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The Feministing Five: Sady Doyle

Sady Doyle is a feminist journalist and author of Trainwreck: The Women We Love to Hate, Mock, and Fear…and Why. In 2008, she founded the feminist blog Tiger Beatdown, and while writing there she 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 These Times Magazine and Rookie and contributed several pieces to the bestselling Book of Jezebel. Her work appears regularly at, QZ, and more. You can follow her prolific Twitter musings and sharp commentary @SadyDoyle.

I had the pleasure of catching up with Sady for this week’s Feministing Five, where we talked about defining affirmative consent, the future of #MeToo, her feminist evolution, and more.

Senti Sojwal: In a recent piece for Elle, you responded to the recent sexual misconduct allegations against Aziz Ansari by writing about what the case shows us about the need for affirmative consent and a radical restructuring of how we think about sex as a culture. As you write, so many people aren’t ready for leaps like this. How do you define affirmative consent, and what are some concrete ways we as feminists can focus on teaching affirmative consent to people of all genders?

Sady Doyle: Affirmative consent, to me, means that you don’t just bulldoze into sex because the other person hasn’t said “no,” but that you only proceed with something when both of you have given a clear, enthusiastic “yes.” That applies throughout the process; if you’re just making out, you might want to ask before you start taking clothes off, and if you’re actually in the process of having penetrative sex, you might still check in to see if the other person feels OK, or if they want to move around or switch positions or even stop entirely. This has been portrayed as a very stiff, verbal, unsexy process, but really, in the moment, asking what the other person needs often feels very natural. It can even be hot — dirty talk with question marks. The fact that it feels alien or threatening to people says a lot about the fact that we don’t teach people (especially men) to value their partner’s feelings very much, and we don’t teach women to value their own feelings at all.

So I think that, at the risk of sounding like a creepy sex coach from the ‘70s, one of the best ways to teach affirmative consent is to break down that idea that it’s scary to talk about what you enjoy sexually. People shouldn’t feel scared to ask how their partner feels — if you’ve put your tongue in their ear, you’ve already been a lot more self-revealing with them than you are with, like, your guidance counselor or your boss. It’s OK to know what they’re thinking. And people shouldn’t think that sex has to be painful or awkward or unfulfilling. You can’t authentically say “yes” if you’re scared to say “no.” When women feel more secure in their sexuality and less pressured to just do whatever the other person wants, that’s one step closer to a world where sex is genuinely, authentically consensual all of the time.

Sojwal: What are some of the most critical ways you feel your feminism/activism has evolved since your 20s?

Doyle: The present-day feminist movement is, I think, a lot more literate about intersectionality than the third-wave movement I came out of. There are a ton of causes that are dear to my heart today that I knew nothing about, or was even hostile to, when I first started blogging in 2008. For instance, I initially did not get the disability rights movement. Like, I just thought it was people on the Internet who wanted me to stop saying the word “lame,” and I was completely dismissive in a way that embarrasses me now. I’ve been able to work with great disability advocates since then, and now I talk about ableism a lot, with a lot of passion, because I understand what the stakes are. Most of my evolution has come that way, through being lucky enough to know people who can talk sense into me when I’m out of line. But that’s also made me more understanding of people who are just coming into social justice and are terrified of saying the wrong thing. You will be wrong, many times. You just have to commit to not making the same mistake twice.

Sojwal: There are various takes on how #MeToo can be a truly successful movement for gender equity, even among feminists. What are your thoughts on how we build this from a social media moment to a true movement with longevity that challenges longstanding power imbalances?

Doyle: What worries me, about #MeToo, is that there’s been so much focus on taking down specific celebrity abusers. It can start to feel like the importance of a story is determined by how well-known the harassers are — you’ll get a big story about Mario Batali, but very little attention paid to the many, many stories about endemic harassment of female servers. You’ll hear about Aziz Ansari for a week straight, but you’ll only spend an hour thinking about women at the Ford auto factories. And if we keep relying on juicy stories about such-and-such famous guy being a dickhole, people will wear out on that story, they’ll get bored, and they’ll move on to the next thing. Look: At this point, it’s actually not shocking to learn that a man in a position of power abuses that power. This is no longer stuff we should be running as a celebrity expose. What we’re exposing, at this point, is not any one man — it’s patriarchy. It’s the very real fact that male dominance has always been maintained by violent repression of non-male people, and that rape culture is key to how that happens. We need to move the focus off individual harassers, and onto the system of oppression itself, because unless we change how masculinity works, we’re going to wind up with the same system and the same problems.

Sojwal: Who is a feminist that’s inspiring you today and why?

Doyle: If I pick someone then I have to not-pick other people! We’re in such a rich time for feminist activism and art right now — there are so many more feminist writers now than there were when I was starting out, and it feels like everyone is coming out with their own amazing, complicated essay about sex and power and consent, and it’s very much my jam. My feminist inspirations, roughly, are (a) the 1996 Tori Amos album “Boys for Pele” (which is not a person, but which has been a better friend and wiser spiritual counselor to me than most humans), (b) the unprecedented number of women running for office in 2018 (the best possible rebuke to Trump’s election, and proof that, as one wise nun reportedly told the Pope at the height of the second wave, “you can’t put the toothpaste back into the tube”), and (c) any woman who comes forward with her story despite a culture that tries to keep her silent.

Sojwal: What’s on the horizon for you in 2018? What are you most excited about?

Doyle: I had a baby last summer, and she’s about seven months old. (I won’t actually know her gender until she’s at least a few years old and can tell me herself, but we’re going with “she” for now.) She’s been such an amazing teacher to me, because she’s just a human at her most honest. There’s no agenda, there are no inauthentic reactions; she’s just 100% clear on what the world feels like to her. Applesauce, good! Yogurt, bad! Bath time, good! Bedtime, bad! It’s very simple. So, this is a corny answer, but right now, I’m really working on being her mom, and on learning from her. Having a baby is like shooting a little time capsule off into the future. I’m trying to stuff her with good memories for when she’s old and lives in space. And there are going to be so many things she gets into that I won’t understand. She’ll have a different grasp on politics than I do, she’ll see pop culture from a totally different angle than I do. She’ll probably see gender differently than I do; hopefully we’ll have evolved that much. I’m hoping I can learn from her, see the world as she sees it. That’s what I’m excited for right now.


Senti Sojwal is an India born, NYC bred writer, reproductive justice activist, and feminist organizer. She graduated with a BA from Hampshire College in Gender Studies & Politics, and has worked with NARAL, The Civil Liberties & Public Policy Program and its sister program PopDev, and has written on feminist issues for Mic, Bustle, and What NOW, the blog of the National Organization for Women's NYC chapter. She is currently pursuing her MPH at NYU's College of Global Public Health and works as Communications Coordinator at Planned Parenthood of New York City. Senti loves 90s pop, a bold lip, and is always hunting for the perfectly spicy Bloody Mary. She lives in Brooklyn.

Senti Sojwal is a writer, reproductive justice activist, and feminist organizer based in Brooklyn, New York.

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