Doyle’s debut, Trainwreck: The Women We Love to Hate, Mock, and Fear... and Why, is a ruthlessly funny takedown of modern misogyny.
What made you want to write about trainwrecks?
I was reading Mary Wollstonecraft’s letters to Gilbert Imlay, and I was at South by Southwest, and Fiona Apple was playing the same day. So here’s one woman who’s been called crazy her whole life because she’s really emotionally bare and raw in how she presents herself, and I’m reading about this feminist icon being emotionally bare and raw, and I started to wonder, what would happen if you connected the dots—if you could find a pattern going back through history of these women who have been strategically humiliated, and what they had in common.
You note in the book that women are the primary consumers of the media showing us these narratives. Why might women be so hard on other women?
Here’s where the historical example comes in handy. When Mary Wollstonecraft had her affairs and her mental health problems revealed after her death, because she had been a major voice [for first-wave feminism], people could point to the cause itself and say, “This is what it does to women; it will drive you crazy and make you a slut. Don’t do it.” So women who wanted to keep going with women’s rights, like Harriet Martineau, had to participate in the shaming in order to distance themselves. When we are all under pressure every day of our lives to “do” our femininity correctly, to not screw up, one of the easiest ways to say “I know what the rules are and I promise I will do this right” is to say, “Look at her, she’s not.” I think we engage in this just to have some reassurance that we’re not trainwrecks. And the thing is, any one of us could be. You post the wrong selfie, or you tweet the wrong tweet, and all of a sudden you can have your humanity systematically degraded. Because that’s something we do for fun.
What do you hope people will take away from this book? What discussions do you hope it will start?
It’s very easy to take the call to be a feminist as one more call to be a good girl. There are good reasons to have high standards for your feminism, but we need to push for an understanding of women as human rather than an understanding of women as moral watchdogs who are responsible for behaving perfectly or else society will fall apart around our ears.
As far as discussions, I hope it makes people look at the media they read and the narratives they buy into in a new light, but I would just be happy if people read the book on a bad day and decided to be a little bit kinder to themselves and the other women in their lives.