Is it time confessional man shut up?

Angela Neustatter wonders if male emotional openness has gone too far
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The Independent Online
The self-revelatory man, unzipping his psyche and giving us a view of his deepest feelings, is with us. Increasingly he is to be found opening up on impotence and body inadequacy, commitment phobia and failure with women, among the flesh and smart cars in the men's glossy magazines and the feature pages of daily newspapers. But in the past couple of weeks the confessional mode has gone further, bringing us two highly controversial examples of this new genre.

First there was Blake Morrison writing of the pleasure he takes in his baby daughter's body in passionately sensual prose. He says: "I deliberately opened with a piece of writing that sounds like an erotic memory," and so it does. Talking of removing the infant's tights, he says: "I roll them down over her moley thighs and gleaming calves. I hold her foot in my hand and run a finger along its length..."

Then last week came publication of newscaster Jon Snow's reflection on a mother who, since the days she took him away to prep school, remained emotionally distant, and in a raw, sad voice he blames her for "a pathological fear of claustrophobic relationships with women; perhaps an acute reluctance to risk real closeness".

It is strong stuff. Yet feminists have spent years telling men to to undo their buttoned-up macho silence and do something about being hopeless mutes in the emotional language department, advocating the catharsis and closeness to be had when you share deepest, darkest feelings.

Jay Rayner who, with his wife, Pat Gordon-Smith, wrote an immensely touching piece on their infertility treatment for Esquire, believes "men have wanted to write this sort of stuff for a long time".

Yet when they do, is it acceptable? One critic who read Morrison's depiction of paternal love was angry, not moved, and referred to it as "self-serving and dangerous".

Others have wondered whether we are getting too uncomfortable and intimate a view of Morrison, while Snow's brother came out in angry protest. These responses beg questions. Is it discomforting and disturbing when men take women at their word and start talking, but doing it their own way?

Gill Hudson, executive editor of Maxim magazine, who has commissioned men specifically to write emotional pieces, says: "My experience is that men find it immensely hard to write about relationships and things that touch them deeply although the letters I get show me how much they want to pour out the way they feel.

"The problem is, women have decided what is and is not acceptable and set the agenda. Men are supposed to be warm and caring towards their children, but, when they decide to do it among themselves using their own ways and activities, then they are accused of being tree-hugging wimps.

"We have to applaud them for saying and writing what they want, provided they don't damage anyone, because the buttoned-up man is a tragedy for himself and for women."

But that is a key point. Are men as careful as women about protecting the feelings of those implicated in their writings? It has become conventional wisdom that women are more sensitive to the feelings of others than men and certainly what Snow has written has upset his brother. Feminist writer Linda Grant questioned the rawness of his revelation in an article in the Guardian.

Potentially the way Morrison has written about his daughter could cause his wife discomfort, in the view of one critic. Morrison demurs: "I am careful to consider and consult those affected when I write in a very personal way. When I wrote the book about my father, immediately after his death, which was very exposing of him, I let my mother read it. I wouldn't have published without her permission."

But he concedes: "I can see there might be a risk of emotional fascism, of men driven by ambition deciding they will write what they wish in an opportunistic way."