On a freezing Friday night in early November, the Aronoff Center for the Arts in Cincinnati, Ohio, was filled with white women. There were a few women of color in attendance, and a sprinkling of men, but white women were the overwhelming majority: white women in knee-high boots and flannel shirts; white women in matching camo “feminist as fuck” T-shirts; white women who’d come with their friends; and other white women who’d come alone. For every white woman with a bouncy blonde blowout, there was another white woman with the kind of short haircut that could belong to either a Midwestern mom or a lesbian (or both). Most were somewhere between the ages of 20 and 50, though there were a few older ladies with gray perms, and a few little girls holding hands with their mothers.
Cari Owens and Emily Wyatt told me they had driven all the way from Arkansas. Both in their late thirties, the soft-spoken couple said they’d wanted to see Glennon Doyle and Abby Wambach, whom they followed on social media, because they — like Doyle — had both left marriages with men to be with women: each other.
The Together Live show, a speaking tour partnered with Hello Sunshine, Reese Witherspoon’s media brand, features a rotating cast of women guests, which in the past has included celebrities like Ciara, Uma Thurman, Connie Britton, and Sophia Bush. But tonight, in Cincinnati, it’s clear that Doyle and Wambach are the stars everybody’s come to see.
Doyle is just one among many highly visible women who have used the language of self-love, self-worth, and you-go-girlism to build businesses or bolster their brands in recent years.
Doyle, 42, first known as a Christian mommy blogger (though, she told me, none of those categories feel quite right to her anymore), rose to prominence when her blog, Momastery, gained enough traction to score her a book deal, 2013’s best-selling Carry On, Warrior. As Glennon Doyle Melton, writing about the frustrations and joys of raising children while recovering from alcoholism and bulimia, she earned a large following of people very much like her: other white, middle- and upper-middle-class Christian moms who embraced her message of converting pain into power. Then came her follow-up memoir in 2016, Love Warrior, which earned a coveted spot as an Oprah’s Book Club pick and became another best-seller.
This time, when writing about her beautiful and brutal (or what she calls “brutiful”) life, Doyle focused on her marriage, which was crumbling under the weight of her husband Craig Melton’s multiple affairs. The book, which Oprah will be making into a movie, ends with an afterword detailing Doyle and Melton renewing their vows alone together on the edge of the Gulf of Mexico: “Togetherness is what Craig and I have chosen today.”
But flip past the acknowledgments and you’ll discover, in a short addendum titled “I Am New,” that Doyle has since chosen differently. She writes that in the year between when she submitted the book to her publisher and when it was finally released to the world, she sat down with her husband and said of their marriage: “I don’t fit here anymore.” And shortly after Love Warrior was published, Doyle announced she was in a relationship with two-time gold medalist Olympian and Women’s World Cup soccer champion, 38-year-old Abby Wambach. A few months later, they were married.
In the beginning, Doyle seemingly had it all — she was a beautiful woman with beautiful children, married to a model-handsome man, living in a nice house in a wealthy town — but she still felt frustrated and restless; her blogs first gained traction because of her candor, because she was funny and honest about her pain. She channeled the kind of girl-power feminism-lite that flourished in the Obama years, encouraging her readers to find their warriors within. From Carry On, Warrior: “If you feel something calling you to dance or write or paint or sing, please refuse to worry about whether you’re good enough. Just do it. Be generous. Offer a gift to the world that no one else can offer: yourself.”
Doyle also writes about a belief in a forgiving God: one who doesn’t judge women for their abortions or divorces or imperfect home lives. She offers faith in forgiveness, and God’s eternal love, to her readers. “If I seem as if I don’t care if I’m the ‘best’ parent or housekeeper or dresser or whathaveyou, it’s not because I don’t care about being important,” she writes in Carry On, Warrior. “It’s because I believe I am the most important thing on earth. Why would I care about competing in any other category when I am already a child of God?”
She is just one among many highly visible women who have used the language of self-love, self-worth, and you-go-girlism to build businesses or bolster their brands in recent years. This broad category includes corporate leaders like Sheryl Sandberg, whose “lean in” strategy, long maligned by leftists, is more unpopular than ever (Michelle Obama: “That shit doesn’t work all the time”), as well as young business owners like #Girlboss Sophia Amoruso. There are wellness gurus like Goop queen Gwyneth Paltrow and Moon Juice maven Chantal Bacon. And then there are progressive Christians like Jen Hatmaker and Glennon Doyle.
These influencers are almost all wealthy and white, lead aspirational lives, have enormous digital media presences, write books, headline speaking tours, and otherwise find (profitable) ways to spread their messages to the world. And most of them tend to preach the virtues of self-empowerment and self-care as a defense against anything from lack of personal fulfillment to larger systemic oppression.
The concept of self-care, after being repopularized in the ’70s and ’80s by queer people of color, most famously Audre Lorde, has more recently become yet another element of pop feminism to be packaged and sold. And “the irony of the grand online #selfcare-as-politics movement” that bloomed online after Trump’s ascendance to the presidency, notes Jordan Kisner in the New Yorker, “was that it was powered by straight, affluent white women, who, although apparently feeling a new vulnerability in the wake of the election, are not traditionally the segment of American society in the greatest need of affirmation.”
You can see this phenomenon in the work of one of Doyle’s Christian influencer contemporaries, Rachel Hollis, the writer of the massive best-seller Girl, Wash Your Face, who marries a pop-feminist brand of self-empowerment with Christianity “in what is essentially a Pinterest-worthy version of the prosperity gospel,” as Laura Turner recently wrote for BuzzFeed News. And while Doyle’s writing isn’t interspersed with intolerant jabs toward others, like Hollis’s, Doyle’s first two books (like so many in the self-help genre) do rely on similar language about bettering herself, despite life’s challenges, by looking within — rather than interrogating the cultural and structural forces that have caused her harm, let alone the damage done to those who aren’t beautiful, petite white ladies living in Naples, Florida.
When Doyle first announced in late 2016 that she was dating Abby Wambach, encouraging her followers on Facebook to be “more interested in your own joy and freedom and integrity than in what others think about you,” some in the Christian community accused her of promoting a “gospel of self-fulfillment.” In Christianity Today, Jen Pollock Michel wrote that “While the self-fulfillment narrative isn’t new, here’s what is: how easily and insidiously it gets baptized as a Christian story. Melton hasn’t simply said: I should be happy. She has emphatically said: God should be equally and unequivocally committed to my happiness as I am.” (In what is otherwise an interesting critique, Michel, who champions “deny[ing] ourselves to serve our neighbor,” also admits that, while she’s not “arguing for the wrongness of gay or lesbian relationships” here, she does “believe they are wrong.” So much for serving our neighbors!)
But Doyle, in addition to encouraging women to do what’s best for them, has also always been an activist — since 2012, her nonprofit, Together Rising, has raised millions for causes like hurricane relief, maternal health, cancer treatments, and aid for individual families, mostly through small personal donations. And recently her activism has become significantly more political, and more progressive. Bigger. Messier.
After the 2016 presidential election, Patrisse Cullors, one of the founders of Black Lives Matter, said that progressive white women need to find white women who voted for Trump and “figure out how to win them over ... It’s hard labor organizing people, and black people shouldn’t be the only ones doing it.”
Doyle has evidently taken that message to heart. She has been more vocal of late about the ills of white supremacy, while also acknowledging the potential pitfalls and complications of doing anti-racist work as a privileged white woman. On social media, in Baptist churches, and in speaking stints for Oprah’s SuperSoul Sessions, Doyle is talking to white women who have had a political awakening in the wake of Trump’s presidency. Earlier this year, Ann Friedman at the Cut reported Doyle’s message to white women from a SuperSoul stage: “We cannot show up for the movement and say ‘Here we are!’ until we say ‘We are so damn sorry it took us so long.’ … And so when white women say to me, ‘How do I lead? Where do I begin?’ I say, ‘You do not lead! And you don’t begin anything!’ The fight for civil rights is not new, we’re just new to it.”
When are Doyle’s followers supposed to take her advice about telling their own stories, speaking up, empowering themselves — and when are they supposed to take her advice about shutting up, listening, and letting women of color lead the way?
Now, Doyle is attempting to reconcile two seemingly competing white feminist calls to arms: She still preaches about the importance of self-care, self-empowerment, and self-love (turning inward), while she also encourages the most privileged among us to recognize that privilege and lift others up — a turn toward the wider world. In that sense, she’s just like so many middle- and upper-middle-class white women, myself included, who care about progressive causes in an increasingly frightening world. We’re sad and we’re scared and we’re comforting ourselves by buying expensive skin care. But we also know that we’re the lucky ones.
“My realization when I started all this,” Doyle told me backstage at Together Live, “was I figured out I was actually the white moderate that Martin Luther King Jr. was talking about. I imagined myself a civil rights activist somehow — I literally did — but I wasn’t doing anything! I imagined that I would have been marching with MLK, except that I wasn’t marching now. So part of my work is to get white women to understand who they actually are in this moment, compared to who they imagine themselves to be.”
For anybody who cares about bodily autonomy, racial justice, and making this planet livable for the foreseeable future, the present and future alike look downright grim. And it’s tempting to feel soothed by the language of self-empowerment, to cling to the (rather delusional) hope that “we can achieve a meaningful existence by maintaining a positive outlook, following our bliss, and doing a few hamstring stretches as the planet burns,” as Laurie Penny writes in the Baffler.
When does prioritizing our own #selfcare mean we’re failing to adequately prioritize making the world more tolerable for everybody else? More to the point: When are Doyle’s followers supposed to take her advice about telling their own stories, speaking up, empowering themselves — and when are they supposed to take her advice about shutting up, listening, and letting women of color lead the way?
Some of Doyle’s fans, from those in the packed auditorium here in Cincinnati to the hundreds of thousands who follow her on social media, have been with her since her early Momastery days. But the makeup of her audience has changed in the past couple of years; she lost some anti-LGBT Christians after announcing her relationship with Wambach, but she also gained even more new queer and queer-friendly followers. Now, as she further incorporates anti-racism activism into her public persona, she’s gaining a new audience of white women eager to learn — but the results of that activism have, so far, been mixed at best.
From the many fights that have erupted in her comment sections — and from the healthy amount of criticism Doyle has received from women of color and white women alike — it’s clear that Doyle hasn’t yet perfected the balance of inward and outward focus. But that doesn’t mean she’ll stop trying.
On the evening of Together Live, just a few days had passed since the midterm elections. During the weeks and months leading up to the elections, Doyle had been posting encouragements to vote, and to vote Democrat.
She often engages with her followers; when one Instagram commenter wondered why so many white women had voted for Ted Cruz in Texas, she responded: “my sister I think Why = proximal power to white supremacist patriarchy. We will continue to work toward leading white women to vote for solidarity and equal justice above imbalanced power.”
On another post about anti-Semitism after the shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue, a follower commented, “Shame on you for blaming the White House for encouraging white supremacy and hate. You should know better @glennondoyle.” That comment had 30 likes, compared to the 2,000-plus Doyle received for replying: “once again: I blame the White House for encouraging white supremacy. Yes. That is correct.”
Doyle’s efforts come at a time when the specter of white women has loomed large in the national progressive consciousness. Since a slight majority of them helped Donald Trump ascend to the presidency two years ago, it’s never been more clear that white women — stratified by everything from class to education to religion to marital status — have little in common with one another beyond shared racial privilege, and that includes their political values. Many white women are still voting Republican — though slowly, that’s starting to change.
The percentage of white women who voted for Trump according to exit polls, 52%, has become a kind of cultural shorthand for the failure of many white women to vote against race-baiting, xenophobia, and white supremacy. But a more reliable examination of the 2016 electorate based on validated voters, released by the Pew Research Center over the summer, put the proportion of white women who voted for Trump at 47% — still a plurality, but a narrower one than previously believed. And in this year’s midterm elections, white women without college degrees were slightly more likely to vote Democrat than they had been in previous elections, while white women with college degrees made a major swing left, contributing to a slow-building blue wave. Representing 69% of women voters and 39% of all voters, white women are arguably the largest group of persuadable voters for progressives.
But there is no doubting that the history of the United States is one in which millions of white women have battled progressive causes at every turn, particularly those concerning racial justice. In her new book Mothers of Massive Resistance: White Women and the Politics of White Supremacy, historian Elizabeth Gillespie McRae details decades’ worth of efforts by white women to maintain and enforce racial segregation in the United States. From the rise of postwar conservatism in the ’20s through the civil rights movement, “These women guaranteed that racial segregation seeped into the nooks and crannies of public life and private matters, of congressional campaigns and PTA meetings, of cotton policy and household economies, and of textbook debates and day care decisions,” she writes.
Many white women today, no matter how liberal or well-intentioned, still pass racism on to their children, seek to better their own kids’ lives and schools at the expense of children of color, perpetuate hiring biases, let their coworkers of color shoulder the work of diversity and inclusion, request that police go after innocent black people, and contribute to other racial aggressions big and small every day. Fighting racism goes beyond activating white women to take up progressive causes or simply performing their allyship for woke points. Rather, activists argue, white people taking on anti-racism work must be prepared to do so in their daily lives — and not out of a paternalistic sense of altruism, but in solidarity with all marginalized people.
Doyle’s strategy involves using elements of her original brand — embracing her own messy, beautiful life as a mother — in order to connect with white women who don’t yet see the ways in which their actions (or failures to act) may uphold white supremacy. In her book, McRae describes how many white women in caretaking roles as mothers and teachers, from the Jim Crow era and beyond, invoked “a particular brand of middle-class motherhood that married gender roles and devotion to racial segregation to a political platform of family autonomy and parental rights — a kind of white supremacist maternalism.”
Doyle wants to course-correct that fraught history by encouraging white women to reframe their ideas about motherhood. “What I believe in is a mothering energy,” Doyle told me backstage in Cincinnati. “Any kind of mother who understands that every child is our responsibility.” Or, as she put it in an interview last year, “I realized I didn’t just want to parent children in my own little home, but to mother the whole world.”
In late October, Doyle posted a Kaylin Haught poem on Instagram titled “God Says Yes to Me” after the New York Times ran a story about the Trump administration’s attempts to define gender as strictly male or female, thereby denying transgender people the right to legal recognition. “To all the mothers and fathers of transgender babies who are writing to me, who are afraid… Let’s Remember,” Doyle wrote. “Let’s remember that when afraid voices say NO... God still says Yes. Yes to the freedom of your beautiful children.” Later, she posted photos and videos of visiting a bookstore with her daughters, where they found books for both kids and grown-ups by transgender authors — books which “educated our family about people who are transgender, and how we can understand, love, and protect them.”
“I know so many women who haven’t had babies but have mothering energy. And I know some mothers who are such fucking assholes and don’t have this mothering energy, or use it only to protect their own kids.”
Conservative talking points about transgender people tend to invoke the mythical trans predator, preying on little girls in bathrooms. But here was Doyle offering a profound counterargument, directly appealing to other parents: Instead of being afraid of a trans bogeyman coming to attack your kid, imagine having a trans child of your own, who is worthy of love and protection. She was using the language of mothering to advocate for expanding civil rights, rather than curtailing them. This approach is very different from the maternal foot soldiers of white supremacy described in McRae’s book — a vision more in line with Cynthia Dewi Oka’s essay “Mothering as Revolutionary Praxis,” from the 2016 anthology Revolutionary Mothering: Love on the Front Lines, in which she writes that “the ethos of mothering involves valuing in and of itself a commitment to the survival and thriving of other bodies.”
“I know so many women who haven’t had babies but have mothering energy,” Doyle told me. “And I know some mothers who are such fucking assholes and don’t have this mothering energy, or use it only to protect their own kids.” She shared an anecdote about her children's’ public school in Naples, Florida. “I was bringing stuff in for their cross-country practice — of course, the children need to have a full spread! I was planning on bringing in two cream cheeses.” A mother of another kid on the cross-country team called her and told her that “we needed to have more flavors of cream cheese for after their effing cross-country meet.”
Doyle stood, hovering over her chair, hands outstretched, emphasizing the ridiculousness. “And okay, this comes from a place of love. This is good, mothering love. But this is what privilege is! This is how we burn a hole of love into our kids instead of spreading it out. What if you took that energy that says our children need seven flavors of cream cheese and said our kids have enough, but what about those kids down the street?”
“If we could harness mothering energy and use it for good, spread it around — I think there’s enough love inside of mothers to take care of everybody,” she continued. “If we could stop just burning holes in our children … Because, by the way, we’re just making them assholes anyway! Any child that has eight flavors of cream cheese is going to become an asshole.”
She thinks that mothers get into a frenzy about their kids because of fear. “It’s like, ‘Oh my god, are my kids gonna be okay?’ But I’d rather my kids be a little less safe and a little more open. Our kids know that. They get less from us. Less stuff, less time. And they also know we’re out there taking care of people, and that’s part of our mothering. It’s a good thing, this love that we have,” she said, sitting back down. She looked thoughtful. “But it’s not channeled correctly.”
What might the world look like if it were?
Even though Doyle has incorporated more "mothering energy" activism into her brand, Together Live was not an event primarily about her activist work. Rather, the “warrior women” gathered in the auditorium were promised a night of watching speakers “share their raw, hilarious, vulnerable, authentic stories,” so they could be inspired to share their own stories in turn. Unlike some of the pricier events on the feminist speaking circuit, attendees here paid less than $50 for a ticket; some women dressed in Doyle-like designer clothes, but the audience seemed to represent women from a span of socioeconomic classes.
As I took my seat, Rachel Platten’s “Fight Song” was playing, which gave me nightmare flashbacks to the presidential election. The playlist spun on — “Girl on Fire,” “Feel Like a Woman” — which transported me still further back in time, to performing The Vagina Monologues in college, when my sense of feminism was still pretty much Girl Power 101.
One of the first speakers, Priya Parker, started with a series of questions, asking the audience to stand if we related, in what seemed almost like a parody of these sorts of empowerment events. Had we ever spoken up when we were uncomfortable? Had we ever stayed quiet when we wished we had spoken? She asked if we had ever left a community because we felt as if they’d let us down, and a young woman who stood up a couple rows away from me joked, “Yeah, the straight community” to the woman beside her.
Maysoon Zayid, a comedian and disability advocate, performed a hilarious and affecting set about being a Muslim with cerebral palsy growing up in New Jersey; she spoke about her own life, but also directly addressed her primarily white audience: “If my need to exist and be comfortable makes you uncomfortable, then I’m okay with that.” She also spoke about using your “privilege and power” to do what you can to advocate for others.
Doyle and Wambach were the final speakers, after the intermission, and they charmed the metaphorical pants off the audience. They’re a very appealing pairing of physical contrasts: Wambach is tall and muscular where Doyle is small but mighty; Wambach’s shock of blonde hair is short and half-shaved, while Doyle’s is long and blonde-brown. And they seem positively smitten with each other; “Hi, baby,” Doyle said, reaching for Wambach’s hand, who asked the audience, “Isn’t she cute?” At one point they congratulated a newly engaged gay couple in the audience.
Both women received a standing ovation; Wambach for talking about her work advocating for equal pay in women’s sports, for “demanding what you want and deserve,” and Doyle for talking about lessons she’s been teaching her daughter: to “stay in her knowing,” and that “bravery is about being afraid and doing it anyway.” Doyle also described what she’s been thinking lately about categories. She repeated what she’d told me earlier about feeling dissatisfied with so many of hers: Christian, Democrat, gay.
After she started dating Wambach, she said, “For a very long time all anyone asked me was, ‘What are you? What are you?’” She took quizzes online, trying to find a name for her sexuality. “Words are super important to me — I’m a writer — but there’s no word that makes sense to me.”
At first, to make things easier, she just went with the word “gay.” In a rather infamous Elle profile from May 2017, she’s quoted as saying she’s “gay for the purposes of activism,” but ultimately defies classification: “My sexuality is Abby.” Doyle grimaced when I brought up the quote. “I was probably reading a lot of Adrienne Rich at the time,” she said, shrugging.
She’d gone with “gay” for a while because she “liked being the underdog,” she told the laughing crowd in Cincinnati. But now, she’s wondering if having a “fixed identity leads us to fixed ideologies.” She’d rather people viewed her just person to person. Jennifer Rudolph Walsh, the head of WME’s Literary, Lectures, and Conference divisions and the Together Live host for the evening, nodded and agreed: “Insides to insides.” “Yes!” Doyle cried.
I couldn’t help but cringe. Simply viewing people “insides to insides” is unrealistic; foolish, even. We’ve all got bodies, and all of our bodies are policed in radically different ways. Doyle is white, feminine, thin, beautiful — not exactly the kind of person who’s most disadvantaged by the way she presents to the world. It’s one thing to feel restricted by identity labels, but it’s another not to recognize that for many people — those who have disabilities, those who are gender-nonconforming, those who are nonwhite — those labels often aren’t much of a choice.
At the end of October, Doyle posted info for a webinar she was going to host that week with Heather Cronk, a fellow white activist and a codirector of Showing Up for Racial Justice. Doyle invited any of her followers who feel “overwhelmed by all the things you *could* do and unclear of what you *should* do” — when it comes to racial justice work — to “listen and learn, find purposeful community, and link up with some current efforts to make these conversations real.” Followers in the comments section began to debate the ethics of two white women leading a seminar on racial justice; eventually, some of her white followers began to @ women of color with comments that only reaffirmed why white women need to be educated about their roles in upholding white supremacy to begin with.
One black writer and activist, who has since made her Instagram account private, commented on the announcement post that she didn’t think the seminar was a good idea, and later posted screenshots of some of Doyle’s followers’ responses to her comments: White women told her that she was bitter, that she needed to “calm down,” that she wasn’t choosing kindness, and that she was “meeting sincerity and humility with vitriol.” One of Doyle’s white followers responded with, “I’m not sure that I could be educated by you because I need this issue explained to me in a softer tone,” saying that some of the conversations in the thread about white women and racism were “triggering” as “someone that follows Glennon as a trauma survivor.” To which the writer and activist replied: “You do not get to use your trauma to excuse your racism.”
In a follow-up post, Doyle wrote, “I did this wrong. I’m sorry. Tonight’s webinar is not happening. Listening. Learning. Will do better next time.” In her long explanation of how she’d messed up, Doyle indicated that on a call with leaders of Black Fridays, a movement she’d recently joined, they’d requested that she open conversations with her white audience about stepping up to fight racism, but “I now understand that the way I launched this strategy was hurtful to many including women of color whom I deeply respect.” She encouraged her white followers to listen to women of color in the comments, and indicated that she wouldn’t turn off the comments under the original webinar post so as not to “erase the education & labor the teachers of color on this thread have invested.” But Doyle did end up disabling the comments for both posts, which only further incensed some of her followers.
I reached out to a couple dozen women who had been involved in the conversations in the now-deleted comment threads. One of Doyle’s white followers on Instagram — who agreed to speak to me on the condition of anonymity because she fears Doyle’s “support mob” who “come after you like a witch hunt if you don’t bow to her & her every word, & honestly I don’t want my kids/husband to have to deal with that kind of drama” — told me that she doesn’t believe Doyle’s pivot to racial justice activism.
“I hope that she is sincere in her methods,” she said, but “the consensus behind closed doors is that she ran out things to talk about re: herself & the brutiful routine was growing dim. She needed a rebrand & overhaul & what better way than to bury the sweet stay at home wife/mom ... & deciding to slip on an activist costume for persons of color?”
“I think that what’s really important to me is that I’m not the white woman who got criticized and just took her ball and went home.”
Another woman named Cristina (who asked that I use only her first name), who is “mixed race but white passing so [she has] a lot of white privilege,” said she only heard of Doyle about six months ago and that, generally, she appreciates her work. “I never saw her as an ARW [anti-racist work] leader, just as someone who had personally done the work & encourages others to do the same.” But Cristina found Doyle’s behavior around the webinar incident disappointing and “unacceptable.” She said that Doyle seems to believe that white women, “or her followers in particular, need to be coddled & learn ARW from her vs. the black femme educators who are already doing it.”
(Since the canceled webinar, Doyle does seem to be positioning herself as more of a student than a leader — she posted to Instagram a photo and download link to Layla Saad’s Me and White Supremacy Workbook, encouraging her followers to join her in downloading and following the free program, and to donate to Saad in compensation for her labor.)
Cristina thinks that by the time Doyle canceled the webinar and posted her apology the next day, “It was way too late and very weak.”
Sonali Fiske, a speaker and leadership consultant for marginalized women, told me, “I have to kinda give props to Glennon Doyle for how she chose to handle the aftereffects of that messy situation. She owned up to it.” But “the afterparty going down in her comments section was grotesque … Her followers, mostly white women, were literally championing her for having removed the harmful event,” which Fiske viewed as the bare minimum required of her after messing up to begin with. “My subsequent comments were concealed and remain so to this day — typical erasure of WOC, which I have come to accept as modus operandi in these call-outs.”
However, many of Doyle’s followers applauded her apology — white women and women of color alike. The top-liked comment on her Facebook post version: “G — mad props to you, my sister. The level of humility it takes to swallow, to pause, to listen and to regroup is absolutely bananas and you are showing us all the higher way. Power is one helluva drug. You’re a forerunner in our universal detox. Keep keepin on, dear sister. We’re all rising together.”
Doyle told me in our conversation backstage that she originally planned the seminar as “a tactic to get white people to start showing up more for the disruption we’ll have to be doing.” She said she learned from the response that “there are a lot of black activists who believe their theory is white women need to go get white women, right? And there’s an entire other way of thinking, which is that white women should never be leading any conversations about race.”
Doyle projects an impressive amount of energy, the kind she’ll use later onstage: She’s a quick, emphatic speaker, and she makes free use of her hands, indicating with a sweeping gesture the first school of thought, then the other. “I thought the worst-case scenario was, ‘I fucked this up really bad. And I can fix it.’ But I think it’s actually a worse-case scenario than that!” She laughed. “Because I was like, ‘Oh, what went wrong, let me tidy it up and make it better next time,’ and now I’m like, ‘Oh no no no no! One of the privileges you’re going to have to give up, Glennon, is the privilege to be adored all the time. So you’re going to do it again.’”
Wambach, sitting at her side, came to Doyle’s defense. “It’s hard, and it’s scary, and this is why people don’t do it, but this is why it’s important for us to continue, though it feels scary and tenuous and heartbreaking at times. She hasn’t promised to be perfect, but she’s promised to be honest—”
Doyle cut in. “Well, I think that what’s really important to me is that I’m not the white woman who got criticized and just took her ball and went home.”
“Yeah! That’s good,” Wambach agreed, for the first of many times, clearly enamored with her wife.
“I don’t go to a single place — last night I was in a church with 1,500 people, 1,500 women, 99.9% white, and my commitment to myself and my work is I will not leave any of those places without speaking about race for like 30 minutes,” Doyle added. But after we spoke, and she went onstage for the second half of the show, the topic never came up.
How likely is it that a strategy like Doyle’s — a white woman “coming for other white women” — will succeed?
Many of Doyle’s fans certainly have hope. Julie Evans and Jodi Gillen, twins from Waverly, Ohio, who came to see Doyle speak at Together Live, are inspired by her. “We love Glennon,” Evans said. “We follow her on Twitter. She’s an exciting new voice breaking the white evangelical mold in an empowering, inclusive way — she’s making the gospel inclusive.” Evans is a lay minister at a Methodist church, where “I have to guard what I say.” She emphasizes that she and her sister are not Trump supporters; Evans is “mortified by the Christian right.” She thinks Doyle, as a Christian member of the LGBT community, can provide hope for LGBT people both inside and out of the church. “She talks a good game about grace.”
Others aren’t convinced, however. One white woman who follows Doyle on social media said that after the webinar debacle she is “pretty much done with her,” said that she and other women have commented on Doyle’s frequent fundraising posts, asking why she only ever asks for people’s money, rather than going to the frontlines herself, only to have their comments deleted or their accounts blocked. “She is rich as shit,” the follower told me. “She travels constantly & many of her events land her very close to areas she claims need help or have been helped by this org. It’s not a matter of finance, time, or child care issues — it’s a matter of choice & for years she chooses to tell people to go out into the world & serve people while thinking all she has to do is stand under stage lights screaming it or on IG commanding it & her minions will comply. Tie up your hair, go to these borders, these shelters, these leveled communities (including her own) & serve.”
In response to one of those threads (since deleted), Doyle commented: “Wow. It looks like you are doing wonderful work in the world. I know that holy, hellish ground you wrote about well. I trust that — even though our hard work may look different sometimes — you are doing your very best to make the highest, best use of your love, time, money, and energy. I know I am.”
Doyle’s strategies will never appeal to everyone. And perhaps only time will tell whether or not she can truly mobilize white women as agents of political change. Right now, many of her followers are still wary of feeling judged, imploring women of color to soften their criticism, grappling with their own traumas in ways that erase or perpetuate the traumas of others. But, as Doyle says, she and other white women are new to this work — women of color have been leading the way for a long, long time, and if Doyle’s followers stick with her, and figure out when to stay silent, they just might learn something.
Corrine McConnaughy, a political science professor at George Washington University, told HuffPost soon after the midterms that she doesn’t think that anyone without close social ties to conservative women voters will be able to have meaningful political conversations with them — but “where white women have been able to hold other white women accountable has been inside of some other grouping where their commonality is defined not just by being white women. Teachers’ unions are a good example. Women can say, ‘Look, here’s our common interest,’ and use that space where there’s an understanding of common interest and connection.”
By McConnaughy’s reasoning, Doyle might not have the power to reach all white women — she’s only one person, after all — but with Christians, mothers, and anti-Trump white women who are wondering where to begin? She might be getting somewhere.
“What needs to happen is I need to be quiet for a minute, get my bearings, talk to more people, learn more, and do it again,” Doyle told me near the end of our conversation, moments before she got back onstage. “What’ll happen is it will all just get tougher. What will happen is I’ll remember that I don’t have a single black friend who isn’t fucking crucified constantly. That this is just what it looks like.” ●