In Person With... » April 15, 2011
Sady Doyle founded the blog Tiger Beatdown in September 2008 “because she was bored, and also for some reason no one wanted to publish her various long-winded ramblings on gender.”
Less than three years later, it’s a different story. Doyle’s acerbic, forthright and feminist-without-apology thoughts on gender have made her a sought-after commentator. She has written for Salon, Slate, The Awl, The Atlantic, The American Prospect and The Guardian‘s Comment Is Free – and most recently contributed to the cover story for the May 2011 issue of In These Times.
Moreover, her words make things happen. A Mother Jones story by Nick Baumann on the “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act” triggered an activist movement in the space of one weekend thanks to Doyle’s #DearJohn campaign, which in turn led to the removal of the “forcible rape” provision from the GOP’s bill. (This was the second such Twitter-based campaign Doyle had started, both of which I wrote about for The ITT List blog).
She is equally comfortable writing a thoughtful, borderline sympathetic piece on the legacy of Phyllis Schlafly for Global Comment, defending Tori Amos fans in Bitch, or impersonating a pro-life “Grizzly Fetus” on her own blog. At least, we assume that was her: the fetus claims otherwise.
What are the pros and cons of blogging versus writing for other publications or website?
On a blog, you get to take chances. If you want to write a 3,500-word meditation on Tina Fey and 30 Rock, while the show’s not currently airing new episodes, and without any news peg or worked-out thesis, then you can do just that. And I did that, and posted the first draft as soon as I’d finished, and it was one of the most successful things I’d written. But no editor would have taken that from me as a pitch. On a blog, you don’t have to convince anyone that what you’re doing is worthwhile, so you get to stretch and take chances and figure out your voice and your talents as you go. And you end up with some really lovely mistakes. Most of my successful blog posts have been successful more or less on accident; I was doing something that I thought was totally self-indulgent and bizarre and individual, but it ended up striking a chord with other people.
Writing for other publications, though, has stuff like “deadlines” and “word counts” and “fact-checking” attached to it, and I think those are all good things. (Also, “paychecks.”) You have to be disciplined, and you have to accept that no one will take your first draft if they think you can turn in a better one. Blogging will help you figure out who you are as a writer, and writing for other publications will teach you how to think and write to a higher standard. I feel lucky that I get to do both.
What’s a mistake the mainstream media always makes that really gets under your skin?
One thing that really resonates with me is that women always get more attention when they’re criticizing or attacking other women. I’ve even had people try to stir up catfights between me and other lady writers, calling me up for “interviews” and asking me what horrible things I thought about someone else. Even making a legitimate criticism of a woman can feed into a culture that loves to see women torn down publicly. And that’s what makes the whole “daringly post-feminist” woman-who-lambasts-other-women career path possible. We need less of that. It’s hardly “daring” to be anti-feminist anymore – if it ever was.
…And how about a mistake that American progressive, independent media keeps making – and what does that say about the American left in general?
I am tired of white men who write about The Big Issues and leave women out of them. War, foreign policy and class struggle have all practically been branded “man news.” But women are frequently casualties of war. Women in the military are sexually assaulted at a shockingly high rate. Women are in all of those countries we’re talking about. Women and class is a hugely complicated topic, and it’s complicated by the realities of female life that feminism has sought to illuminate: The costs of motherhood, the wage gap, etc. And then these boys treat “women’s issues” as an essentially frivolous, disposable beat, all about baby-making and sex and pop culture. Because they don’t bother to look for the women in all of those “serious” stories they’ve been covering.
What’s the best piece of reporting, analysis or comment you’ve read in the last six months?
I really loved Anna Holmes’ “The Disposable Woman” in the NYT. Everybody was writing about Charlie Sheen, and it was impossible to imagine anyone writing a smart, original piece, but she pulled it off, and managed to bring a really new and smart angle to a conversation that had largely been comprised of hypocritical hand-wringing and gawking. Which is why she’s so great at what she does.
Name a journalist, blogger or writer whose work you read or follow religiously. What makes them a great writer?
I love everything Choire Sicha writes, because he walks this very difficult line of being absolutely personable and welcoming and charming, while also expressing really strong opinions really well. Which is a line I’ve tried to walk, and I tend to fall on the “bitchy and judgmental” side of that line way too often, so I admire the skill. Amanda Hess, at TBD, is maybe my favorite reporter. She’s so good at finding stories that would otherwise be ignored, and at really excavating them and uncovering all of the structural issues at play. And both of those writers are just always funny, which is a bonus. I basically read to make myself laugh.
What do you think makes for an effective activist or political campaign? Can you name a current one that you admire?
The activists I like are the ones who are willing to take chances and look stupid in public. I like theatrical, funny, outrageous methods; basically, I want my activism to be entertaining, because that entertainment value helps the message to communicate to outsiders. Larger, more respectable organizations like Planned Parenthood and NOW are wonderful and invaluable. But they’re also very strategic, and a little conservative in their methods, because they are so constantly under attack. The rest of us get to be the wacky ones and come up with new, bizarre stuff. Because it doesn’t matter so much if we embarrass ourselves, or if we fall on our faces.
Devery Doleman is a woman who came up with the idea to flood Rep. Bobby Franklin with pictures of used menstrual pads and tampons in response to a bill that would have subjected miscarriages to, essentially, criminal investigations. I did everything I could to promote that idea, because it was just so gross and hilarious and perfect. And probably not something you would do if you were a representative of a big organization, trying to convince everyone of how responsible and respectable you were. [Editor’s note – Doleman’s campaign was also featured in the ‘Act Now’ section of April’s In These Times.]
What’s the one piece of legislation (state or national) you’d most like to see defeated?
Right now, it’s hard to target a single piece of legislation, because the right has launched an all-out offense on bodily autonomy. If you can conceive, someone wants to take away your rights. It seems that there’s a new story every day about that. It’s time for people to stand up for women’s health, for the rights of trans people, for the rights of families. And it’s time for the professional, political Left to listen to these people, because all of those people rely on them. They are our Obi-Wans, our only hope. And Obi-Wan has a bad habit of compromising with the Republican Death Star in the name of “bipartisanship.” Which is no good.
Which politician or public figure has disappointed you the most?
I don’t want to be mean, but I would have to say Keith Olbermann. When the #MooreandMe campaign targeted him, I became aware that there really are a lot of people in the world who want to see him taken down. I got invited to talk to a whole lot of conservatives, because they assumed I was on their side. And I’m very definitely not. But, at the same time, he keeps missing the boat on women’s issues, and screwing up and saying hateful or objectionable stuff, and I wish he would just sit down, read a bunch of feminists, and come back ready to give his all on that front. He’s smart, he’s loud, and he’s very persuasive. He just has to stop sacrificing women to his larger agendas.
Tell us about a policy/political debate that you’re still on the fence about.
I am not a fence-sitter. I feel about things very passionately. One debate I am interested in is the idea of whether social media and Internet involvement can count as “activism.” I think that connecting something to the Internet, in some way, is a good way for it to get exposure right now. Because people are very interested in this wacky computer business they’ve heard so much about.
But I think there’s something really problematic about the idea that “Internet activism” can replace or even improve upon the older models. So much of the Internet is about momentary self-gratification — somebody laughed at my Tweet! I laughed at their Tweet! Here’s a funny cat picture! — and creating “communities” that don’t really do that much but communicate with each other. Accountability is also really hard to ensure on the Internet. So, though I have been really involved in Internet activism, I think it’s important to look at it through a semi-pessimistic lens. Just suss out what the problems are, so that you can fix them, rather than touting it as the Next Hot Thing uncritically.
What’s the best piece of advice someone gave you when you were young?
My mother always used to say, “Old saying: Never insult the guy holding the gun.” I have since learned that this was not, in fact, an old saying. My mom just knew me well enough to know that, if someone ever pulled a gun on me, I would mouth off to him. Which would be a bad idea.
Recommend a book, film or album you enjoyed within the last month (and say why!).
Sarah Vowell’s Unfamiliar Fishes. I love the fact that we have this nerdy-trendy woman who just writes snarky stuff about history. I knew Lili’uolokalani’s name, but I had no idea about the history of colonialism in Hawaii. And she managed to make it oh so very readable and captivating. Which, as someone who writes about icky topics all the time and tries to make them readable enough to keep people from being depressed by my very byline, is a skill I really appreciate.
Name a pop culture guilty pleasure. Can you make the case that it is subtly political or subversive?
Oh, “guilty pleasures.” I am in the business of rationalizing my pleasures publicly, so I have very few of those. But after I listened to the latest Taylor Swift album, in order to say mean things about it, I ended up listening to the most objectionable song on it — “Speak Now,” in which Taylor shows up at a guy’s wedding and convinces him to dump his bride at the altar — on a loop. It’s so damn perky!
I also watch a lot of Community, which gets a ton of its comedic mileage out of mocking people for being so PC that their actions whip back around to being offensive again. Which hits home for me, in some very large ways! But that, I think, is useful. It’s nice to have yourself deflated every once in a while, so that your self-righteousness doesn’t get out of hand.
—April 15, 2011