Sady Doyle

Sady Doyle

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 Guardians 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 GOPs 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.

—Joe Macaré

Media

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. 

Pol­i­tics

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. 

Per­son­al

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.

Cul­ture

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 152011

Sady Doyle is an In These Times con­tribut­ing writer. She is the author of Train­wreck: The Women We Love to Hate, Mock, and Fear… and Why (Melville House, 2016) and was the founder of the blog Tiger Beat­down. You can fol­low her on Twit­ter at @sadydoyle.
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