Review of Trainwreck by Sady Doyle

Trainwreck: The Women we love to Hate, mock and fear… and Why by Sady Doyle is a 2016 nonfiction book about female identity and the label “trainwreck” attached to many women, especially famous women.

If you’re a feminist, consider yourself a feminist, want to learn about contemporary feminism, you need to read this book. Doyle breaks down centuries of feminism and the female identity, revealing where we are in the 21st century.

The language Doyle uses is fresh, poppy and contemporary to discuss feminism theory, making it relatable and understandable. They also sprinkle their personal experience throughout, providing a personal lens in which to unpack the subject matter.

They provide Example after example of women through the centuries having reputations impugned. Their lives destroyed and autonomy removed all because these women did not adhere to societal perceptions of femininity. From Mary Wollstonecraft to Harriett Jacobs to Billy Holiday to modern pop stars like Whitney Houston and Britney Spears, Doyle peels back the thin veneer glazing our perceptions about the female identity. They move through the decades with ease, revealing the startling truth of how little has changed.

A finger points at fellow feminist, shaming us for shaming our peers. Trainwreck paints a new feminist ideal, daring us to consider less rigid perspectives. In a culture obsessed with gossip about the latest celebrity trainwreck, we are forced to revaluate our narrow mindsets and look deeper than the surface.

A heartbreaking thread they tug at is their own connection to Courtney Love, and the misguided, misinformed, likely inaccurate opinions about Love, especially after the suicide of her husband Kurt Cobain. Growing up myself during the Grunge area, I remember distinctly the reputation Love gained throughout the 90s and early 2000s. She was the trainwreck we all loved and hated.

It made me soul-search, reconsidering my opinion. Like Doyle, I’m embarrassed and ashamed to discover just how mean girly I’ve been my entire life, despite claiming to be a feminist.

A recent New York Times documentary has renewed interest in Britney Spears. Spears is solidly centered in Trainwreck. I admit, I’ve always felt a kinship with Britney Spears. Tom-boys turned girly-girls with a love for performing. I spent many a night cranking up Spears songs on my stereo, crooning along and practicing dance moves. I identified with wanting attention, but amazed that my body held more fascination than my talent. And I’ve also dealt with mental illness.

Doyle is relentless in their defense of Spears, daring us to look beyond the headlines and TMZ garbage. It’s not easy admitting we all contribute to this misogynistic, patriarchal society we live in, but we are all guilty of perpetuating it. Unfortunately, Britney Spears is a perfect example of this culture.

Doyle examines misogyny through time. Their conclusion is that misogyny still thrives, spurred on by social media and celebrity gossip. They ask us to shift our thinking and be more inclusive about the female identity. We need to dig deeper, stay sharp, constantly revaluating our opinions and stay open to new perspectives. And at its core, we need to accept those who identify as female for who they are. We can no longer demand and dictate what a female does or looks like or how we act.

By Imperfection

Bridgit Kuenning-Pollpeter is a mom and writer from Omaha, Nebraska but recently relocated to Urbandale, IA. When she’s not chasing children, picking up messes or reorganizing the house, she enjoys yoga or reading to relax. In her spare time (A.K.A. her dreams) she’s a Broadway star. Kuenning-Pollpeter is a freelance marketer during the day, a creative writer at night. Her work has appeared in the Brevity blog, The Omaha World Herald, 13th Floor, Misbehaving Nebraskans, Hippocampus, Emerging Nebraska Writers and Random Sample Review. She has her BFA and MFA in writing from the University of Nebraska Omaha. Her essay “The Body” was a McKenna Fellowship finalist, and her essay “Imperfection” was a 2020 Best of the Net Nominee. She is blind and writes frequently about disability. She’s working on a memoir about the disabled feminine experience. With the kids though, expect it in stores in about a decade.

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