The Present Age Weekly Recap: July 15, 2022
"Derangement Syndrome," the "liberal media," cops, and Moira Donegan's new newsletter
Welcome to the weekly recap. In this post, I’ll be linking to my work from the week, sharing some stories from others I thought were interesting, and providing a few casual thoughts on [gestures at everything]. If you’d like to receive this weekly email ONLY, please go to your account page and under “Email notifications” uncheck every box except “TPA Weekly Recap.” If you don’t want to receive the weekly recap, leave all boxes except “TPA Weekly Recap” checked.
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From me this week:
On Monday, I wrote about the Trump-era “Trump Derangement Syndrome” insult, its origins (which began as “Bush Derangement Syndrome” to mock people who correctly thought that invading Iraq was a bad idea), and its future (annoying us all forever).
On Tuesday, I published a piece at Dame Magazine. Here, I provided an excerpt of it and included some additional thoughts for paid subscribers.
And on Thursday, I published a piece about the latest footage out of Uvalde and the importance of holding police accountable in the press.
Return of the Launchpad! Today’s guest: Moira Donegan!
A few weeks ago, I helped hype up Chris Geidner’s new newsletter with a quick Q&A, and today I’m back to do the same with Moira Donegan’s newly launched Not the Fun Kind newsletter! I’ve really enjoyed her writing over at The Guardian for a long time, and she’s a great person to follow on Twitter.
PARKER MOLLOY, THE PRESENT AGE: For readers unfamiliar with you and your work, can you tell me a bit about who you are, what you’ve worked on, and what you do?
MOIRA DONEGAN, NOT THE FUN KIND: The short version is that I'm a writer covering gender and politics. The longer version is that I'm a columnist at the Guardian, and I have a lot of bylines all over the place. Sometimes I do quicker pieces responding to the news cycle, trying to give gendered context to an event, and sometimes I do longer pieces, meditating on activist history, sexuality and power, the categories of "manhood" and "womanhood," or gendered citizenship. I'm more of an essayist than a reporter, which is the nice way of saying that I'm a little bit of a hack.
MOLLOY: I take it that “Not the Fun Kind” is a reference to Andrea Dworkin’s “I’m a radical feminist, not the fun kind.” (I really liked your 2019 Bookforum review of Last Days At Hot Slit, for the record!) Your first post calls it “a newsletter about Feminism for the end of the world.” Can you tell me a little bit about why you went with that name and what “Feminism for the end of the world” means?
DONEGAN: You're right! I wanted to reference Dworkin in the title of my newsletter because her spirit is something that I'm trying to channel. When I was in college, Dworkin was a feminist I was told pretty expliticly not to read. She was decidedly out of fashion, mainly because of her support for a municipal anti-porn ordinance, a move that pretty much everyone now agrees was a mistake. But as i got older and discovered her writing and career for myself, I began to feel really sad that her work had sort of been lost in the post-sex wars fray. I don't always agree with her, but I always benefit from her clarity, her commitment to women's worth, and the systemic breadth of her analysis. She's ridiculed a lot, but I admire her courage. She's a thinker who is not afraid of the uncomfortable places where feminist committments might take us.
That's what I aspire to do with "Not the Fun Kind"—to dwell on the challenging, uncomfortable, and scary conclusions about our world that a principled feminism will bring us to. It demands a lot of trust from my readers, but I want them to come with me as I examine the pain and injustice that the gender system inflicts on us, and I want us to find the strength not to look away.
This also brings me to what I mean when I talk about feminism at the end of the world. It's true that we're in a dark time, and it seems clear to me that many of our old institutions, old political habits, and old ways of thinking about social change will not be sufficient in this new era. As I navigate antifeminist backlash, institutional collapse, and democratic decline, I don't always know where to turn, either as a writer or as a citizen. But my feminism is my strongest moral and political committment. When everything else is gone, that's the core belief that I will have left.
MOLLOY: How will your writing at NTFK differ from your columns at The Guardian?
DONEGAN: I love writing for the Guardian. I've been there for almost four years now, and my editor, Amana Fontanella-Kahn, is one of the kindest and smartest people I've ever had the pleasure of working with. My goal with my columns is to respond to events as they break, in as close as possible to real time, so that the Guardian's readers can get progressive, feminist response to an unfolding story and help them situate it in a broader American political context. At the Guardian, I have a pretty international audience—they tell me it's one third in the U.S., one third in the U.K., and one third everywhere else—so I'm also writing for people across a huge spectrum of information and experience, which is such an honor and such a challenge. I'm much luckier than I deserve in terms of that job; It's truly an unreasonably good gig.
At NTFK, my mandate is different. The audience is more intimate, so I'm getting more personal and anecdotal in my style. I'm using the first person, and I'm trying to establish a rapport with my readers based on some of what I think will be common experiences for many of us. So stylistically, I'm getting more casual. But in terms of the content, I'm getting more ambitious. NTFK is a newsletter about feminism, and I'll be using it to take a long view on trends in feminist thought, political and strategic challenges for the feminist movement, and lessons from feminist history. So it's more focused than my column, but it's also more experimental. It's where I hope to take risks, challenge myself, and push my own thinking, and I hope to learn from my readers which of my ideas resonate and which ones don't.
MOLLOY: What’s the plan for your publication schedule, and do you plan to have a paid tier eventually?
DONEGAN: So far the plan is to publish one essay a month, on the second Monday of each month, and to keep each installment at under 2000 words. I don't want to inundate people's inboxes, and I want to make sure I'm only writing and making that intimate appearance in your email when I really have something to say that I think deserves your attention. Honestly, I don't have plans for a paid tier yet—I think that will depend on my reader response, and what they tell me they like. Right now I'm just grateful that anybody is reading at all.
MOLLOY: It’s a pretty dark time for, well, the world. Just looking through your recent Guardian columns, and oof, it’s pretty grim — antifeminist backlash silencing women, SCOTUS putting prayer back in school while overturning Roe, the Depp-Heard trial, GOP hatemongering, etc. Is there anything right now in the world — whether in the context of feminism or just more generally — that makes you feel hopeful?
DONEGAN: I actually do feel really hopeful, as naive and strange as that is to say. You're right that my writing isn't very optimistic, especially not these days. And I mean, I did name my newsletter Not the Fun Kind, and I don't think I can promise anyone a bucket of laughs. But we're in a moment not just of massive destructiveness, but also of massive potential. As things collapse around us—our civil rights, our institutions, our organs of government—there is a lot of desperation, and, appropriately, there is a lot of fear. But people are also considering how they would prefer things to be: what it would mean to have a democracy worthy of the name, what it would mean to eliminate hierarchies like gender, and what it will be necessary to do to protect those we love and stand in solidarity with as the forces of cruelty and reaction bear down on us. Those are scary questions, but they are also generative ones. We are being forced by the violence of our world to imagine a better one.
MOLLOY: Finish this statement: “Not The Fun Kind is for people who…”
DONEGAN: Not the Fun Kind is for people who want an uncompromising feminism in an uncertain time.
MOLLOY: Why’d you decide to go with Substack (vs. Twitter’s Revue, Facebook’s Bulletin, Patreon, Medium, etc.)?
DONEGAN: Honestly? I went with Substack because I know how to use it. Patreon and Twitter's Revue are both kind of opaque to me; I don't even have a Facebook. I'm most at home in writing, but hope to branch out to other media as I become more comfortable with them, and the platform has tools to help you expand beyond the text-based newsletter format. But mostly, I picked substack because I have seen people use the form so well. I really gain a lot from my friend Lyz Lenz' newsletter, Men Yell At Me, which is so funny and gives me insight into the midwest, a part of the country I think gets misunderstood. I really love your newsletter, obviously. Jessica Valenti's All in Her Head does excellent feminist news aggregation and makes me feel like I'm in community with her other readers in ways that I cheric. And I've really been inspired by Kate Manne, a feminist philosophy professor from Cornell and one of my heroes, whose new newsletter More to Hate has explored the overlap between feminist and fat activism in ways that have really broaded my horizons. I guess imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, because seeing what some of these newsletters have done really made me want to try my own.
MOLLOY: Is there anything else you’d like to mention, anything you’d like to plug, anything you wish I would have asked but didn’t?
DONEGAN: I've already written you a novel so I think I had better shut up. But thank you, Parker, for thinking of me! What a blast this was.
Stuff from others elsewhere I’d like to highlight:
Chris Geidner interviewed Jeff Crossman, the Democratic candidate for Ohio Attorney General, about the state’s current anti-abortion AG (Dave Yost), and the intricacies of the state’s harsh and now in effect anti-abortion law.
Over at Platformer, Casey Newton has a good piece about Ev Williams’ quest to make Medium a place where writers could thrive… and how Williams kept coming up short. I like Medium! I like the way it looks, I like the way it handles things like embeds, and I thought its content recommendation system made sense. But it was the constant flailing described in Newton’s story that kept me from considering Medium as a home for The Present Age back when I launched it in June 2021.
On a similar point, Meta/Facebook’s Bulletin newsletter platform launched in 2021, but it seems like the company has mostly lost interest in it, and Twitter’s Revue platform got unexpectedly shut down recently (Twitter is replacing it with Notes, though it doesn’t seem to have expanded access to writers who were using Revue). So, for all the good and the bad, I’m glad I ended up going with Substack, especially in hindsight.
Over at On Posting, Luke Winkie has a story about the people always screaming about “campus speech” and how disconnected their view of college life seems to be from that of, well, most people.
And finally… Cool space stuff!!!
That’s it for this week’s edition of the weekly recap! Thanks so much for reading and sharing these posts, everyone!