#201 Sarah Ditum Exposes the ‘TOXIC’ Nature of Pop Culture and Charts A Way Forward

March 15, 2024 FiLiA Episode 201
#201 Sarah Ditum Exposes the ‘TOXIC’ Nature of Pop Culture and Charts A Way Forward
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#201 Sarah Ditum Exposes the ‘TOXIC’ Nature of Pop Culture and Charts A Way Forward
Mar 15, 2024 Episode 201

Raquel Rosario Sanchez and Sarah Ditum discuss the tropes and stereotypes about women in the public eye and how they reflect on the wider struggles women face in society. Ditum's clever analysis dissects how patriarchy operates to ensure that women, including those who are extremely privileged, are used as examples to venerate and later on to destroy in order to appease a misogynist system.

Buy Sarah Ditum's Toxic from the FiLiA Book Shop

Show Notes Transcript

Raquel Rosario Sanchez and Sarah Ditum discuss the tropes and stereotypes about women in the public eye and how they reflect on the wider struggles women face in society. Ditum's clever analysis dissects how patriarchy operates to ensure that women, including those who are extremely privileged, are used as examples to venerate and later on to destroy in order to appease a misogynist system.

Buy Sarah Ditum's Toxic from the FiLiA Book Shop

Raquel: Hello, everyone. Welcome to the FiLiA podcast. My name is Raquel Rosario Sanchez, and I'm the spokeswoman for FiLiA. Today, we are absolutely delighted to be speaking with author Sarah Ditum. 

Sarah Ditum is a writer for the Sunday Times, and she has written also for Grazia, New Statesman and The Guardian. Her TV and radio appearances include Newsnight and Today. She lives in Bath. Sarah is also the author of Toxic: Women, Fame, and the Noughties. Welcome, Sarah. How are you?

Sarah: Oh, I'm good and I'm delighted to be here. Thank you for having me. 

Raquel: Sarah, you have been on fire with your new book, your book. I can't describe how psyched I was when I saw that the Sunday Times turned their regular magazine into like a cover of a tabloid, and it was all about your analysis. And I was like, oh my god, I know the woman who did that.

Sarah: It was such a cool treatment. It was, yeah, that was very, very fun. 

Raquel: How are you feeling about… because it feels… I mean, your book, I think it was reviewed today by The Guardian. It's been reviewed everywhere, glowing reviews everywhere. Do you feel in a frenzy, or in a buzz? 

Sarah: Oh, it's such a strange thing to have a book come out, because you kind of, you live with this idea… in the case of Toxic, I think there were about just over two years between putting together the proposal and it actually being published, maybe two and a half years, which is quite a tight timeline.

It turns out, I didn't realise at the time, but I think three years is like a nice comfy amount of time to spend writing a book and two years is a bit hectic. But I'm glad it worked out how it worked out. But you spend all of this time just living with this idea and doing this work by yourself. And then suddenly, you just have to sort of put it on public show. 

And it's quite different to doing journalism, because with journalism you're on a much shorter timescale between the idea and the publication, so you don't have so much time to sort of develop your own weird, like nested-in relationship to what you're doing. 

With this, it was published. And I was like, oh my gosh, people are actually going to read it and have opinions about it. That's terrifying. But fortunately, the reviews have been good. And I've heard such, really just like wonderful comments from readers. It's been really great to hear how people are reacting to the book and what people are getting out of it. So, yeah, it's been exciting. 

Raquel: And well deserved, very well deserved. You know, my second question is about sort of the origins of this book, because we are talking right now in November 2023. There have already been several documentaries about the legal conservatorship that Britney Spears has been under. And there's been like a turn of opinion into what those conditions actually meant for her. And we can talk about Britney a little bit later on today, but we already know that. 

The public already knows also that Paris Hilton, this woman who was like a big socialite, she was associated with everything that is vain and materialistic. We now know that she went through a girl's school, where she faced abuse, in Utah. 

Obviously, Amy Winehouse died of an overdose, after she was this iconic, amazingly talented singer. But there had to be a moment, before all of this public consciousness that we have in 2023, as you saw these women's careers begin, develop, the implosion, the frenzy around them, at what point did you see, actually, hold on, there's exploitation here.

At what point did you see all of this mania generated about all of these women, Britney, Paris, Janet Jackson, Amy Winehouse, Kim Kardashian, all of this mania, there's something deeper that connects all of them? 

Sarah: That's a really interesting question. So yeah, the book is kind of, it's about what happened to celebrity in the noughties, basically. And it's about how the way celebrity developed and this really intrusive tabloid culture, how did that affect other women who were watching this? How did the things that were happening to famous women reflect the way that women as a whole were being treated as well in this period? 

Because I think, when the period I write about begins… so I start in 1998, writing about ‒ which is when Britney releases Baby One More Time. And it finishes in 2013, so 10 years ago. And I finish it with when the Robin Thicke song ‘Blurred Lines’ comes out, and the feminist backlash to that. And in between, you've got this period of about 15 years where the internet arrives, smashes up basically everything. 

It kind of decimates the entertainment industry. It completely trashes the profit model for… I mean, basically everything ‒ the profit model for the music industry, especially. And it completely demolishes the idea, the concept of privacy as it's been established. 

So obviously there's always been intrusion into famous women. There's always been like a prurient tabloid culture around famous people, especially women. So that's not new in and of itself. But what changes is that the internet and also digital cameras arrive, and they really collapse the division between public and private for everybody. But it happens first of all to famous women, and it happens more to women than it does to men because the idea of privacy applies differently to men and women.

So we have this idea of, you know, of men being entitled to a public life and having a right to exist in public. For women, that's much more conditional and much more constrained. And when a woman ventures into the public stage, there's a sense that she's made herself available. I mean, you know, public woman is, or has been a euphemism for prostitute. So there's this idea that by being visible, she's made herself sexually available. And that's exactly what happens in this period to these women. Because they are visible, they're seen as being sexually available. 

Their pursuit of fame ‒ and they do all pursue fame. It's not like fame just happens to the women I write about by accident. But their pursuit of fame is seen as kind of paralleled by a sort of sexual looseness. It's a very like weird, old-fashioned morality and you still see it in public often. And at the time I think there were certainly moments that I remember feeling squeamish about the way these women were being treated. 

I certainly remember being really upset when it was obvious that Amy Winehouse was in a kind of terminal decline, and she was still being treated as a sort of, you know, hilarious tabloid figure. I found that really painful at the time and, you know, even more painful to go back to and write about actually. 

With Britney, I remember waking up actually in 2008, the morning after she was taken into a psychiatric facility under an involuntary hold. I remember waking up, hearing that on the news and just being kind of half asleep and thinking, oh, I've got to do something to help my friend Britney. Because at the time I was a Britney fan and in my lizard brain, I had this sort of obviously weird sense that she was somehow a friend of mine that I needed to help, which I think is interesting because that's kind of how we think about famous women, famous people as well. We think celebrities are people who we have a relationship with, even if it's completely one sided. 

I don't think I thought at the time of it as being an exceptionally misogynistic or a systemically misogynistic environment. I don't think I was really conscious of that at the time, but looking back on it, it became incredibly, incredibly obvious. 

 Raquel: Absolutely. And you touch on the point of how… I mean, I also remember, this is when I was in the Dominican Republic, you know, when her first single came out, it was just amazing. All my friends were into it. And there's also the issue of like, it's a tiny country in the global south, an island. And there's this big phenomenon of everything that came out of the U.S. you try to emulate it.  

So when you talk about Britney feeling a bit like a friend, it's like, that's also the way that we felt. Me and my friends, when we were in the Caribbean, you know, it was like, no, that's my friend Britney, you know, she's like this and her hair is like this. And I remember that I had Baby One More Time in, I think it was… I think I had Baby One More Time as a CD, but then I could only get her next album, which was Britney,  I got it as a cassette. I don't know what happened. 

But then you get to see this development and then when she became to be preyed upon and it really sent a message to all of these girls, who became young women who sort of thought that we could have this sense of freedom and kind of be playfully sexually. And, actually, that came with repercussions. 

Sarah: I think, yeah, I think that's totally, totally true. And her presentation was always, from the beginning, there was always something a bit rum about it. So when she first comes out, there's a lot of emphasis on her supposedly being a virgin. We now know from her own autobiography that she wasn't a virgin at the time, which, you know, is completely reasonable.

But she was being sold as a virgin. There was a lot of focus on the fact that she wore a purity ring ‒ which is this thing that came out of American evangelical culture at the time ‒ which is this idea that teenagers would wear like a silver ring on their ring finger and pledge to stay virgins until they got married.

Which obviously, I mean, I can't think of anything more likely to provoke teenagers to have sex than, you know, encouraging them to think constantly about their virginity. And it turned out that all the data on abstinence-only education was that it did indeed lead to teenagers having more and more reckless sex. 

So that wasn't really a very successful experiment, but that's kind of exactly why her virginity was so focused on in her press, because on the one hand, it meant she was being presented as this pure, innocent, all-American princess who could be a great role model for little girls. It's like a completely safe figure. And on the other hand, it's extremely titillating for this older audience of men who are turned on by the idea of deflowering, you know, the world's greatest virgin.

Raquel: I wonder, so this is Britney in the nineties, but then… 

Sarah: Yes. This kind of late nineties, early noughties. 

Raquel: Late nineties. But like then you go into 2000 and then 2010 and that kind of stuff. And I'm thinking of women like Miley Cyrus, I'm think of women like Selena Gomez. I'm thinking of women like… who else is around that age? Women in that age bracket ‒ even like Ariana Grande ‒ is there a way for young women to navigate a presence in the public eye without being exploited to this extent?

Sarah: I think it's a really difficult situation to exploit, for anyone, not just for young women. So one of the things I write about in my book is the way that NSYNC, Justin Timberlake's band, were financially exploited by a manager called Lou Pearlman, who was allegedly also sexually exploitative of the young men who were in his bands. So it's not just women who catch, you know, the rough end of the entertainment industry. 

But when it happens to women, it's compounded by societal misogyny. And so it is harsher for women in many, many ways. And I think you can see a generation, you know, of female celebrities who've come through since Britney and who have tried to navigate things in their own way.

So the three you just named there, Miley Cyrus, Selena Gomez and Ariana Grande, all come out of… are all child stars. They come out of TV in the first instance. I think they're all Disney. No, sorry. Ariana is Nickelodeon, isn't she? And they all have this experience of being sexualised and trying to reclaim it in certain ways.

I mean, for Miley Cyrus, that involved being quite outrageous as she was shrugging off the Hannah Montana persona that she cultivated and, you know, she made a video. The video for ‘Wrecking Ball’, where she's completely naked, which she made with Terry Richardson, who is now, you know, one of the many men who have lost their careers after serious and consistent allegations of sexual abuse.  But at the time she made that, he was a really well thought of fashion photographer. 

Raquel: There were rumours of sexual exploitation for their case about it. 

Sarah: Oh yeah, it had been rumoured for a long time about him. It's one of those weird things where, you know, nobody wanted to see it until suddenly everybody saw it, and everyone acknowledged it. As ever with these things, it's only rumours until everybody decides that it's more than a rumour, and then suddenly it all comes tumbling down, which is what happens to Richardson. 

But I think if you look at people who are slightly younger now, like Olivia Rodrigo or Billie Eilish, they are quite honest in some ways about the stresses and strains that they're under as women living in the public eye, and they adopt a kind of self-ironising approach to talking about their relationship to social media and their experiences of being looked at. 

I think Eilish, she's said some extremely interesting things about the way that she's been sexualised and her own relationship to online pornography as well. So she's been willing to sort of address certain aspects of the media head on in quite a confrontational and, you know, interesting way.

So I think you see celebrities now trying to track a path where they are able to talk honestly about the things that are difficult about their experience and try to sort of keep control of their own narrative to some degree. But it's always, it's always a tough fight, I think, because the nature of being a celebrity is that you have millions and millions of people who have an investment in your narrative and so you're basically up against a tsunami of other people's opinions.

Raquel: Absolutely. I want to delve a little bit into the women that you discuss in the book, and I'm going to note, you have a chapter about Kim Kardashian. 

Sarah: Yes. 

Raquel: Not about Kim Kardashian, but about what she represents and broader ideas about beauty. But in this chapter, it is focused… it talks very poignantly about the role that social media plays in all of this. And I think that's really interesting because of what's happening to young women. So you write ‘Kim had always wanted to be famous. As a teenager in the nineties, ... she’d been obsessed with early MTV reality show The Real World, and even considered applying to be on it. Instead, she had set herself up as a Hollywood stylist, with clients including Paris Hilton and the singer Brandy Norwood.’

So then you talk about the connections that she made to sort of get there, and then you said, ‘…but as the mid-noughties arrived and Kim hit her mid-twenties, none of this had translated into stardom. The emergence of social media, though, meant that there were other routes to attention, and the most important social network at this point was MySpace, which was launched in 2003.’

There's something that I saw there, which is a less than charitable perspective would be, here's this one woman, Kim Kardashian, who wanted fame and attention and who sort of produced herself into this object for public consumption. And then in the Dominican Republic, we have this term to sort of like women say it amongst ourselves, I'm going to produce myself.

Sarah: Yeah, that's a such great expression. 

Raquel: And that means that oh, I'm going to like do my makeup, I'm going to do my hair, I'm going to like get like nice clothes, I'm going to do an outfit, you know, like if you're going out with your friends. It doesn't even have to be sexual, but it's like, I'm just going to… how do you say it here in the UK? When you doll yourself up, oh, I'm going to produce myself. 

So basically you have a woman who produced herself into this sort of ideal of beauty but then when you want social media the point that stood out to me is, because of the influence that these sort of personas can have, then now we go on Instagram and what you have is replica after replica after replica of more women, young women, also recreating themselves as product, producing themselves.

And producing themselves in very specific ways, sort of like, you see this sort of culture of the influencer. Women trying to get sponsorships to sell creams or whatever. And we know that there's a lot of prostitution going on behind it. So like, can you tell us a little bit about the moment in which this culture of consumption of the female form meets social media.

Sarah: Yeah, I think social media does really change the equation in terms of celebrity and it's the big thing. So, I think in terms of my book, there are nine women who I write about, and if you wanted to pick one, who is the kind of winner at being famous, you would say Kim is the one who is the winner at being famous.

And the reason for that is that she gets famous a bit later than most of the women in the book. And by the time she starts to be famous, she's got two things going for her. One is that she knows more about fame than the average person because she'd been living in the kind of foothills of Hollywood.

She'd been friends with Paris Hilton, she watched the sex tape happen, and also her family is on the sort of fringes of celebrity as well. So her mother and father were friends with OJ Simpson and Nicole Brown Simpson, so they ended up very entangled in the trial after OJ killed Nicole. So that's like the most shattering, awful experience of fame that you could possibly have.

And her mum, Kris Jenner, had worked as an agent for her stepdad, Bruce, as he was then, Jenner, now Caitlyn Jenner, who was coming out of an athletics career and who was trying to sort of develop a sort of celebrity profile. So she had all this experience of how fame works, and she also had social media which arrived just in time really for her to be able to harness it. So she first has a profile on Myspace And that's before she's really famous.

So if you look at archived versions of her Myspace page, it's sort of quite sweetly innocent actually. It’s much less produced and glossy than the kind of image that she projects now. But that was a really significant thing in terms of being a venue, Myspace, in terms of being a venue that could turn ‘normal’ people into celebrities.

And when there was the sort of initial flurry of excitement about Myspace, there was a lot of interest in these, you know, seemingly nobodies who'd managed to amass what seemed at the time to be absolutely huge followings. I mean, you look at the sort of numbers involved, and they are nothing compared to what a big person on TikTok or YouTube would have these days.

But a real interest in these people who seem to be living the ‘15 minutes of fame’ vision that Andy Warhol had laid out in the 1960s. This is incredibly advantageous because it gives her a way to develop her profile that she's able to control. And you can see now that as social media has, you know, become more and more powerful, it has completely flipped the relationship between celebrities and the mainstream media.

So, you know, someone like Taylor Swift or someone like Beyonce, they do not have to mess around giving interviews they don't want to give, or trying to get photographed by paparazzi so that they can be featured in the newspaper the next day to maintain their profile. They can just release the photos that they want to, to their fans through Instagram.

And, and that's how they sustain their coverage. But on the other hand, if you're someone who is trying to build a profile, if you're kind of lower down the chain, then you are locked into this system of self-commodification. And it's quite, I don't know, I find it slightly harrowing sometimes when I see it close up.

I remember I went on a press trip once with a few influencers and one of the things that really struck me when I was there was not just the influencers on the trip. They were kind of trying to commodify everything that they did. So any experience that they had, they were looking for ways that they could turn it into content.

But also they weren't really interested in doing anything that couldn't be translated into content. So there was no value for them in any aspect of the trip that wasn't, you know, something that they could turn into pictures to put on their social media profile. 

Which on the one hand like, it's a job, fine, you're there to get content. Of course, that's what you want to do. On the other, that is such, you know, a dismally narrow way to experience life. And it's an occupation that takes over your whole life. And again, because of the, you know, the nature of societal misogyny, the burden of intrusion is even heavier for women than it is for men.

Raquel: I like that you touch there on… I wasn't even going ask you a question about this. Basically, you're talking about something that also emerged around that era, which was the first-person industrial complex. Where it became very popular for… in the blogosphere, when the blogosphere sort of erupted, and people could get paid as freelancers to write. 

There was this massive boom in the early 2000 ‒ ’10, ’12, maybe ’15 ‒ there was this massive movement in which if you wanted notoriety, then you could talk about something horrible that happened to you. So you had outlets like xoJane… I'm telling you this because I know that you started before the big Sunday Times

Sarah: Yeah, it's really interesting. 

Raquel: Before The Guardian, there was the blogosphere and I remember that there was this boom in which… oh, were you sexually assaulted? You can write about it. You could get £25, £50. And that existed on the internet forever, but that was your way into fame, you know? 

Sarah: Yeah, and it's totally a part of the media environment that I've written about in this book because it comes out of the blogosphere, one of the big venues for first-person industrial complex writing was Jezebel, which was part of the Gawker stable of blogs.

Yeah. And there's actually a really interesting article that Anna Brown, the founder, one of the founders and the first editor of Jezebel, has written for the New Yorker recently about… well actually it's about Jezebel and women's anger and how much‒ 

Raquel: Sorry, the context is that Jezebel is shutting down.

Sarah: Yeah, although actually she wrote this article, it was published a few days before that happened. So it was like… so it was like a great article. And then it was suddenly, oh my god, so pertinent as well. Oh my gosh. It's a really interesting article. And one of the things she addresses in that is the first-person industrial complex content that they published and what the line is between, you know, feminist truth telling ‒ there is a value to women telling their own stories.

And when that tips over into prurient, you know, attention seeking, basically. And there was such an unpleasant set of incentives acting on journalists, or certainly aspiring journalists during the noughties. So I would guess that like the peak of the first-person industrial complex, probably from about 2008 to 2012‒13, probably that's where you find like the most intense seam of material from this. Some of which is just really incredibly weird. Just women writing about, you know…

 Raquel: I got a ball of cat hair out of my vagina. 

 Sarah: That one was on xoJane. Yeah. 

 Raquel: Or what was the other one? There's no black people in my yoga class.

 Sarah: There's no black people in my yoga class. That is an interesting one. So I actually ‒ this is completely off topic for the book now ‒ but a few years ago now, quite a few years ago now, I was writing an article about…  I wanted to write an article rather about what happened to the women of these viral first-person industrial complex articles. 

And it would have been a great article except for one major problem, which is that the women who had written these articles that had gone viral had actually had incredibly scarring experiences and did not want to talk about them at all. So I tracked down the woman who wrote ‘There are no black people in my yoga class’, which is such a fascinating example of this kind of journalism. Because in a sense, what she did with that article was exactly what women were constantly being told to do at the time, which was examine your privilege, explore your internal biases, acknowledge that you are a racist.

And so she did. She was like, I'm acknowledging that I'm a racist. I'm sorry ‒ it was ‘There is one black woman in my class’, wasn't it? That was what it was. Yes. And she did exactly that. She was like, I am having this uncomfortable reaction to this one black woman in my yoga class.

 And it turns out you are not meant to do that at all. After all, you are not meant to acknowledge your privilege and your racism and write about it, because everyone is going to call you a racist white lady and try and ruin your life. So yeah, I did some quite intense internet archaeology.

I found her email address on like an old neglected blogger profile that she'd forgotten to delete, because she tried to remove every trace of herself from the internet. I found this one email address and contacted her, and she replied and was just like, I never want to speak about this again. How on earth did you get my email address?

So that article never got written because the women who experienced the brunt of the first-person industrial complex did not want to talk about their experiences. And you know, because it's something that it looked very tempting. If you were trying to get established as a journalist and you were like, I've got this cool, grabby, interesting story that I could write. You know, that would fit into one of these outlets that are looking for this content. And you won't get paid very much, but you might get, you know, exposure as people used to talk about it. And it might set you up for a career in journalism.

Raquel: Or not even in journalism, just as a freelance writer. 

Sarah: Exactly, exactly.

Raquel: You know, I was starting out, I think I started writing maybe 2014, and I have to admit… I'm a Spanish speaking woman. I'm from the Dominican Republic. How on earth am I ever going to get into these big outlets? So what I would look at was, well, at that point, in that stage, pre-Trump era, Jezebel was producing amazing content.

There was also Feministing, which was doing amazing content, just feminist analysis. There was like proper feminist analysis. And they were active participants in the first-person industrial complex. But I also wanted to say, you know, Jezebel was kind of also an active participant in this complex. And I remember that they publish some pretty harrowing tales, for example, stories of incest. 

Sarah: Oh my God. Yeah. The one about the woman who was in love with her father? 

Raquel: She grew up separate from ‒ like he was never in her life, but he was her biological father. They reconnected when she was maybe in her early 20s or something, and they had like a sexual relationship. 

Sarah: And you know, she was also on my list to talk to for that feature that never happened, actually. Another woman who did not want to talk about it. 

Raquel: Of course! So then this woman writes… this is like a long feature. It was like a long form article about this experience that happened to her. And something that I never forget Jezebel for is that the illustration for that article is ‘I’, and then instead of a heart… it was like, I heart my dad, but instead of a heart, they put a bed. 

Sarah: Yes.

Raquel: So graphic and gruesome. And they truly exploited that woman's story and forever that woman… I mean, it's like, if you have to, at least anonymise her. And there was this whole debate about why was this woman, in her own name, being allowed to publish this, which would haunt her forever. 

That woman now, I think, is married, has children, all that kind of stuff. She's happy. But still, you know, I think that your book, Toxic, connects to the first-person industrial complex. Because I think that women ‒ we were growing up and we were seeing Paris Hilton, we were seeing all of these women. We're getting to notoriety and you have a whole class of women who maybe I want to be a writer. Maybe I want to be a singer. Maybe I want to be X, Y, and Z. How do I get there? Can I exploit myself? 

Sarah: I think that is such an interesting point. Yeah. And also I think the first-person industrial complex absolutely comes with that collapse of private and public that the internet creates. So the internet gives you this false feeling of anonymity and security.

And a lot of the time what you publish on the internet is not really going to be read by anybody, and it's not really going to catch anyone's attention. So, you know, you can be writing extremely intelligent blog posts about politics and policy and philosophy and not catching anyone's interest particularly, never doing great numbers and assume that you're operating in quite a small corner of the internet where you're only going to be read by people who you kind of trust or like or can think of as friends.

But of course the internet is not like that. The internet is this big open space. So if you put something out there that really is enormously attention grabbing and people are going to have a very strong reaction to, suddenly your small corner of the internet, you know, turns into this thronging market square with everybody screaming at you, having an opinion about what you've done.

And it's very hard, I think, to… It's hard from this perspective to reconstruct what it was like to not have that knowledge of how the internet was going to work and to kind of recreate that sort of naivety. 

There's a story I write about in the book from the early days of Twitter when a woman live-tweeted having a miscarriage during a board meeting that she was in. And then this got picked up, travelled quite far and ended up being covered, you know, internationally in the newspapers, which seems extraordinary now anyway, but that's what happened. 

And she wrote about that experience for The Guardian at the time. And she said something along the lines of ‘I didn't expect to get this kind of attention because I was just using my own private Twitter account’. But her Twitter account was, you know, it wasn't locked. It was open. Anyone could read it. It was obviously broadcasting publicly this experience that happened to her. But it didn't feel like it was public until it became incredibly public for her. 

And I think that part of why the first-person industrial complex happened is both… It's like the attraction of wanting the attention, but it's also the false security of thinking that if you write this thing, it'll just be read by, you know, people who share your feminist interests and who broadly wish you well, and that's not what happens. It's going to be read by, you know, anyone, including lots of people who find you disgusting and want to tell you that.

Raquel: I think that maybe that is the toxicity. The toxicity is the erosion of the public versus private lives of women. You know, it's like when you take away that slash that boundary, then then you see women as objects of public consumption. I have a question. What do you think about the rise and fall of Jezebel since it's all over the news?

Sarah: Oh, yeah, it's a hard one because, I've read Jezebel quite a lot, and I think it had such an influential style, not just in terms of the writing style on the site, but in terms of the commenters and the relationship, the above-the-line writers had with the below-the-line commenters.

One of the things that Anna Brown, the former editor, writes about in this New Yorker article is how there is a theory that Jezebel basically created the voice of the internet and sort of set the style that has been very widely followed ever since, including the importance and power of anger as a kind of motivating factor, which is, you know, both good and bad, depending on how you feel and which side of the anger you are on.

And it was very funny as well, as well as being, you know, very feminist. It was also extremely funny and entertaining and took pop culture seriously in lots of ways, which was something, you know, I obviously liked as a person who devours pop culture. But it was not uniformly a force for good. If I recall correctly, in fact, I'm going to google this. Well, I'm going to busk for a bit while I google something to make sure that I don't blame Jezebel for something that they haven't done. But you know, like, like most blogs…

Raquel: Are you currently, are you currently googling something? 

Sarah: I'm currently googling, but don't worry, I'm going to carry on talking.

Raquel: I just wanted to point out that when you talk about the voice of the internet, I do get what you mean. Because I remember as a writer sort of trying to create… I mean we all go through this. I remember as a writer trying to find my own voice as a writer, and who was I looking up to, you know, these sort of irreverent women who were incredibly passionate about the policy and political topics that they were discussing. 

But also, they sounded like your best friend. They sounded like relatable, like irreverent. They were rebellious. They were mischievous. Like they had this sort of sass to them, but they were giving you substance with it. So, I mean, the influence cannot be understated. Regardless of how things develop or turn out, the ups or downs, you know?

Sarah: Yeah. And there was loads of good, funny stuff on Jezebel, certainly from kind of peak Jezebel years, which, you know, sort of predates when Gawker went bust and all of the Gawker properties were sold to new ownership.

You know, there was a lot of very good online journalism on Jezebel. But in 2014, this is the thing I was just googling, Jezebel put out a bounty to acquire the unretouched versions of Lena Dunham's photo shoot for Vogue, which is horrible. That is pretty horrible and body shaming and they published them and they drew attention, in kind of classic tabloid style, drew attention to all of the ways in which the photos had been edited to make Dunham look, you know, thinner, prettier, more conventionally attractive.

Raquel: What was the rationale? I don't remember. 

Sarah: So, the kind of the justification for it was that Dunham was a high-profile feminist, and as a high profile feminist… 

Raquel: …who was the creator of Girls, the TV show on HBO. And because Girls was supposed to be ‘about the real experiences of girls’ therefore we have a right to see you flaws and all. Was that the rationale? 

Sarah: Pretty much, yeah. The kind of quasi feminist justification was you're a feminist, so you should, you know, you shouldn't be participating in beauty culture in this way by having your photos doctored. But the actual outcome was, you know, extremely cruel and misogynistic, and Dunham happened to fall into that unfortunate group of women who are seen as acceptable targets. Women who have put themselves in the public eye and deserve to be punished for it. 

And so, you know, Jezebel was indulging in things like that as well, which you would look back on and say not particularly feminist actually. And then I think as much as the writers were very passionate about politics. There was also quite a shallowness to the politics and to the kind of feminism that was sort of rewarded and cultivated within the blogosphere in lots of ways. And as sort of time wore on Jezebel felt much, much more towards the gender identity, ‘sex positive’ side of feminism.

And you know, it's published some absolutely vile pieces calling other women TERFs in recent years. And now it doesn't exist anymore. So I feel nostalgic for old Jezebel, happy that it provided a sort of an incubator for quite a lot of really outstanding writers who are working today and who probably wouldn't have the careers they had if they didn't have Jezebel as a place to start from.

But also I think you can sort of look at the story of Jezebel and you can see a lot of the ways that the internet has been, and the attention economy, has been really poisonous and deleterious for feminism as a movement. 

Raquel: It was very much like, here's some sharp feminist analysis of… and they were unapologetic about like, oh, we love pop culture. We watch reality TV, all that kind of stuff. But then we dissect it. It felt like here's the sharp platform for great analysis and then it became diluted. And I think, I wonder if that's a built-in feature of reaching a certain momentum of popularity. Like once it was being read so widely, then it became so watered down, like so watered down. 

Sarah: I think there's part of that, but I also think what you see happening with Jezebel, it's partly the sort of phenomenon that people call audience capture. So Jezebel increasingly started writing the kind of content that would be rewarded and applauded by commenters and by people who were sharing the articles on social media.

And so you can… it can happen so easily as a writer, you just end up taking your temperature from the people who respond the loudest. And then you end up in this sort of terrible feedback loop where you're only writing what you know is going to be received well, by that group of people anyway. But also, I think it's because ‒ I don't think the internet alone is a good way to do any kind of politics, and that includes feminism. 

And I think the more that you mistake talking on the internet for actual politics, the more you can be drawn towards these positions that can be superficially quite plausible, you know, talking about like sex work as an extension of consent culture, or talking about like gender identity as an extension of my body, my choice.

These are things that rhetorically can seem quite plausible if you're only testing them out as blog posts. But if you actually have to take those into the real world, then the problems with them become apparent very fast. You know, if you spend any time working with or talking to women who've had direct experience of the sex industry, then the idea that you can just see it as an extension of consent culture and breezily say sex work is work becomes much more problematic once you've actually exposed that concept to real people who've suffered from it, for example.

So I think it's a mix of those things. It's a mix of audience capture and the internet inevitably hollowing out politics to a set of quite flimsy rhetorical statements. 

Raquel: Using some of the women that you profile like Lindsay Lohan or Janet Jackson or even Jennifer Aniston, were they also engaging in some form of audience capture?

Sarah: What a good question. I don't think so in those cases. I think one of the things that I find really interesting about Jennifer Aniston is that she really seems perplexed by this sort of shadow version of herself that exists in the gossip press. And she seems very, very detached from it in quite a healthy way.

It's just being like: I mean, that's not me. I can't stop people from writing this stuff about me. So I simply carry on writing my life and I don't try to control or engage with it. 

I think, are there any… I think the person who suffers from audience capture in my book actually is probably Amy Winehouse, because she ends up invested in being this tabloid caricature of herself, this kind of wino character that people want her to be.

You know, towards the end of her life, in the years between Back to Black and when she dies in 2011, which are terrible, awful years, actually, in which she is in a horrible state. She is really suffering from both her eating disorder and from her alcoholism. And she does these performances, anyone who saw her perform in that period will have quite a harrowing story of her, you know, stumbling onto stage, not really being able to perform.

Part of the tragedy of Amy Winehouse is that she becomes really committed to this idea of reality and authenticity in her work, which means that she basically gets sort of taken over by this tabloid caricature of herself that people want to see her play. So she was nicknamed Wino in the press, which, you know, like many things from this period, you look back on that and it seems absolutely horrible that somebody could be a clearly struggling alcoholic and be nicknamed that and treated as like a figure of entertainment for it.

But she really kind of becomes consumed by this part that she's playing in this sort of great tabloid morality play and that's hard and painful to revisit. 

Raquel: And then the tragic ending of her life was just horrific.

Sarah: Yeah, her death in 2011, so awful. And I think, again, one of the quite distressing things about going back and revisiting her story was realising that actually it was extraordinary that she'd been well enough to make Back to Black at all, actually.

That was a kind of incredible salvation of artistry from a life that was already extremely, extremely damaged. And the last years of her life are… they are not artistically successful. They are hard to read about and difficult to imagine. And the point at which she really needed someone to step in and intervene, at which somebody could have really helped her was, you probably before she became incredibly, incredibly famous, but being incredibly, incredibly famous, that's never going to make someone more able to cope with their addictions. 

Raquel: Absolutely. You mentioned Jennifer Aniston before we talked about Amy Winehouse. And there's something in your book that I want to touch on. And you talk about fertility, marriage, the traditional sort of role and vision for women, and how this relates to the public image of Jennifer Aniston. And you write ‘The collapse of Jen and Brad's marriage generated a global conversation about the nature of relations between men and women. Even more intrusively, it became a discussion about the condition of Jen's uterus, and whether she was either willing or able to have the baby her husband apparently wanted.’

And you write ‘In a tearful but defiant cover story for Vanity Fair in September 2005, Jen pointed out the unfairness of this commentary. “A man divorcing would never be accused of choosing career over children,” she said. “That really pissed me off. I've never in my life said I didn't want to have children. I did, and I do, and I will! The women that inspire me are the ones who have careers and children; why would I want to limit myself? I've always wanted to have children, and I would never give up that experience for a career. I want to have it all.”’ 

And you write ‘It was a robust answer to the prying, but it was also an answer that made her a public hostage to her reproductive prospects.’ Now, this was 2005. We are in 2023. She doesn't have children. She never had children of her own. I wonder… what I read in that is that even when a woman doesn't want… And we know this as women as a sex class,  when women are making decisions about whether to have or not to have children, it comes across as if we are not really allowed to state I don't want to have kids. I don't want to have children. It's sort of like we have to enter this game of well, eventually I will. Well, I will in the future. Don't worry, it's going to happen.

And even when you don't want to have children, we have to pretend that we do until nature takes care of it for us. Rather than being allowed the freedom ‒ and the chapter on Jennifer Aniston is titled ‘Freedom’ ‒ rather than being allowed the freedom to say I don't want to have children and and you make the point that she sort of epitomises that. 

Sarah: Yeah, I think for lots of reasons Jennifer Aniston becomes, in what must have been a completely horrible way for her personally, she becomes the focus for like an entire generation's anxieties about the fact that women in this time are increasingly either delaying having children or choosing not to have children at all. And, certainly in America, they have entered into the workplace, you know, in greater numbers than ever before. And this is the sort of fruits of the post second wave generation, right?

So the second wave really established the right of women to have employment beyond the home and to be breadwinners in their own right. And Jennifer Aniston is part of the generation who is able to, to some extent, take that for granted. And this causes a massive amount of anxiety about the fact that, you know, oh my god, are women not listening to their biological body clocks?

Are they not, you know, are they not aware that there's going to come a time when they'll stop being able to have children and they might have put it off too late? And actually, women are not on the whole ignorant about the fact that fertility declines over time. And certainly in Jennifer Aniston's case, one of the things that makes it particularly poignant that she was being put in this position and argued over in this way is that we now know because of interviews that she's given in the last couple of years, that she really did want to have kids.

And she did try to make that happen. And in the way that people's lives can sometimes just be incredibly unfortunate timing. The nature of the fact that she broke up with Brad Pitt, when she was, I think, in her early 30s, around the time that they would have been trying for children, had they stayed together, basically meant that she kind of did end up missing the point at which she might have been able to sort of have successful interventions that would have helped her have children.

And that's been a really sad thing for her, but not the kind of defining experience of her life either, in the way that it was portrayed in the press. But I think you're right. There is a lot of judgment about women's fertility and a lot of emphasis on this idea that it's somehow all about personal choice rather than systemic. So you can kind of see at the moment with some of this stuff that Miriam Cates, the Conservative MP, has been saying, and she is coming from, I think it's fair to say, a natalist perspective. And it's very fixated on this idea that women ought to be having more children and women should be making decisions in their lives to have more children.

But the emphasis is always on women and not on what are the systemic factors that are preventing women who might want to have children from having children. Or what are the reasons that women might be opting out of having children? Anyway, because one of the things we know from demographic data is that as women become more educated, and this is true everywhere in the world, women get more education, and they choose to have fewer children or no children at all.

And those two things just seem to go hand in hand. And, you know, in a way, that makes perfect sense, right? If your standard… Because number one, if you're more educated, then you're less reliant on your children as labour. So you're not going to need to… People who live in agrarian environments, you really do need to have, you know, eight children to have a few plough hands and some spares, right? But also, the more that your horizons open, the more that you're going to be interested in doing things with your life that do not involve perpetual child rearing. In Miriam Cate's case, that means being an MP, for example.

And so we talk about, this is a decision that women are making, but we don't talk about why are men not stepping up to the plate and seeming like plausible fathers or people with whom to start a life. That is the other side of the issue, but it never receives the same attention as worrying about what women are doing with their wombs.

Raquel: Yes. I wanted to make a last question about Kim Kardashian. I was thinking of the implosion of celebrity culture, social media, influencer, content creator, seen as a career. I'm thinking of the women who I see walking down the streets, the cashier women, the women in the coffee shops with lip injections.

And this is maybe a cultural thing because in the Dominican Republic, there's this massive emergence of women trying to replicate those types of bodies. It's more common than what I have personally seen here in the UK to find women who have immense butts, massive breasts, tiny, tiny, impossible waists.

And there's this whole culture of putting women who look like that on TV, so that if, for example, at noon you want to watch a ‘family show’, the women in that family show are very sexualised and very disproportionately distributed, physically disproportionate women, you know.

So I wonder if it was, was there an option of having the emergence of this… this family, the Kardashian family with their Armenian genes and people and then you sort of go in the other way instead of it being something that young women around the world want to copy, was there an option in which that was sort of something that could have been mocked instead of emulated?

Sarah: Mm, and I think it was mocked to a certain extent at the time. There is a slightly awful quote from Paris Hilton from the time when she had fallen out with Kim Kardashian at the time, and on a radio show she joked about Kim having a butt that looked like a garbage bag full of cottage cheese.

And I think it's interesting to have gone back to this time and looked at how dramatically the Kardashians deviated from what was the beauty standard at the time. Because in the noughties, you really are talking about this incredibly skinny, usually white, fairly flat chested, but certainly not, you know, bootilicious kind of figure was really the idealised one.

It was all really about size zero to the point of some young women looking alarmingly skinny when… I mean, at the time, but especially looking back from a perspective of being in a time that is less ruthlessly anti flesh when it comes to beauty standards. And so people did mock and laugh at the Kardashians, and that body type as well was seen as being automatically sexual.

So the fact of having hips and tits was seen as a marker of sexual availability in and of itself, which is one of the many traumas of having a female body. It's not an experience that I have had myself, but if you talk to any women who have big breasts, one of the things that comes with having big breasts is, you know, being pinched and sexually assaulted, basically, from a very young age.

It's really unpleasant facet of men's sexual aggression. So there was that element of it, and it's astonishing actually how much the Kardashian beauty standard has become the beauty standard and the thing that is pursued and idealised and sought after to the point of these really extraordinarily dangerous procedures. Like the Brazilian butt lift, where fat is transferred from one area of the body into the butt to make it bigger and rounder.

It's such a catastrophically dangerous procedure. A lot of. the more ‘responsible’ plastic surgeons are just not interested in performing it. It has a really harrowingly high death rate from embolism and an incredibly awful recovery period, even if it goes fine, because you can't sit down while you're recovering. There's an incredible photo essay that the New York Times did of a recovery house for women who had had ‒ not rich women, you're talking about women who were working, mostly Black women, who were working in kind of like low level clerical work or who were dancers or whatever…

Raquel: This is the women that I'm talking about in the Dominican Republic. It's everyday women who just spend whatever minimum money they make, save it for a long time, then go from, say for example, they're from New York or any little state, in Puerto Rico, the United States, and they fly to the Dominican Republic because it's cheaper.

So you see women, you go, for example, for a doctor because you have asthma or whatever, and in the hallways you find women who had their butt done, their breasts done, liposuction. They're covered in bandages because it is about creating that Kardashian package.

Sarah: Right. In this country, I think the equivalent would be probably going to Turkey to have surgery, which is, you know, the beginning of a lot of horror stories is ‘I flew out to Turkey to have some plastic surgery done.’

And this photo essay that New York Times did really stuck with me, because you've got these women who are staying in this pretty shabby hostel environment. Basically spending a week in a deck chair with a hole cut out of it for their butt, so that they can lie down without putting any pressure on the new fat that's been transferred.

It is an incredible price to pay for achieving a beauty standard, and it is very very consuming. And I think in some ways there's often a lack of sympathy towards women who pursue these kinds of procedures or this sort of perception that they are being deluded or stupid in some way for spending this money for something that is dangerous and unpleasant.

But in lots of cases, they are making actually quite a rational decision about what is the most advantageous way to develop their body under patriarchy to their own benefit. They're not being stupid. But they are operating in a system of rewards that is entirely stacked against them. And the protections for women who have plastic surgery that goes wrong are basically nothing, right?

Certainly if you're operating at this lower end of the market, you are not going to get any help if you have any kind of bad result. And it's upsetting to read the kind of experiences that women go through, and the fact that they go into it from a position of trust, thinking that this is a medical procedure, so they will be treated well and hygienically, and that is not always the case.

Raquel: Absolutely. I wanted to ask you about the emergence. I think that we are witnessing an emergence of a new kind of female public figure. I mean, we have actresses like Melissa McCarthy or Rebel Wilson who… I mean this is in terms of like weight, but you have women like Lizzo or Rihanna and who seem to be ‒ I don't want to say the word empowered, but the word that comes to mind is sort of empowered ‒ who, at least in appearance, they seem to be making have a sort of power over their public personas that maybe the women that you profile in your book didn't have. 

For example, I know Rihanna had this great quote and she talks about her weight fluctuations. Like sometimes she's very skinny. Sometimes she gains a lot of weight and she's like, oh, I love it because I get to like play with my body and wear different clothes. 

Sarah: Yeah.

Raquel: And I wonder if because of the trauma, collective trauma, not only experienced by these public figures, but sort of women as a whole in this blurring of the lines between public and private… I wonder if this is a result of this new type of female public figures. Do you have a comment on that? 

Sarah: I think Rihanna is a very interesting public figure because she basically, she does not do pop music anymore. So people think of her as a pop star, but actually she is the founder of a makeup brand. She's the founder of an underwear brand. That is what her job is. 

And I can't remember the last time she made a record. When she played the Superbowl, everyone was like, oh my gosh, Rihanna's back. And she basically like kind of half-assed it, I would say. But yeah, and she had a completely heinous experience when it came to her relationship with Chris Brown, who beat her. And that was covered by the gossip press. And again, as was sort of typical for this period, she was not treated with the sympathy, the one would hope would be applied to a young woman who was in an abusive relationship. 

But yes, I think that the generation of celebrities that we have now, and I would especially include Taylor Swift in that, are celebrities who I think have learnt the lessons of the noughties and they understand about controlling their public persona, they understand what is valuable about themselves. And in some cases, that can be their body; it can be their story. But it's that they know what their worth is and they want to be the one who profits from that rather than allowing a celebrity magazine or a trashy blog to expropriate value from them. 

There's something that I do find really interesting about celebrity as it's now constituted. I don't think that we've lost our desire to see women suffer. So one of the kind of unifying things across the women in my book is that the public wanted to see them suffer, see them punished for their fame, wanted to see the wealthy and successful brought down to a sort of human level. And I don't think we've lost that desire, but we don't want it to happen sort of, well, without their consent. I guess the kind of logic of consent has been extended to here. 

And so you'll find that celebrities and especially female celebrities, but not only female celebrities ‒ I think the Robbie Williams documentary that's recently come out as an example of this ‒ celebrities will talk about their traumas, their difficulties and their suffering. And that is part of what the public enjoy and have always enjoyed consuming about celebrities. But now we want it to come from the celebrity themselves rather than from the end of a telephoto lens. 

Raquel: Which is maybe why Britney Spears book, The Woman in Me, is a massive bestseller maybe.

Sarah: Oh, 100%. 

Raquel: People want to hear what she has to say about what she went through in her own words. 

Sarah: 100% that's right. And one of the things that I really wanted to get into when I was writing Toxic is not just the cruelty of the period that I'm writing about, the cruelty of the noughties, but also what has changed?

Why are we now in this position where people see Britney as sympathetic rather than disgraceful? What's changed? And I find that a really fascinating thing to think about, because ultimately we're all functioning within the culture that we're part of. And there are lots of things that you, I, everyone will take for granted to a certain extent now that in a few years might seem absolutely preposterous and impossible.

So I came out of this with, I hope, a healthy desire to at least be questioning about the things I take for granted now, because they might not be things I'll take for granted in a few years time. 

Raquel: Absolutely. One of my final questions is ‒ there are three women who are not on your list ‒ and I wanted to ask you, why didn't you include Taylor Swift, Angelina Jolie, or Beyonce in your book? Because they were also massive objects of consumption as female public figures.

Sarah: Great question. Taylor's not in it because she starts to become famous a bit outside my period and the sort of peaks of her celebrity journey don't fit inside the period I'm talking about. She's certainly not, she doesn't catch the brunt of celebrity culture in the way that the women who I'm writing about do. And I find her most interesting really, so she's in the book, but she's really in there as an example of someone who's learned the lessons of the noughties and used them to create her own incredibly successful career as a woman in public. 

Beyonce is not in there because, an incredible artist, but a person who has kept herself out of the public eye incredibly successfully with one exception, which is obviously the elevator video. Which is the film of her sister Solange attacking Beyonce's husband Jay Z in an elevator. 

And so, what I wanted to write about in this book is the relationship between the life, the art and the public representation in gossip culture and basically with Beyonce, there's not a lot you can really go on when it comes to the life. Obviously she made the incredible Lemonade album, which is probably about her experience of being cheated on by her husband, Jay-Z, and is certainly a response to the rumours about her being cheated on by her husband, Jay-Z, but‒

Raquel: But also a massive commentary on race. 

Sarah: Yeah, it's a fantastic piece. I really, really love Lemonade. I think it is an incredible album. I think what I needed, or what I wanted, from the women in my book is story, basically. That's what I was interested in, is this somebody whose life in the public eye tells a story about fame? And I think with Beyonce, I didn't find that in her. So again, she's someone who… I mentioned her at various points, especially in the earlier chapter. She comes up a couple of times there. 

And the last person you mentioned, who was the last person? Angelina Jolie. So she comes up in the Jennifer Aniston chapter, obviously, because she is the ‘other woman’ of the Brad‒Jen‒Ange tabloid love triangle. And so I do write about her, basically. 

But when I was kind of drawing up people for who I was interested in writing about, one of the things that came up for me is that actors tend not to be working at the kind of time scale that allows them to be sort of participants in the gossip culture and creation of their persona  through their work at a speed that is actually reflective of the speed the internet works at. 

So, Taylor Swift, for example, goes through the great snakening, when everybody turned against her. And then she turns that into the Reputation album, right? And that takes, I think, under two years, maybe a year for that to happen.

With Beyonce and the Lemonade album, again, you're looking at quite a similar timescale. But actors work on much longer timescales and the roles they take are… they're basically not writing their own parts in the way that a pop star is writing her own parts in their music.

So I don't find actors as rewarding a way to explore how celebrity sort of creates a dialogue between the life and the work. So I guess that's why Angelina Jolie doesn't have her own chapter. 

Raquel: Yeah, fair enough. Okay. So my final question, Sarah Ditum, you're an author, a proper writer.

Sarah: [laughs]

Raquel: No, but like for real. As a fellow writer, I started reading your work back when you were blogging. I am 100% sure that you had a WordPress. 

Sarah: I did!

Raquel: Yeah, you were doing something, but it was not like in a platform. And then I watched you go from that to, I wasn't in the UK at that point, but I watched you go from that to the New Statesman, then you were doing stuff for The Guardian, and now you're at the Sunday Times. So I think of you as, no, she's one of the big ones, she's at the Sunday Times

But I just thought, you write, it's not like you could write, it's like you do write, about all subjects relating to feminism: reproductive rights, you talk about fertility issues, you talk about race relations, politics, policy, all of that kind of stuff. Why did you choose this topic, this subject to be the topic of your first book?

Sarah: Well, also, I kind of think as our conversation has shown, it's a book about celebrity culture, but it is also a book about reproductive rights, about women and work. It's about race. It's about all of these things are part of the book. But I wanted to write about celebrity culture, because I think there's a great quote that I use in the introduction from a film critic called Molly Haskell who talks about celebrities as ‘the two-way mirror in which the immediate past meets the immediate future’. Right? 

We look at celebrities to see who we're supposed to be and who we might become. They play an incredibly powerful role in sort of common social life. And that becomes more true than ever in the noughties, which is a period that is really obsessed with celebrity. And that's why I chose it really. I think celebrity is the place where all of our thoughts, fears, anxieties in lots of ways come to bear, right? 

Celebrities are how… as a mass culture we have loads of conversations about things that are both trivial and incredibly, incredibly important, right? The Jennifer Aniston example is a really good instance of that. I mean, it's nobody's business whether Jennifer Aniston has babies, doesn't have babies, wants to have babies, doesn't want to have babies. But her life becomes a way for the public at large to talk about all those anxieties about what are women doing? Are women making the right choices? What are the women thinking? Right? 

And that is the part that celebrities play in, in everyone's lives. And that's why it's a really fascinating way to sort of ground what’s basically a social history of the beginning of this century, but I wanted to trick people into reading it by making them think it was a book about celebrity gossip, which it also is.

Raquel: It is, and it is a phenomenal piece of work. What I like about it is that, if it had not existed, your book, then we would have looked at it as like that weird period in which all of these crazy things were happening. And what you've done is put it together and weave it… as if you're like weaving something… weave together all of these narratives into a feminist, a broader feminist analysis.

So, I mean, it's a remarkable piece of work and I am sure that it will be the first of many, many books to come. Do you have an idea about what you want to do next? 

Sarah: Mmm, I am working on a proposal at the moment that is kind of a continuation from where Toxic leaves off. But I guess if Toxic is about how the internet destroyed the division between public and private, and what that meant for women.

The book I'm interested in writing next is about how the internet has destroyed the relationship between ourselves and our bodies, for women and for men as well. I'm not quite sure exactly how the idea is going to shape up. But that's the thing that I find really fascinating, is the way that the prevalence of the internet has made us forget ourselves as physical beings or treat our bodies as provisional or changeable in ways that they aren't necessarily. I think I find that fascinating, so that might be the next one. 

Raquel: It's going to be great. Well, Sarah Ditum, thank you so, so much for speaking with us at FiLiA. 

Sarah: Oh no, thank you. The pleasure is all mine.