Don't Call It A Comeback
The Romy and Michele of newsletters is back—wait, some of you *didn't* take off for a chunk of National Women's Month??—with a new party-girl drip and the Dolly dose you didn’t know you needed.
“I am not a military, just a woman, just normal human. Just a person, like all people of my country,” reads an Instagram caption by Anastasiia Lenna, a former Miss Ukraine who’s gone from posting photos of herself in a pink bikini to posing in fatigues, gripping an assault weapon, with the hashtag #handsoffukraine. Usually, the Spread starts each week with a light amuse-bouche, some riff on hating our husbands or shaving our legs (OK, we’ve haven’t sunk that low…yet). And lord knows in the two weeks since we last spoke the interwebs have given us plenty of loose-lipped fodder to fling over the net at you like so many badminton birdies, whether it’s Jane Campion becoming our own personal hero (“B-I-T-C-H”? O-M-G ❤️) just a blink before flapping her gums about Venus and Serena, digging a white feminist hole from which she may never return; or Tulsi Gabbard—who does have a Cruella DeVille white streak in her hair that, in the Disneyverse at least, would be a major red flag—is going on about…what the hell is Tulsi going on about? Whatever it is, Tucker Carlson says she’s right and when we read that, we close up shop.
But this week, our heads, like yours, are full of Ukraine-born babies stuck in basement nurseries, mothers forced to put young sons on trains all by themselves to escape their hometowns, and old women handing seeds to Russian soldiers “so that sunflowers will bloom in the place where you die.” According to CNN, 15 percent of the Ukranians fighting Russia are women, including volunteers like Lenna—or 79-year-old Valentyna Konstantynovska (pictured below)—newly schooled in firearms operation and molotov-cocktailing. “Women fighting in deadly battles is the darkest sort of feminism,” writes Washington Post columnist Monica Hesse. “Nobody wants gender equality in war because nobody wants war.” Yet it is undeniably a kind of progress: As recently as Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Crimea, Ukrainian women were not officially allowed to hold combat positions. Female volunteers who did fight on the front lines were recorded on paper as seamstresses, cleaners, and cooks. Slate covers their path to legitimacy—due at least in part to a documentary from a group of sociologists and activists known as Invisible Battalion, which opened up a broader conversation about the role of women in the military.
In a surreal twist, in week two of its merciless attack on Ukraine—and right around the time Putin’s forces struck a maternity hospital in Mariupol—Russia proceeded with its annual celebration of International Women’s Day. Hey, the show must go on, right? In this bizarro beauty pageant for female soldiers, called “Makeup Under Camouflage” (sheesh) women went toe-to-toe on, among other things, their first aid skills; their ability to survive a fire-assault zone with radiation, chemical and biological threats; and of course the critical stuff—their dance moves and combat-makeup application expertise.
It’s heavy-duty stuff, but we’re here to process it all with you, dear Spreaders.
Love / любов,
Rachel & Maggie
What can we say? Bish gives great cover story.
Vanity Fair’s cover story on Grimes—the extraterrestrial and/or Canadian high-concept maker of music that I am not really qualified to describe—got major pick up last week because of a big reveal: Grimes and her sometime-soulmate Elon Musk have a secret second child, delivered via surrogate and happily ensconced in the fairly ordinary Texas home where Grimes now resides (with the kids, in her own house) in order to be close to Musk’s Tesla home base. Here, friends, is a magazinxe cover story of yore—the kind in which famous people do or say things that are simply NOT LIKE OTHER PEOPLE. Writer Devin Gordon rolls around in every zany detail, but also treats Grimes with due respect as a musician. The story delves into the moral gray area the musician now finds herself in: Fans first fell in love with her as an off-the-grid vegan renegade, the kind of anticapitalist who chooses to live in a tent and gets stopped by the police for trying to sail a barge made of actual garbage down the Mississippi. Now she is the sometime-partner of the world’s douchiest bazillionaire, who considers her so compatible with his brain waves that he wonders if she’s just an AI bot, sent to sync with him. Will the real Grimes please stand up? And: Will fans be happier now that the New York Post is reporting that Grimes is not with Elon at all but rather shacked up in Texas with…Chelsea Manning? I mean, of course she is.—Maggie
I’d like to take the occasion of Grimes’s second baby’s birth via surrogate to announce my own pregnancy via surrogate. Unlike Grimes—who employed a surrogate due to health issues with the first moonbeam-hologram-space-ice cream baby—I’m just doing it because I don’t want to mess up my gorgeous, perfectly tuned body. I am paying the surrogate generously, providing her with a Sakara Life-trained personal chef, and sending my private Pilates instructor to her house daily. Except, of course, I am not doing any of this. But I am pregnant! Yep, baking a fetus in my own God-given, pasty, already wrecked body that underwent this whole thing just a little over a year ago. Coming in July, this babe will complete our existing brood of two parents, two big kids, one toddler, and two cats. I recently test-drove a minivan and it couldn’t make it up our weirdly steep driveway. Please send six-plus-seater vehicle ideas. Also: Prayers.—Rachel
RB, Felicitations! Of course I’ve known this since before you even knew it—such is the quality of our mind-meld (back off, Elon)—and now that our pregnancy is going public, and everyone can finally know the truth about my body (it’s just sympathy weight, y’all!), I was wondering: What do you think we’ll call Baby July? Some thoughts: Miranda July Baker Burnett. Baby Spread Baker? Eiggam? (That’s Maggie backward, duh.) Or, we could just riff on “spreads”...Marmalade? Nutella? Tzatziki? Oh maybe that’s more of a dip…—Love, Auntie M.
Read “Infamy Is Kind Of Fun” here.
Help find a name for the Spread’s forthcoming baby here.
Not to sound like Bari Weiss, but…
Nervous yet? Here we go. I’ve long been a fan of Blackout writer Sarah Hepola, but her recent essay in the Atlantic—“Things I’m Afraid to Write About”—left me with a neckache from furiously nodding throughout its 4,000 precise words. Hepola writes carefully about the conundrum that many writers—and I’d like to add college students and dinner-party guests and school-board members—face in this world of progressive consensus and Twitter pile ons. The reputational stakes are so high—and the record of the internet so permanent—that she and so many of us find ourselves whispering our real thoughts to our closest confidantes, rather than go out on a limb and actually write something interesting or contrarian or heartfelt that might be seen as incorrect or tasteless or insensitive or off-color or even reprehensible by the lefty mainstream of the moment. (This is why, save for the occasional Spread lovefest, I’ve stopped tweeting.) Hepola gets at the nub of the paradox early in her essay: “My cohort and I had grown up wanting it both ways: a safe career, and an artistic one. We wanted the premium Scotch and the bragging rights of being an outsider.” She speaks for what I’m guessing is many of us: “I’d long considered myself a liberal and a feminist, but I’d grown terrified of being banished for views I considered reasonable, or at least worth discussing—but maybe, but what about, but actually.…The unwritten rule of elite media tribes seemed to be this: You spout the company line, or you shut up.”
I felt all of this deeply last week when University of Virginia student Emma Camp published an op-ed in the New York Times about self-censorship in the classroom: Camp, a self-professed liberal, feels that if she challenges the pervasive lefty ideology, she’ll be ostracized or maybe even get a lower grade. In one feminist-theory class discussion, she piped up to say that she believed that non-Indian women like herself were entitled to criticize the ritual suicide practice by Indian widows called suttee; the reaction by her class and professor were awkward at best, angry at worst. I’ll tell you here now—since we’re among friends—that my immediate reaction was, “You go, girl!” (I know, I’m showing my age; cancel me.) Not because her argument was perfect (it wasn’t) or because, as a white columnist for the campus paper who has many outlets for her opinions, she was the perfect messenger (clearly not). But because she was a young woman from my local college who got her op-ed published in the New York Freakin’ Times and was making an argument that she felt deeply and also that had some merit and real thinking behind it. Mazel tov to her. No sooner had I begun to deeply consider the content of her argument than was I bombarded by tweets taking this kid down—tweets from actual New York Times columnists and Pulitzer Prize-winning thinkers and even journalism professors from UVA! (My face is hot.) Is punching down not something we try to avoid anymore? If a vibe shift is coming, here’s hoping it brings some—dare I say it?—civility (ha! I said it!) and care for one another as we try to sort through life together.
Like Hepola, I too think that some conversations about #MeToo do take away the agency of women, and I think there can be real gray areas when it comes to sexual consent, AND I sometimes feel pressured not to say what I think at a party for fear of not being invited back. All of this, especially the party thing, is—I know—kind of dumb, but it also feels necessary in order to take ourselves and one another seriously. A form of respect if there ever was one.—Rachel
Read “The Things I’m Afraid to Write About” here.
Read “I Came to College Eager to Debate. I Found Self-Censorship Instead.” here.
The barn is burning.
For Bloomberg Businessweek, Olivia Carville dives into sexual abuse in elite equestrian circles. The deeply reported piece focuses on the watchdog group SportSafe, which was created in response to the revelations around Larry Nassar and USA Gymnastics. I was shocked to learn that proportionally, SportSafe has received more complaints in the horseback-riding world than in any other sport, resulting in the highest rate of suspension for the individuals reported (most are coaches). Victims credit the organization for putting an end to many cases of abuse and protecting many other would-be victims, but a chunk of the equestrian establishment think the rules are too restrictive—especially when it affects the horses and handlers they’ve invested in. Reading it, I kept thinking, this should be a movie—a really sad, disturbing movie. And then I realized, it kind of already is: The Tale, which HBO bought at Sundance in a buzzy 2018 deal, is a heart-wrenching recounting of childhood abuse in which Laura Dern’s now-grown character retraces her teen “romance” with her horse trainer and finally sees it as the abuse it is. The film (available on HBOMax) is a hard watch—which, maybe, is why you haven’t seen it—but the performances by Dern, Elizabeth Debicki, Jason Ritter, and Isabelle Nélisse, who plays the Dern character’s younger self, do justice to a very tough story and will stick with you.—Rachel
Dear Rachel, Do you think it’s mere coincidence that this is being published by Bloomberg Businessweek, which not only caters to the kind of people who say “equestrian” and not “horsey-riding,” but also was founded by the father of the only equestrian I can name off the top of my head, Georgina Bloomberg? Love, your favorite conspiracy theorist.—Maggie
Maggie, so glad you asked! Georgina and Big Mike are mentioned in the piece as examples of the kind of superrich riders and parental benefactors common at this level of the sport. Carville is a really good reporter who hits all her marks on the disclaimers front, too. Unfortunately, no conspiracy warranted here. Sorry!—Rachel
Read “What Happened At the Stables” here.
“A spa day for the soul”?
Rachel, I’ve talked about it here before and I’m telling you again now, I’m getting close. It’s only gonna take, like, three or four more New York Times Style section stories on psychedelics to get me off the bench. Writers Dani Blum and our old pal Marisa Meltzer—who always has several fingers on the pulse—report on a new wave of luxury spa-style centers that are plugging IV drips of ketamine into clients’ arms. Yup, the horse tranq the kids used to do in the back room of Tunnel has made it all the way to the world of “wellness.” The FDA has approved a form of ketamine, delivered as a nasal spray, for mental health. Needless to say, getting pumped full of a ketamine solution at a spa constitutes “off-label” use—even though the centers Meltzer and Blum write about require medical and mental health screenings and blood tests ahead of time, and assign each client a mental health professional to talk them through their journey. So civilized! Except I couldn’t really tell what the payoff is? One woman told Meltzer she had flashbacks of her mother wrapping birthday presents and, afterward, felt like she was waking from a great sleep. At $1,500 a pop? Almost makes me long for the back room of Tunnel…—Maggie
Read “A Ketamine Clinic Treads the Line Between Health Care and a ‘Spa Day for Your Brain’” here.
All single ladies throw their hands up.
In this month’s Elle, a lengthy trend story trains its gaze on a population that’s had it with this “flexible” pandemic work B.S.—and it’s not the one the Spread is typically whinging about: Single, childless women. The article makes the case that these women have been bearing the brunt of office work because coworkers and bosses assume they have nothing better to do during a global pandemic than churn-churn-churn and keep piling work upon them. Author Kelli Maria Korducki makes this point many times over—at times with shocking details: One dehydrated woman had to go to the hospital from overwork; another woman passed out during a wee-hours Zoom call—reiterating the thesis to a degree that it burned me out vicariously for these women. I wish Korducki had spent a little space exploring the other side of the coin in this scenario: If workaholism has become its own pandemic among certain predisposed females, what’s it like to work for one of these high-achieving, all-in single women while juggling outside responsibilities, parental or otherwise? I’ve heard from friends that it’s difficult! And I see with my own eyes that it’s complicated!
This isn’t the first time we’ve heard about single gals getting the short end of the after-hours schtick: Back in the halcyon days when Marie Claire was a print magazine with solid working-woman features, they published a piece by Ayana Byrd called “The Single Girl’s Second Shift” that I think holds up, the thesis being that while colleagues with children have to live by work-life balance and draw boundaries at work, singles end up stuck with the overflow.—Rachel
Read “It’s the End of the World As We Know It. And We’re Stuck At Work.” here.
The woman in the hotel.
I confess that over these past 19 days of atrocities, my mind has occasionally wandered over to the very least important place in it: What of fashion’s favorite Muscovite, Dasha Zhukova, the socialite slash art world macher/former oligarch wife/bestie of Derek Blasberg and Jennifer Meyer behind Moscow’s cutting-edge Garage Museum of Contemporary Art? Any Russian who publicly disavows Putin risks 15 years in prison, or worse. But surely any museum founder who does not publicly disavow Putin risks losing her relationships with artists? WWDD? When I checked last week, Dasha’s Insta was disturbingly status quo. She did seem to be having a great time in St. Moritz, though! Thankfully,Vanity Fair provided a breakdown of everything my shallow heart needed to know.—Maggie
Read “Russia’s Red-Hot Temple of Contemporary Art, and Its Jet-Setting Cofounder, Are Losing Major Exhibitions” here.
Why’d you come here thinkin’ like that?
Ah, the odes to Dolly Parton! They arrive early and often, via New Yorker profiles, narrative podcasts, write-around tributes, and thought-provoking Twitter threads. And there’s always a new peg: A profession of love for Taco Bell’s Mexican Pizza, a new novel, a live-saving vaccine. So when I saw that Plough had published another valentine to the only national treasure it seems we can all get behind, I shook off my ennui and thought: This too will be nice. And the Plough is kind of an interesting outlet for such a thing! The essay, by St. John’s College philosophy professor Mary Townsend, is subtitled “The beloved Tennessee singer-songwriter gets the joke. Do the rest of us?” But what awaited me was so much more. Townsend—who I am now following on Twitter and can’t wait to read more from—teaches undergrads about the philosophy of character, aka goodness, a topic that’s hard to sex up. Enter Dolly, who Townsend positions as the embodiment of Aristotle’s kalos—a Greek word that has no direct English translation but loosely means “something that is good but also lovely, perfectly beautiful while astonishingly good; never merely a duty but always a pleasure.” It’s kind of a mic drop moment. The piece points to fun Dolly facts and explores Townsend’s students’ Dolly-love, despite being more than a half-century her junior. (There are echoes of Gen Z’s love for Joan Didion in here, but given Dolly’s perfection I’ll let it slide.) Just when my own ardor was reignited, just yesterday, more Dolly news broke—as it tends to do: She’s turning down a slot in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. She doesn't want to split votes, and she doesn’t feel quite rock-and-roll enough—yet (she says this event has inspired her to do an outright rock album). Maggie, What do you think of this development? Just Dolly being Dolly or a rare, overly humble misstep from the queen of country?—Rachel
Seems savvy to me, Rach. Dolly holds a rare power with her country base, and she’s working from inside country music to shift stereotypes and do good. And sell a shit-ton of tickets to Dollywood. If she goes rebranding herself as rock ’n roll in these divisive times, even Dolly could lose her Nashville pedestal. I shudder to think.—Maggie
Read “Dolly Parton Is Magnificent” here.
The wide world of sports.
Tomorrow, lightning rod trans swimmer Lia Thomas will compete in the NCAA Women’s Division I Swimming and Diving Championships in Atlanta. This is not an event I typically mark on my calendar, though for the record I did slog through five years on middle and high school swim teams, enough to know: She fast. Robert Sanchez writes for Sports Illustrated that Thomas has become “a living, breathing, real-time Rorschach test for how society views those who challenge conventions.” You can’t read this story without feeling moved by her bravery and psychological stamina, after being opposed and sometimes name-called by everyone from icons of her sport to her own teammates. “Every day this season felt like a challenge to her humanity,” Sanchez writes. But the fascinating thing about trans women joining women’s sports teams is that, while Fox News types are predictably slavering over this story—and there’s no great surprise about where they stand—it puts even some diehard progressives in unfamiliar territory: Opposing the convention-challenger. As soon as Thomas joined the Penn women’s team after three seasons competing against men, she killed, setting pool, school, and Ivy League records. There’s an outside chance that this week she could beat the collegiate records set by America’s favorite Olympic swimmers, Katie Ledecky and Missy Franklin. Opponents argue that’s not just talent and determination; it’s because, despite the fact that she’s on Hormone Replacement Therapy now, because Thomas went through puberty as a male, she has a biological advantage. These opponents cite research showing that trans women have bigger hands and feet, larger hearts, more lung capacity, and greater bone density—which makes the playing field uneven. Telling a woman she can’t join the team she identifies with, in the sport she’s dedicated her life to, seems grossly unfair. But how fair is it to have to compete against someone who has an innate advantage you could never match? And then again: Can these progressive opponents have it both ways—can they call themselves trans allies if they don’t believe trans women should be allowed to compete against other women?—Maggie
Maggie, I have a total of zero answers to the smart questions you pose. But! Speaking of sports—I guess we’re a sports blog now?—I have been searching far and wide for a 360-degree evaluation of what’s going on with WNBA star Brittney Griner, who has been detained in Russia (where she plays in the off-season) for more than a month. The piece I’m looking for—which involves an economic and cultural investigation on professional women’s basketball in the US and Russia—doesn’t seem to exist (if it does and I missed it, holler!), but Jemele Hill’s recent Atlantic column satisfies from a context and rage perspective: Hill writes about how it’s the WNBA’s fault—and by extension the NBA’s, too—that America’s star players are drawn to the Russian league in the first place, with Griner making $221,450 stateside and more than $1 million over there. Hill writes that if there’s only one silver lining from this maddening and tragic turn of events for Griner, it will be a new sense of scrutiny on how we treat American pro-athlete women. I’m here for it—let’s start with that investigation. You listening, ESPN?—Rachel
Read “‘I Am Lia’: The Trans Swimmer Dividing America Tells Her Story” here.
Read “Brittney Griner’s Plight Says More About America Than Russia” here.
Take your lip service and shove it.
ICYMI: Last week, while the Spread was kicking back with mai tais and foot massages on International Women’s Day—ok fine, we took the week off from working on the Spread so we could do other work: You got us. Are you happy now?—we took a few minutes to cackle and scroll through our new favorite Twitter account. If you missed the Gender Pay Gap Bot, please give yourself the gift of catching up now. Run by a pair of Brits, Francesca Lawson and Ali Fensome, the account retweeted self-congratulatory International Women’s Day messages from companies and organizations alongside real politic about those organizations’ records on pay parity. As in: Reposting consulting behemoth McKinsey’s celebration of “the amazing women of McKinsey,” the bot says: “In this organization, women’s median hourly pay is 22.3 percent lower than men’s.” Boo-yah! Of course, this was only possible because in the UK, all companies with more than 250 employees must post their gender pay gap data, due to a regulation that went into effect in 2017. Double boo-yah!—Maggie
Read Lawson and Fensome’s talk with Politico about the “Hallmarkification” of these social-issue awareness events here.