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Who’s My Audience?

book inc Peer Artist Leader Jennifer Gaites discovers an empowering truth about her writing when she reflects on the challenge of embracing her voice in a world where genres consigned to women often face condescension.

By Jennifer Gaites

December 21, 2023

Sometime in the decade between having my first and last child, the internet exploded with blogs written by women about the experience of motherhood. Whereas with my oldest, I looked for connection with other mothers through desperate conversations at the park, by the time my youngest came around, I needed only to log onto the internet to feel seen and understood. Mommy Blogs, as they were called, were plentiful.

The truth is, I liked Mommy Blogs. I was their target audience.

But, like many genres that are conscribed to an audience of women, the term Mommy Blog is often said with a hint of condescension–or at least with a knowing wink, “It can’t be that serious, it’s just women-things.” (Think of terms like: chick lit, sad girl rock, or anything Barbie before Greta Gerwig). So, when I started writing regularly–often writing about motherhood–I tended to diminish my work, describing it like, “Oh, it’s just an essay about, you know, being a mom.”

The other night, while out with friends, my husband proudly held up his glass and toasted to an essay I’d recently gotten published. (“{ }nesting” won first place in WOW!’s Quarter 4’s Essay Contest.) I blushed a little as I explained to my friends about online literary magazines and writing contests–things that writers obsess over, that non-writers have no idea about. That particular essay is about perimenopause, empty nesting, and the unexpected worries we carry about our children and about aging bodies. So when one of the men asked me, “What is your essay about?” I felt the restaurant get warm as I tried to explain and make it sound interesting.

I started to have that familiar desire to diminish my work, assuming it wouldn’t appeal to him: It’s for people who like lyric essays. It’s for women. It’s for mothers. In short: It’s small. It’s no big deal. It’s just this little thing I do.

I thought of this recently when I had the pleasure of seeing David Sedaris at a local theater. For essay writers, of course, Sedaris is the G.O.A.T. He is wry and quirky, hilarious, and vulnerable. He is also very much, well, himself. He walked onstage, wearing an oversized sports coat, culottes, and rubber shoes that looked like elfin clogs pointing upward at the toes. He greeted the audience, laughed about his fashion choices, then pulled out a stack of essays and started reading. As he shared some new work, including his piece “The Violence of the Rams,” which was about to be published in the New Yorker, the audience laughed and clapped. Most people, myself included, were delighted by him. However, over the course of the reading, a few people got up and left. My friend who owns the local bookstore that co-sponsored the event said that happens every time he comes to town.

It turns out, David Sedaris–as much as I love him–is not for everyone.

Writers write what we know. We write who we are. We hope that speaks to readers.

Over dinner, I explained to my companions what my essay was about. The wives laughed and nodded knowingly while the husbands smiled politely. When I’m feeling self-conscious, it helps to remind myself who my audience is. And who it isn’t.

Turns out we are not for everyone. And that’s okay.

Jennifer Gaites

Jennifer Gaites is a writing instructor at Project Write Now and a book inc Peer Artist Leader. Her work has appeared in River Teeth's "Beautiful Things," Hippocampus, and Literary Mama. Her flash essay "{ }nesting" won first place in WOW Women on Writing's Quarter 4 2023 contest.

Jennifer Gaites is a writing instructor at Project Write Now and a book inc Peer Artist Leader. Her work has appeared in River Teeth's "Beautiful Things," Hippocampus, and Literary Mama. Her flash essay "{ }nesting" won first place in WOW Women on Writing's Quarter 4 2023 contest.