Much of the conversation online surrounding diary-like, confessional writing, more derisively called “oversharing,” is informed by specific expectations based generally on either age or gender. Depending on the media narrative of any given week — even day or hour, online — there will be coverage of women and Millennials, often backlash for being too candid or a backlash against the backlash, defending the process as natural and healthy. Or even about how the ignorant are learning to keep things to themselves. It’s endlessly cyclical. Adult males go largely ignored. Not as much lately, with one man’s cancer blogging and another’s dispatches amid a divorce seemingly shifting expectations and pleasing readers. Is the patriarchy coming for blogging, too? How are men supposed to act online?
In online currency — pageviews, “likes,” vitriolic comments — first-person nonfiction writing does very well. It sparks conversation, lends itself to empathy. Over the span of years, this style of personal blogging is being mainstreamed. According to history, a certain blogger famously “Introduces Oversharing To New York Times Magazine” in 2008, according to one headline. The observation is semi-sarcastic, because of the long-running presence of this style in certain online circles.
But men are often characters, rarely the narrator. Sometimes, sorta. But men of a certain age, with families? Almost never. When it did happen, in a looser sense, but with similarly bare introspection, it was regarded with more gravity and respect. It was personal “reporting.” Blogging had very little to do with it; it would have cheapened it.
In the last few weeks, though, male oversharing has crept up, even in the mainstream, in a new, but uncertain way. A Time feature by Steven Johnson told the story of media critic Jeff Jarvis, his cancer and detailed personal blogging. “This is how we live now: we get news that we’re facing a life-threatening disease, and the instinctive response is, I’d better tweet this up right away,” Johnson wrote.
But instead of dismissed, the practice was largely forgiven. “There is an intensity and honesty to these public disclosures that can be enormously helpful,” the piece said. “Oversharing, in a strange way, turns out to be a civic good.”
What unconsidered intellectual, spiritual and psychological collateral damage are we inflicting on ourselves by being so outward-focused, so frenetically interactive, so terminally social that we get a death letter and “the instinctive response is, I’d better tweet this up right away.”
This is a disease of the psyche.
But in Johnson’s piece, he argued, “Somewhere in the world there exists another couple that would benefit from reading a transcript of your lover’s quarrel last night.”
This idea is in action currently on the group blog Young Manhattanite, an all-purpose, stream of consciousness site described as everything from illuminati-like to simply “written by a group of new media types.” The header now reads “Divorced Manhattanite,” as one of its semi-anonymous contributors has started chronicling the admission of his wife’s affair and their impending divorce. It’s tear your heart out type shit.
Mostly collected under the tag “this is divorce blogging,” the cuckold’s mix of humor (“Oh fuck, I haven’t dated since the 80s. Nothing’s changed since then, right?”) and despair (“the abyss looks strangely like my wife and kids at the batting cages with some other dude and his kids”), but mostly naked honesty, is surprising — both because it’s on a blogging platform that trades often in memes only and because it’s a man, instead of a twenty-three-year-old girl.
Writes a fellow-Manhattanite: “It’s not that YM got any better; it just sort of demonstrates how frivolous much of Tumblr is.” That is to say, for many, the concerns of mature men are not frivolous, even online. Still usually “it’s unfashionable to focus on the issues closest to one’s mundane personal heart these days,” writes another reader. Are men’s feelings more valid? Does it just seem that way because they’re more rarely blogged? Maybe they’re better bloggers? Probably not.
The fact remains that regardless of scale (Time vs. Tumblr), it’s peculiar and makes a splash when adult men play this game. Maybe it comes from our own generational or technological biases. Our fathers didn’t grow up with feelings to be shared, let alone computers. Men shouldn’t whine or feel pain and they certainly shouldn’t fucking cry, according to left-over cultural expectations lodged in the heads of even social progressives, feminists, children of the liberal arts. And there’s a certain self-consciousness that comes with being a male online. Where have all the cowboys gone? What would our grandfathers think of us, pining for a partner or “Why me-ing?” about health concerns to strangers? And who do we look to for proper example? There are only so many words written by Dan Savage, and we’ve been told to avoid Tucker Max. I don’t have the answers.
“We’re learning how to draw the line” between extremes when it comes to oversharing, Johnson concluded in Time, “and it’s a line that each of us will draw in different ways.” For adult males, the line seems extra shaky, probably drawn lightly, in pencil. Examples are spare, critics come from every angle. Maybe it’s the job of boys then, growing up online, to become men in public, feelings and all, examples on the internet. It’s cheaper than therapy, but maybe we need both.