23 Jan 2017

Women we love to hate, mock and fear

From Jesse Mulligan, 1–4pm, 3:07 pm on 23 January 2017

There is something about a wreck we find irresistible. But our culture reserves the most intense fascination for women who are are what writer and blogger Sady Doyle describes as "trainwrecks".

Writer, Sady Doyle

Writer, Sady Doyle Photo: http://www.sadydoyle.com

She asks why we admire women for their accomplishments, but then judge them in a way men are not judged, she says Hillary Clinton faced a level of opprobrium beyond the bounds of reason.

Americans encouraged Clinton her to run for president, but then accused her of acting "entitled", Doyle says. 

“In 2013 she was the most popular politician in America she had unprecedented approval ratings; fast forward to 2016 and you can’t say a nice thing about her on the internet without somebody coming to burn down your house.”

Doyle's debut book is Trainwreck: The Women We Love to Hate, Mock and Fear.  

“I grew up in that era that was peak trainwreck, so if you were a young woman in that time you were continually being presented with a spectacle of another woman’s humiliation, with these female monsters that we’d created and whose breakdowns unfortunately were endlessly enjoyed,” she says.

The very public unravellings of, and subsequent vilification of, Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan and Amy Winehouse is nothing new, Doyle says.

In the 18th century early feminist thinker Mary Wollstonecraft, author of Vindication of the Rights of Women had her reputation destroyed by her husband William Godwin’s memoirs. In it he wrote about her love affairs and suicide attempt. She was still being mocked 200 years after her death in 1797.

The humiliation and misogyny experienced by Wollstonecraft is supercharged by today’s social media, Doyle says.

“There’s a lot in the book about silence as the ideal female state.

“Our discomfort with female voices takes a lot of different forms, but all of it is aimed at getting woman to doubt the value of being heard – to shut themselves up.”

The initial utopian fantasy of the digital age democratising speech, and giving women a non-patriarchal platform, has given way to something darker, she says.

The visciousness faced by vocal, controversial or high profile women on social media is forcing them into silence, Doyle says.

“The easiest way to take away someone’s power is to convince them that they don’t want it or they don’t deserve it.”

She says public examples made of “trainwreck” female celebrities has a controlling effect.

“The point of that isn’t just for the targets to feel bad, the point is for ‘normal women’ to think about our own behaviour and think about how easy it would be for us to be publically humiliated, or massively hated.”

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