Liz Hoggard: Female confessions come at a price

Men don't have to sell their stories of self-hatred. So why do women?

Share
Related Topics

Every day I open the newspapers to another female writer revisiting her romantic pain. Last week Martin Amis's ex-girlfriend, Julie Kavanagh wrote in great, agonised detail about her love affair with the novelist, 35 years ago.

Not only was he serially unfaithful, he left her for her best friend Emma Soames. At the weekend, Soames gave her version of the love triangle with the "scribbling dwarf" (as her brother, Tory MP, Nicholas Soames, dubbed Amis). And now we're agog to hear that opera diva Anne Howells has written about her affair with a famous, chunky Australian critic for The Oldie (widely assumed to be Clive James).

What makes a clever, sane woman bare all? Revenge? A desire to pre-empt the male version (Amis is of course bringing out a book he calls "blindingly autobiographical" next year). Or to kickstart a failing career?

Kavanagh and Soames are great veteran journalists. So I can't help feeling protective. We all love a bit of confessional. But my problem with these stories is that the woman emerges fatally diminished. Either they're just come across as an acolyte to a Very Significant Man (he's smouldering, Byronic; she washes his socks). Or else they steal the headlines but it colours everything else they ever write again. "Never become the story" is a pompous mantra. But it holds true.

Revenge lit may seem the fastest way to further your career. But my former Observer colleague Kathryn Flett wisely counsels young women every day Not to Do It. And she she should know. Her own memoir, The Heart-Shaped Bullet (a searing account of marriage breakdown and depression) won her attention but it also meant that every Tom, Dick and Jasper had the right to rake over her personal life for years.

Plus I can't help noticing how men always slither out of first-person dispatches. A male colleague who lost four stone through taking up cycling wrote a witty, breezy account of his transformation. But no one dreamed of asking if it had changed his body image or sex life. Men don't have to sell their stories of self-hatred.

It's the same when we get sent to do interviews. "Make sure you ask about the divorce," my section editor cautions. "Don't just focus on the work." I know she's right. That is until I open the paper the next day and discover that a hip male journalist has "forgotten" to ask Meg Ryan about her face-lift, or Ricky Gervais about the death of his parents. How come he got away with it? Are his morals more important than mine? Why are women always the trajectory for pain?

I'm not blameless. I've written about my problem with emotional drinking; a visit to fat camp; dating at 45. I don't mind the (male) bloggers who savage me for self-indulgence. But I do mind if readers start thinking – possibly justifiably – that all girl journalists are bonkers.

Yes life is raw material. But some taboos are just too far. Never write about your therapy or your family (unless with their consent). Only touch on self-harm if it's for the health pages. And I mean the health pages. Not some section called "Self". The kind of fee you'll receive isn't enough for your blood and guts. And it's not nearly enough for your self-respect.

lizhoggard@hotmail.com

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer

£32000 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A rapidly expanding company in ...

Recruitment Genius: PA

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A PA is required to join a leading provider of...

Recruitment Genius: Car Sales Executive - Franchised Main Dealer

£30000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

Ashdown Group: IT Support Analyst - London - £43,000

£35000 - £43000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior IT Support Analyst...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

The digital world is incredible – but it’s human bonds that make us who we are

Joanna Shields
A mother and her child  

50 signs that we need to stop spreading the myth of the 'ideal mother'

Victoria Richards
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
Why the league system no longer measures up

League system no longer measures up

Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
Diego Costa: Devil in blue who upsets defences is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

Devil in blue Costa is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

The Reds are desperately missing Luis Suarez, says Ian Herbert
Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Former one-day coach says he will ‘observe’ their World Cup games – but ‘won’t be jumping up and down’
Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness