is condescending and dismissive. Nobody uses that kind of language when men write memoir.

As editors, we try to warn writers who choose controversial topics that backlash that may occur, and offer them the opportunity to publish anonymously. We never want to put anyone’s safety or livelihood at risk. For every story we publish, there are three that we choose not to because the writer doesn’t seem mentally or emotionally ready, or lacks perspective or self-awareness.

Of course there are consequences to what personal information you put on the internet, but to suggest that adult women aren’t fully capable of deciding when and where to share information about themselves denies them an awful lot of agency.

I write about my own personal life because I want to lessen shame and encourage connection. If people read a piece I wrote and say: “This writer has had this experience, done this thing and felt this way so maybe I don’t have to feel ashamed of who I am,” it’s worth it.

That happens whether I’m writing about something silly like back fat all the way to serious topics like addiction and rape. And the best reaction is when someone emails me to say: “I didn’t know I had been raped (or was an alcoholic, or needed to go to therapy) until I read your piece.”

Even the stories that may seem silly or lurid are forging a connection among a group of women who are often not encouraged to speak out about our own lives and bodies.”  — Emily McCombs, Executive editor, XOJANE


“We are not interested in people searching for meaning in their navels. There are plenty of other life experiences to explore that do not get enough attention.”

“This overshare, gross-out phenomenon of “first-person writing” is generally a door that leads to more fame and work for white women. It is selling pieces of yourself to get bylines. This route to publication and a book/movie deal simply is not open for non-white women. Society sees women of color’s shameless writing as proof of deviance, not a relatable and fun story to share on social media.

The backlash, when we do open up in that way, is normally immediate and often includes a Twitter referendum on how we are failing the race.

I may have missed it, but I can’t think of a woman of color who became the belle of the literary ball by simply writing about her sexual transgressions. (The closest piece I can think of in recent years is Helena Andrews-Dyer’s Bitch is the New Black, but the lingering notes from that work are not sexual, but rather about friendship and hollowness and the vulnerability of black women.) We always have to bring more to the table.

Where are the men is also an interesting question. Men write these kinds of pieces all the time. They just aren’t seen in the same, marginalizing light. A man writing about his drug addiction or squandered nights in sweaty sheets is just considered normal. Interesting. Literary. Tom Chiarella wrote about being sexually abused by a teacher for Esquire – but the piece wasn’t framed as a gross-out confessional piece. It was given the consideration it deserved. For some reason, the lives of men are inherently more serious affairs than the lives of women.

I often think about Katha Pollitt’s Learning to Drive (I think it’s being made into a movie). I remember the shock in some corners of the internet, that a thinking woman like Pollitt would actually be subject to the same human struggles as the rest of us. I mean, here’s an excerpt from the New York Times review:

And now Pollitt’s up at bat. Her three previous essay collections gathered brilliant commentary on welfare, abortion, surrogate motherhood, Iraq, gay marriage and health care, mostly from the pages of The Nation. But with “Learning to Drive,” she gets personal, and shameless. She has decided to wave her dirty laundry (among which she found unidentified striped panties) and confesses to “Webstalking” her longtime, live-in, womanizing former boyfriend. (Take that, you rat!) It’s hard to tell if she’s coming into her own, trying to sell more books or has lost it entirely. Or perhaps she’s giving up her dignity in a generous motion of solidarity toward the rest of us who have already blown our cover? Whatever the reason, she’s entitled.

As if Pollitt earned the right to be a full human because she spent most of her career as a serious woman. Imagine that.”–Latoya Petersen, Editor-at-Large, FUSION

A Personal Essay about Homeless & Abused Women. Overcoming Mental Health & Trauma to survive published on the Huffington Post referencing Street Haven At The Crossroads


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