“The current wave of confessional writing from media-savvy young women walks an unsteady line between extending the politics of the personal and unit-shifting titillation.”
This new taste for feminist memoirs has been nicknamed “clit lit”, but it extends beyond sex – where nastiest translates as most honest, self-obsession becomes a universal experience. It all feeds into the much discussed notion of a “bad feminist” – a logical fallacy that has resulted in mass hand-wringing over whether women can be feminist and still like high heels and makeup, want to get married and have children, still like men.
A host of expositional feminist memoirs have been published in Dunham’s wake: think Lindy West’s Shrill, a tirade against “size privilege” and the unfair asexualisation of fat women; Kim Addonizio’s Bukowski in a Sundress, which details the alcohol-infused sexual escapades of a middle-aged poet; even the Twitter-account-turned-book So Sad Today. In the latter, Melissa Broder details her struggles with depression, drugs and random, usually unfulfilling, sexual encounters. Like Dunham, Broder shares the worst: her fascination with an uncircumcised penis, her fetish for vomit and several ruminations on pubic hair. If Broder “feels bad about her struggle” because “it is nothing compared with other people’s struggles”, she doesn’t bother telling us that until page 90. “It hurts anyway,” she writes.
This “hurts anyway” is indicative of the wider attitude in this brand of feminism; not only do the privileged have an equal and pressing claim to the world’s empathy, feminism is also protected from critique. Questioning the reality of suffering – however self-absorbed – marks us as sour, lacking compassion.
Tightrope: a bold new dialogue
As the lives of women have been largely unrecorded by history, the personal has always been tied intrinsically to feminism, as women took it upon themselves to document their own lives, “to accumulate toward collective understanding and practice” as Rich once wrote. But then, as she says, the personal became “the true coin of feminist expression”. Today, we’re on an uncomfortable tightrope between a bold new dialogue about women and sex, and the monetisation of that conversation by powers that recognise that as a gap in the market.
Read in full: theguardian.com, emphasis added