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Trainwreck: The Women We Love to Hate, Mock, and Fear... and Why

4.12  ·  Rating details ·  2,750 ratings  ·  425 reviews
She’s everywhere once you start looking for her: the trainwreck.

She’s Britney Spears shaving her head, Whitney Houston saying, “crack is whack,” and Amy Winehouse, dying in front of millions. But the trainwreck is also as old (and as meaningful) as feminism itself.

From Mary Wollstonecraft—who, for decades after her death, was more famous for her illegitimate child and s
Hardcover, 297 pages
Published September 20th 2016 by Melville House Publishing
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Sady Hey! This is Sady. This actually bothers me, too. You can chalk it up to the fact that life moves on, but books stay put: When I was drafting the book…moreHey! This is Sady. This actually bothers me, too. You can chalk it up to the fact that life moves on, but books stay put: When I was drafting the book, the near-universal consensus was that the unredacted journals showed no evidence of abuse, therefore, there probably wasn't any. However, we were missing her journals from the end of the marriage. In the past year, we've gotten the letters to her therapist, which date from the missing months, affirming that he did physically abuse her. I don't doubt that it happened -- a whole lot of lines from her work make more sense now; like her father's Nazi sympathies, it was something everyone thought was a metaphor until we got proof that it was just a statement of fact -- and I wrote about it for Medium when the revelation first emerged. But it does date the book, which was written before that key evidence emerged. (less)

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Nov 25, 2016 rated it really liked it
A fantastic feminist book about how society loves to label women as "crazy" and as "trainwrecks" just for expressing their humanity. I decided to pick it up after reading this intelligent interview with the author, Sady Doyle. In her interview and in her book, she points out a pervasive double standard: men who are alcoholics, abuse their loved ones, etc. are still most well-known for their art and their achievements (e.g., Ernest Hemingway, Vincent Van Gogh), whereas women who experience person ...more
Book Riot Community
It may sound strange to compare Mary Shelley, Charlotte Brontë, and Billie Holiday to Britney Spears, Miley Cyrus, and Amy Winehouse, but then again, maybe it doesn’t. These women are deemed trainwrecks while the men who act similarly are beloved. That’s the premise here. But we also get so much more. The things we learn about famous women are just the big things they did for art or literature, or how they killed themselves. Trainwreck gives the full stories, the good and the bad, the glorious a ...more
May 13, 2019 rated it really liked it
Examines our culture's need to keep women in "their place". A tightly constrained little box where we can police their voices, sexuality, clothing choices, and general behaviour. Mary Wollstonecraft, Charlotte Bronte, Sylvia Plath, Whitney Houston, Britney Spears are all examined and understood in their time to be difficult, unhinged, irrational, too emotional or just downright crazy.

"By zeroing in on the messiest and most badly behaved women, and rejecting them, we make a statement about what
Jun 13, 2016 rated it really liked it
Now, those who know me know I'm the LAST person to compare Miley Cyrus and Vincent Van Gogh. But as models for a larger argument.....

Van Gogh struggled with his demons and the struggle turned him into a tortured genius. Without an ear.

Cyrus struggled, that's for sure. 'Cause she's just crazy.

Surprising that one's a man and one's a woman? This is a hugely entertaining callout of some more unusual double-standards. And all modelled around the idea of a trainwreck woman. Funny how men aren't trainw
Jul 26, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Too bad there's only 5 stars for this review because I'd give it a 6! Trainwreck is a powerhouse of a book! It's smart, it's funny at times, it's heartbreaking, gut-wrenching and will make you angry as hell (or it should)! Sady Doyle - you may not think you are a "strong feminist woman" at times I don't think I am either, but that isn't really the point. How we identify ourselves and be women in this misogynist society making great art, writing books, running businesses, raising families, in the ...more
Jul 12, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Everyone needs to read this book when it comes out in September.

Yes, you too.
Jan 11, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, feminism
The trainwreck. If you've spent any time exposed to western culture, you can probably name one or two, a woman who had it all, and lost it, and the media frenzy dedicated to documenting her every move. We build these women up and then we tear them down for our own entertainment. If they die young enough, they're redeemed, again perfect in our eyes. If they live long enough—age past the point women are considered relevant—they're forgotten.

The trainwreck is part circus sideshow and part cautionar
Oct 26, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: feminism
"And the trainwreck is crazy because we're all crazy -- because, in a sexist culture, being female is an illness for which there is no cure."

Yup, that about sums it up, right?

This was an interesting book. It started off kind of meh for me. I'm not sure why. Perhaps I was waiting on how this book would differentiate itself from all the other feminist volumes currently on the scene in 2016. And it did! The tie-ins to history were fascinating and what made this book unique.

It was a great historical
Kara Babcock
Dec 07, 2016 rated it really liked it
Trainwreck was published on my birthday, so it was kind of like Sady Doyle was giving me a birthday gift. Not really, at all, in any way. But still, a great coincidence. I’ve enjoyed reading their writing on various sites for years now, so when I heard they had an honest-to-goodness actual book coming out, I was elated. Fortunately, Trainwreck: The Women We Love to Hate, Mock, and Fear … and Why does not disappoint. It appoints. It appoints very much. Doyle’s criticism of media and the consumer ...more
Jan 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: EVERYONE!
Holy feminism! This book is awesome! I want to sit our entire society down and force their eyeballs to deliver these words to their brains. Even as a self-declared and lifelong Angry Liberal Feminist Killjoy, this book made me take a hard look at the ways I let the patriarchy and their media control how I judge other women. I mean - this book even made me vow to stop judging the Kardashians. All of them. So that's pretty powerful stuff. Thank you Sady Doyle -thank you so much. ...more
Ashley Holstrom
It may sound strange to compare Mary Shelley, Charlotte Bronte, and Billie Holiday to Britney Spears, Miley Cyrus, and Amy Winehouse, but then again, maybe it doesn’t. These women are deemed trainwrecks while the men who act similarly are beloved. We are fed tabloid madness about women, but the men are usually left out, unscathed. Sady Doyle digs into famous women throughout history and finds that many stories are similar, decade after decade. I absolutely loved this on audio.

From 13 Fabulous Fe
Feb 10, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, feminism
A powerful and passionate look at the ways in which society likes to tear down women who buck the norms: women who are "too messy", "too emotional", "too crazy", or "too demanding" in public. Think Lindsay, Whitney, Britney—all of these women and more, Sady Doyle argues, are the pop culture version of the fallen woman. First they are held up as idols; then they are torn down. Doyle traces the evolution of the trainwreck archetype over a period of some two centuries, from Mary Wollstonecraft in t ...more
Apr 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing
What do Britney Spears, Miley Cyrus, Nicki Minaj, Mary Wollstonecraft, Charlotte Bronte, and Billie Holiday have in common? They’re all trainwrecks!

Trainwreck is one of those novels you have to experience to understand how awesome it is. I used the word experience instead of read because reading this novel is a powerful experience in and of it self.

“A victim turns perpetrator; a naked body that people were willing to commit theft to see becomes unsightly and shameful the moment it’s exposed cons
Oct 04, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I almost didn't pick this one up because it's the kind of book I feel I've already read. Yes, we are all aware that we're living in a sexist, patriarchal society and that as women we are taught to hate ourselves from a young age. I think most of us get that, so why pick up a book about what we already know?

When I saw Trainwreck at the bookstore I was surprised at how quickly and hungrily I reached for it. In retrospect it makes sense. This has been a particularly tough year to get through as a
Nov 28, 2016 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Years ago, late for a staff meeting at work, I hurriedly and accidentally barged into the wrong conference room. The room went silent and the people in the room whom I knew only slightly all gave me a what-are-you-doing-here-you-don't-belong-here look and I awkwardly backed out.
Reading this book gave me a similar feeling.
This is mainly a discussion of how pop culture and popular media treat famous women unfairly. Well, yeah. Pop culture and media alter everyone's story to fit whatever narrati
Sep 28, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book. It was a thoughtful, well-researched, and compelling exploration of a topic we don't often treat with any sort of gravitas--celebrity women, those "trainwrecks" that so grip our gossip and collective imagination. I was expecting a light and entertaining read, and was instead pulled into Doyle's emotionally resonant analysis of both our modern understanding of the female trainwreck and her tracing of the concept through history. As a former English major I was interested in her ...more
Jun 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I tabbed this more than 30 times.

There are so many great comments about gender in our society and how we treat and react to female behavior. Best of all it dealt with two topics I love: celebrities/pop culture (Britney forever) and history (by exploring historical women who might've fit the trainwreck narrative of today). I learned so much about women in history I have never heard of and of famous women/"trainwrecks" whose stories permeate the media.

It is so smart and I definitely want to pick
Rheama Heather
Mar 26, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Remember back in the early aughts when the paparazzi stalked young, not necessarily legal, female celebrities? Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton, Britney Spears, and so on. And sometimes (so dedicated to career were these gentlemen!) they would lie on the ground waiting for these girls to step out of a car, and they would snap photos up their skirts. The resulting underwear pics soon made their way into tabloids at a supermarket near you. The nudes were beamed directly into your home via this shiny ne ...more
I will admit that I don't stay informed when it comes to celebrity culture; I don't really know who is considered a popular actress or actor nowadays. But the themes talked about in this book are recurring; they play out in every generation, it seems, even if they evolve a bit to keep up with the times. The author is around my age (mid-30s), so she discusses a lot of examples from the early 2000s, of which I am more aware (Britney Spears, Tara Reid, etc).

We all know the "trainwreck" - the actre
Catherine Read
Jan 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This book is amazing. It gives context - historical context - to the "trainwrecks" from Mary Wollstonecraft, Charlotte Bronte & Sylvia Plath, to Billie Holliday and Marilyn Monroe, right up to Amy Winehouse, Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan.

Here's the thing: What they have in common is they are remarkable, talented and accomplished women. We look at them and want to believe they must somehow be "flawed." It makes me think of how people believe that poverty is also a "character flaw" and not situ
Oct 22, 2016 rated it really liked it
I loved this book and it's a quick read. She writes really well about how misogynist tabloid culture is, and made me think a lot about my own guilty tabloid habit....

BUT she does actually compare people like Paris Hilton to Mary Wollstonecraft. And while this has dramatic and narrative effect, by the time she's comparing former slave/abolitionist Harriet Jacobs, Sylvia Plath, or Marie Antoinette to Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan, it's hard to make the analogy stick. I think it's also too easy
Sep 17, 2018 rated it really liked it
Such an interesting subject matter and definitely worth a read. The structure worked really well, portraying the possible crimes a trainwreck can commit in the eyes of society (sex, need, madness, and death), her options (to shut up or to speak up) and her role thereafter (the scapegoat or the revolutionary). All of these are demonstrated by recounting the lives and "crimes" of women in the distant and recent past, from Mary Wollstonecraft and Charlotte Brontë to Marie Antoinette, from Sylvia Pl ...more
May 21, 2017 rated it really liked it
Interesting and valid points on the treatment (and usually public humiliation) of women who push boundaries. I preferred the historical examples of people who actually accomplished something noteworthy, although Britney Spears' story was extremely interesting as well. Less interesting to me was the discussion of Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, and the like - although I think it is true and sad that women can get away with much less in the public sphere. Amazing that men can commit actual crimes and ...more
Jan 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Holy bejesus, did I love this book. Sady Doyle examines the 'trainwreck' phenomenon (think Britney Spears, Amy Winehouse, etc) and its various permutations throughout history, including Marie Antoinette, Mary Wollstonecraft, Billie Holiday, and more. Perceptive, empathetic, and thought-provoking -- I would have read it straight through in one sitting if I hadn't had to go to work.

If you're a lady; if you know a lady; if you ever felt bad for Britney Spears, do yourself a favor and read this boo
Thoroughly researched with a wide selection of public figure women from past to present. I learned a lot about these women's lives on top of the recurring societal need to punish these women for being successful and then punish them for falling apart. There's a lot of quotable material in her that affirms my position as a feminist but I'll leave just a quick one here, "The internet itself isn't mean, misogyny is mean." ...more
Nov 08, 2017 rated it really liked it
This book gave me a lot to think about! It addresses thoroughly the ways in which women in the public eye 'step out of line' and what that means for feminism and femininity. She details some failures of the feminist movement, and points out many examples wherein women are the ones punishing other women for their behavior. I have a newfound respect for Britney Spears, but can't help but wonder what a sequel would have to add on to the Hillary Clinton chapter... ...more
4.5 stars, only because it got a tiny bit repetitive towards the end, and I thought the last example could have been done away with. But overall, this was an incredibly well-argued, well-researched, convincing, kind of mind-blowing book that I've been recommending to everyone I know since I was 20 pages in. ...more
Jan 10, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, 2017
I loved Sady Doyle's blog Tiger Beatdown when it was active, and was delighted when I saw she had a book coming out. The book contains her wonderfully snarky voice providing illuminating examples about how women have always been policed and silenced in much the same way GamerGate and celebrity tabloids do today. ...more
This book isn’t perfect. In fact it’s far from it and is flawed in more ways than one. However, it’s an important book that deals with a lot of painful truths of what it’s like to be a woman. How far we have come and how much further we still have to go.
Virginia Arthur
Apr 10, 2017 rated it really liked it
As a reluctant accidental 'trainwreck' myself, the unwanted second girl third kid that "ruined everything" according to my dear beloved siblings, this book cut to my very core so much, I had to put it down and cry. Is it in fact about every woman?

Or was it my 8th grade English teacher who sent me home with a different drummer Thoreau poster that I showed to my parents, me touched, they, concerned. "Why did your English teacher give you this?" Shouldn't you know, dear parents, but then again, be
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The Feminist Orch...: Trainwreck by Sady Doyle | Book Discussion 9 197 Nov 13, 2018 12:20PM  

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Sady Doyle is a writer living in Brooklyn, New York.

In 2008, Sady founded Tiger Beatdown, a pioneering blog in the "3,500-word-long rants about Tina Fey's career" space. While at Tiger Beatdown, they led several successful social media awareness campaigns, including #MooreandMe and #MenCallMeThings, and won the Women's Media Center Social Media Award in 2011.

Sady has been a staff writer at In The

News & Interviews

Here’s some trivia for your next vacation get-together: The concept of the summer “beach read” book goes all the way back to the Victorian...
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“Enforcing silence is easy. All you have to do is make it feel like the safest option. You can, for example, make speaking as unpleasant as possible, by creating an anonymous social media account to flood women with virulent personal criticism, sexual harassment, and threats. You can talk over women, or talk down to them, until they begin to doubt that they have anything worthwhile to say. You can encourage men's speech, and ignore women's, so that women will get the message that they are taking up too much room, and contributing too little value. You can nitpick a woman's actual voice—the way she writes, her grammar, her tone, her register, her accent—until she honestly believes she's bad at talking, and spends more time trying to sound 'better' than thinking about what she wants to say.

And if a woman somehow makes it past all this, you can humiliate her anyway.”
“What is wrong with being too much? With being too big? With being openly sexual, openly emotional -- with having "no calmness or content except when the needs of [your] individual nature were satisfied," as Martineau wrote of Wollstonecraft -- or even with being openly unhappy?

Only this: Insisting on the needs of your individual nature, being unquiet and unhappy when those needs are not satisfied, requires that you have an individual nature to begin with. And it requires that you not be ashamed of it.”
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