The Conversation Hearts of newsletters (ubiquitous, cheap, think we’re *really* clever) is here to be your private dancer.
What would make the perfect women’s magazine? Juicy yarns, big ideas, deeply personal examinations of women’s lives—and none of the advertiser obligations. Welcome to the Spread, where every week two editors read, listen, and watch it all, and deliver only the best to your inbox.
Yesterday we cracked open our morning coffee-flavored dairy-free, gluten-free, soy-free, vegan, kosher, non-GMO Koia shake (hey, we’re trying a thing) and settled down with the New York Times. For the rest of the day, we had George Michael’s “I Want Your Sex” on mental repeat—you know the one, “Sex is wonderful, sex is fun, sex is best when it’s one on one.” It wasn’t the shake. It was the Times Opinion section. “Sex is good. Sex is healthy,” declared writer and fellow Substacker Magdalene Taylor, before decrying the relative lack of said good-healthy-wonderful all-American fun that people of all ages are having these days. A day later, we were still stuck on George when we logged into our NYT app to find: “Let’s Talk About Intimacy,” a profile of sex therapist Cyndi Darnell. Click to the next story and boom (or should we say, boom-chicka-wow) we found ourselves deep in erotic…timepieces? (Fancy watches festooned with sexual imagery, duh.) Since when is the New York Times so horny?! We checked our inbox to find Emily Oster’s Tuesday newsletter—usually occupied with things like childhood food allergies and developmental milestones, i.e.: anything but s-e-x. Today’s headline: “Your Sex Lives After Kids.” Was even the serenely academic Ms. Oster feeling a bit of spring fever? Oh, wait. Today’s Valentine’s Day. In medialand, the day to reach deep into your bag of tricks for stories about sex, love, and sex and love. Which your Spreaditors are down with! See below—a veritable plethora of (vaguely) on-theme items about exotic dancers, profesh “marriages,” May-December hookups. And, for those who can’t read another word about togetherness, we’ve got a hot new trend…divorce. (Because we’ve got more than a one-track mind, we’ve also thrown in items about body politics, pop music, the Frankenstein of baby gear, and more.)
Rachel & Maggie
P.S. The conversation “heart” that would really make our Valentine’s Day is that little red guy, right up top there. Feel free to punch it!
“Conscious Uncoupling” is so 2017.
Last week, shock rippled through a certain clog-wearing, A.P.C.-clad demographic when Cup of Jo founder Joanna Goddard announced her divorce. Goddard is one of few O.G. bloggers who survived to become an internet eminence grise; over the years, a lot of people have become inordinately invested in her low-key aesthetic, her feel-good quotes about motherhood (they get me every time), and yes, her seemingly exemplary union. Now I predict they will become even more invested in her divorce, or should I say in the style of her divorce, which appears to follow the contours of the parental arrangement du jour: as the New York Times called it recently, “50/50 parenting.” (Yes, they suggest it as a way to stay together, but still.) Additionally, people have been talking about the “bird’s nest” version of 50/50—in which the kids stay put, and parents switch on and off in the family home—for awhile now, but lately it seems the people who are talking about it, and trying it, are people I actually know. Is it callous to say that, even as divorce rates have slowed slightly, divorce itself—and new ways to make it work—are decidedly trending? On cue, Fortune wants you to know that divorce is great for productivity (in a poll, 39 percent of divorcées said their split “freed up time and energy, and even amplified motivation for work.” Yay, capitalism!). The Cut introduced us to the phenomenon of the “divorce registry,” helping the newly single start out with fresh sheets and wooden spoons, lest the old marital ones “suck them back through a wormhole to the past.” Also in the Cut, you can read advice from a big-time divorce lawyer to the rich, whose job is to deal (without visibly grimacing) with divorcées who say things like: “We live in this grand NYC apartment and my kids go to private school, but I have no idea where the money is or how bills get paid. He hands me money every week and I use it.”—Maggie
Read Goddard’s “Some Personal News” here.
SZA as a vessel.
The New York Times Magazine’s new SZA feature is less a traditional celebrity profile than a masterclass in contemporary Black pop. That’s not because journalist Danyel Smith, whom Maggie wrote about when Smith’s book1 came out last year, doesn’t hit every mark of a well-rounded artist-profile—she goes deep into SZA’s Maplewood, New Jersey, childhood, chronicles her rise in detail, interviews her family, and observes and interviews the Grammy winner at her home in Malibu. But she doesn’t come close to stopping there, instead packing the 7,000-word opus with industry stats, history lessons, cultural theories, and amusing insights at every turn. For Smith, context is queen, the effect of which left me with a much better sense of our unabashed “sad girl” protagonist than a traditional magazine portrait. It also left me hungry for more Danyel Smith! Lucky for me—and you, too—there are still 10 episodes of Smith’s podcast Black Girl Songbook at the ready. Each installment deep-dives into the careers of women like Donna Summer (who Smith would like you to know is not just a queen of disco, but a queen of pop) and En Vogue (a gateway to an entire episode on the increasingly rare phenom of the girl group, from the Supremes to Destiny’s Child), with Smith as your ultra-warm talking-encyclopedia emcee.—Rachel
Read “SZA’s Ruination Brought Her Everything” here.
Listen to the podcast here.
Thy cubicle neighbor’s wife.
Stephanie H. Murray has, for the Atlantic, taken on the weird and persistent concept of the work spouse—defined by researchers as “a special, platonic friendship with a work colleague characterized by a close emotional bond, high levels of disclosure and support, and mutual trust, honesty, loyalty, and respect.” Before we go further, I should mention that I did eventually marry my one-time work husband (I’ve had several work husbands, but I only married one) and I did co-birth this very newsletter with my former work wife (hi Maggie!). Does this make me an expert on this subject or totally disqualify me from weighing in? Who’s to say! Murray mostly focuses on the hetero, work husband-wife dynamic, the nomenclature for which was rooted in the role of—uh huh—ye olde boss-secretary relationship2 before evolving into an equal “office marriage” circa the 1980s. Though office marriages can be same-sex (hi Maggie), research shows that work marriages usually occur with a coworker of the sex you find attractive (less likely when you work at a women’s magazine run almost exclusively by women—no shots at you, my beautiful, brilliant MB!). Murray says it’s only human for us to ascribe labels to every type of relationship, but finds the work husband and wife labels meaningfully weird—even awkward—in that they imply intimacy and singularity. Another layer: Do you use the term work husband (or wife) in public? Many enjoy the “illicit” nature of bandying about the term only privately. In case I haven’t been public enough: TILL DEATH DO US PART, MAGGIE!—Rachel
Read “The Bizarre Relationship of a ‘Work Wife’ and a ‘Work Husband’ here.
The “technically proficient thrust” you really need
You know when a review uses moist in the first line, it’s gonna be a doozy. This week, in the New Yorker of all places, Lizzie Feidelson offers a passionate appreciation of the Magic Mike franchise—one that is refreshingly unlike most other appreciations published since the first movie was released in 2012. One of the more interesting things about Magic Mike is that it’s an obviously ridiculous skin flick, the kind of eye candy that, as Pamela Anderson notes about Baywatch in her Netflix doc (which, yes, we are referencing again), “you could watch with the volume off.” But because Mike was made by a genuine auteur, Steven Soderbergh, it’s always been taken oddly seriously: Yes, its most memorable scene is a sweat-drenched striptease set to Ginuwine’s “Pony,” reviewers keep telling us, but it’s actually about…capitalism and the economy? Well, Feidelson (whose beat is dance) is here to talk about the franchise’s pleasures, and boy does she seem to enjoy the journey: Channing Tatum’s “ability to use his body to connect with another person, in front of a camera, with warmth and a sense of privacy” is undiminished, she notes—as seen when he “lets his top hat fall and skitter down the runway as he worms across the floor.” Or performs “a complex, erotic duet in about six inches of water.” Or moves “like a souped-up car: sleek, low to the ground, capable of great speed.” And the result makes “women feel good about being horny for men’s bodies.” Whew, RB, I almost wanted to throw dollar bills at my screen when I finished the story.—Maggie
Read “Magic Mike Showed Us the Good in the Grind” here.
Vogue after dark.
The so-called sex essay—which usually is really, er, mostly, an essay about the inner machinations of the self—is sadly a vanishing genre. Thankfully Vogue has snuck onto its website a series of exactly this kind of essay. And in an apparent attempt to strip out the titillation from some quite-bold writing, the series has been blandly slugged Love Stories (whatever it takes). Still, they’ve managed to pull off a quietly thrilling package. My favorite pieces have a little edge: Tom Rasmussen remembers having sex with a whole bunch of guys (he calls it a post-virginity “sex rampage”) only to surprise himself by connecting most acutely with a sexual veteran three times his age, who drove a freezer truck; sex columnist Karley Sciortino writes about how she always dated twinky nerds until she learned the error of her ways with a 40-year-old manly man who “knows how to use a drill.” Thanks, Cupid.—Rachel
Read the package here.
We pause the sex-sex-sex of it to bring you this pair of P.S.A.s
Awful news, Part I. At first, there was good news: Following the 2006 FDA approval of the HPV vaccine, between 2012 and 2019, U.S. rates of cervical cancer dropped 65 percent among women in their early twenties. But, writing in the Nation, Human Rights Watch researcher Annerieke Smaak Daniel points out that progress has, as usual, been uneven: Black women still have the highest rates of late-stage diagnosis and the lowest rates of survival at any stage—another stark example of the race-related healthcare inequalities in our country.
Awful news, Part II. Remember last year, when the American Academy of Pediatrics and others declared a “national state of emergency” in children’s mental health? Yesterday’s headline in the Washington Post made it clear things are worse than we thought. It read, “Teen girls ‘engulfed’ in violence and trauma.” A new CDC report finds that nearly 1 in 3 high school girls consider suicide; almost 3 in 5 feel so sad or hopeless every day for at least two weeks at a stretch, they stop regular activity (twice as many girls as boys). And 15 percent of teen girls say they’ve been coerced into sex—the highest level the CDC has ever recorded. While a Harvard psychologist notes that there’s no single reason for the uptick, we know the pandemic took a heavy toll on all teens, and “girls are more likely to respond to pain in the world by internalizing conflict and stress and fear, and boys are more likely to translate those feelings into anger and aggression.”
The body-positivity bind.
TikToker Remi Bader found her niche in “realistic clothing hauls.” To the tune of millions of followers, she’d try on clothes that she’d ordered on the internet and show her followers the good, the bad, and the painfully ill-fitting results. That landed her lucrative consulting deals with prominent brands and thrust her into the center of the online conversation about self-love and body size. Bader, who has struggled with her weight since childhood, found that the social-media grind exacerbated her food issues, prompting her to binge-eat and gain 80 pounds. Weight that she, at 27, wasn’t happy living with.3 Cue the backlash: As an influencer, her critics said, it was irresponsible to be anything less than body positive! Heck, some argued, if she was going to represent the big-bodied community, she should be larger still! But in the Cut, Bader writes that both her self-esteem and her health were suffering under the gain. Her essay raises interesting questions about the intersection of the fat/body positivity movements with what we know about health outcomes—questions that since the start of the movement, I’ve watched women’s magazines avoid like the plague, in fear of the kind of reverberations Bader describes. Kudos to the Cut, and more, please—maybe with some science reporting next time?—Rachel
Read “I Never Asked to Be the Face of a Movement” here.
Since she took the Veep seat, Washington has been lukewarm on Kamala Harris. But what about Second Spouse Doug Emhoff? According to Politico Magazine, he’s hot-hot-hot with Beltway insiders. We’re sure it doesn’t help that he’s male. Wait, it does??? Aw, man!
Read “Why the Beltway Loves the Second Gentleman” here.
Bey and Jay own eight of ’em.
I’m not gonna say I didn’t enjoy a little surge of schadenfreude reading Business Insider’s new exposé on the work culture inside of Happiest Baby, Inc—the company founded by celebrity pediatrician Harvey Karp and his wife, Nina Montée, which has flooded Hollywood with the $1700 robo-baby-bed known as the Snoo. Late last year, I published a story in the Economist questioning Snoo’s rather blythe claim that it can reduce—indeed, according to Karp, all but eliminate—Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)...a claim for which Karp has produced zero hard evidence, and that nonetheless continues to garner him endless swaths of great press. Now we learn that Karp and Montée run their company like Big Brother, with their “spies” (the cleaning lady) peering over every miserable shoulder. Could this explain why he’s been allowed to run wild with claims that can’t be backed up: Because no one who works there is empowered to call bullshit?—Maggie
Read it here.
Who will play Shari Redstone in the movie about her rise to the tip-top of the multibillion dollar Paramount Global? No one, because she runs Paramount Global! But we digress: There’s a meaty New York Times profile about how the death of Daddy Sumner, the toppling of Les Moonves at CBS, plus some natural-born instincts led ole Shari straight to her throne.
Read “‘She Won’t Be Manageable!’ They said. Now She’s in Charge.” here.
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"The phrase office wife seems to have been coined in the second half of the 19th century, when the former U.K. Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone used it to describe the oneness of mind and uncalculating commitment shared by a minister and his (male) secretary. In later decades, the expression became a means of referring to secretaries more generally—that is, to typically female assistants who handled their boss’s tedious affairs at work as his wife did at home."