Happy Woman Blues
The Ernest and Julio Gallo of newsletters is savoring a piece of not-totally-awful post-Roe news, checking in with X Æ A-XII’s folks, and wiki-ing our magnificent metatarsals.
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.
Everyone’s “favorite” literary critic has outdone herself. We’ve read a lot of Merve Emre, and surely so have you, given how she shows up everywhere, all the time, including in the Spread. But in this week’s New Yorker, girl lets it rip on what, even for us—two mothers who never tire of telling you alllll about our perpetual state of red-in-the-face exasperation—is a third-rail topic: “Mom rage.” Who out there recalls Minna Dubin’s 2019 New York Times essay, “The Rage Mothers Don’t Talk About”? In it she detailed the unbridled fury she felt at her then-toddler son—seeking solidarity in the reveal of a deep, dark secret she believed to be something like universal, and brewing in the breast of mothers specifically. Apparently, Dubin heard from countless women after it was published, thanking her for her honesty. Enter a book contract. And a book critic who, bad news for Dubin, is fiercely well-read on the topic of women and rage. Merve Emre’s review of Mom Rage: The Everyday Crisis of Modern Motherhood is lacerating. As she swims against the cultural tide of the past decade-plus of women’s writing—with its call to “normalize” our once-verboten moods and failures and impulses—it’s like hearing a needle screech across a record1. Wait, is “rage” felt by every mother? Is rage even specific to mothers? Is it a cop-out to blame it on the patriarchy? And, really, how much of a pass should we be giving ourselves—maybe losing our shit with our children is something we should feel a healthy amount of shame over?
What’s our takeaway? It’s not so tidy. At some moments, the bluntness of Dubin’s writing does make us feel “seen,” less alone in our darkest parenting moments. More often, though, Emre’s nuanced assessment of Dubin’s thesis—and indeed, of a line of thought that we all tend to accept at face value these days—feels incredibly gratifying. This battle of the brains is exactly the kind of thing your Spreaditors are here for.
Let the games begin,
Rachel & Maggie
P.S. Reason to watch the new season of The Morning Show: A cameo by the sexiest sex therapist in all the land. Also, Don Draper. Older and wider but damn, baby’s still got it.
Why are you wasting time reading this blurb about the story when you could be reading the story??
In his editor’s letter for the October issue of the Atlantic, Jeffrey Goldberg introduces senior editor Jenisha Watts’s cover essay, “Jenisha from Kentucky,” thus: “I cannot summarize it for you. I can only say that it is a beautiful and transcendent story, one that takes time to read and absorb.” I found the time to read it over the weekend, and while I’m still absorbing, yeah, I see what Goldberg means. With perfect pacing and in heartrending detail—and in such unflowery yet effective prose!—Watts unfurls the life story she hid for years: of being raised by a crack-addicted mother; of developing a love of words in the most unlikely of places; of hiding her past but also taking help where she could get it, to carve out a new life that is unimaginably far away from her origins. I’ll be pondering Watts’s ascent and her storytelling for a long time to come.—Maggie
Read it here.
Pain is afoot.
When I saw the display copy in this week’s New Yorker, I was ready to be delighted, maybe even laugh: The boundary-pushing comedian Ziwe had delivered an essay about getting a so-so ranking on wikiFeet, a foot fetish website whose users rank celebrity tootsies. In the New Yorker! This would be fun! In actuality, the piece, which is adapted from Ziwe’s new essay collection, Black Friend, isn’t so frothy: It’s an unflinching self-analysis of the physical insecurities of her “ugly duckling” youth that to this day affect her world view. It’s hard to read any woman reeling off her perceived flaws; to hear it from a woman who made her name harshing on others is…interesting. Worth reading, to be sure, just prepare yourself for a therapy session, not a night at the Comedy Cellar.—Rachel
Read it here.
The clash of the female titans that wasn’t.
Last Wednesday, “1,600 plaid-skirted e-girls and be-khakied normies and the aspiring canceled paid as much as $165 a seat to hear a British ideologue, a deft Dimes Square shape-shifter, an ex-Muslim podcaster, and Techno Mechanicus’s mother debate the resolution.” Somebody over at New York mag is thanking their lucky stars right now for Kerry Howley, who is self-assured enough to sum up that hot mess in a single sentence. Bari Weiss convened the lineup—Louise Perry, author of The Case Against the Sexual Revolution; Sarah Haider, cofounder of the nonprofit Ex-Muslims of North America; Anna Khachiyan, one half of the terrifying duo behind the RedScare podcast; and singer/activist/ex-Musk-ovite Grimes—to debate the question,“Has the sexual revolution failed?” Their positions on that question? Well, they never quite got there.... Nevertheless it’s worth a mental note: These are the “female titans” Weiss chose to draw a paying crowd to debate this topic. (Huh!) In the end, these supposed firebrands all kinda…agreed? They all hate porn, support abortion, and believe that we need paid childcare and that mothers are undervalued in our society. Why not put that $165 we just saved you into a paid Spread subscription?—Maggie
Read “Scenes From the End of the Sexual Revolution” here.
Bless his heart.
After spending my early twenties worshiping at the altar of John Jeremiah Sullivan (oh c’mon, don’t act like you’re not guilty of the same), these days I don’t have the most patience for Writerly Man Writers. It’s a timing thing and a taste thing—maybe even more about me than them? (Maybe?) For the Bitter Southerner, Writerly Man Wyatt Williams lays it on thick in “Lucinda Williams and the Idea of Louisiana” as he weaves together a love letter to Lucinda and his own family history. And—in a twist!—it works even for a curmudgeon like me: Not only was Wyatt’s upbringing on the outskirts of New Orleans undeniably cinematic, his appreciation for Lucinda goes deeper than a turn of phrase. And the writing, once you give in to it, is kind of a blast, too: “You could call what I was doing research—but you could just as well call it a séance,” he writes of his obsession with Lucinda’s memoir. “I was looking for ghosts.”—Rachel
Read it here.
My mother, the dictator.
“A mother is continually seen by her children, whether or not she credits them with a point of view. From the beginning they are amassing images of her, of her body in all its angles and positions and moods. Her body becomes the known point from which they broach all that is unknown. They see her mainly when she is paying them no attention; when her attention comes it is seismic, as though an actor had suddenly turned and addressed a member of the audience. They see her when she thinks she is alone, despite the fact that they are there. These witnesses of her that have grown out of her can startle or displease her with the independence—the non-bias—of their observations. They are not extensions of her own will and consciousness, and in this way they inform her that she cannot control what is known about her and does not entirely know herself, that they know more about her than she does about them, since they have not yet become themselves. Yet her power to wound them is limitless.”
Buckle up and read “The Spy” here.
Votes for Women!
The past 452 days have felt grim. Since Roe was overturned, laser-focused and steadfast journalists like Stephania Taladrid, Caroline Kitchener, and Jessica Valenti have reminded us every day (literally, in Valenti’s case) of the damage women across the country are suffering as a result, and the high-stakes next steps in the fight for abortion rights. Then, this weekend, in sauntered Emily Bazelon with some hopeful (and hard-won) news: “Unexpectedly, in red and purple states that have put the question directly to the public—asking people to reject or support abortion rights in a ballot measure—they have voted against new restrictions,” she writes in the New York Times Magazine. The article, which comes with some handy maps, lays out the status of battleground states across the country, speaks to strategists on both sides of the war, and tees up the make-or-break initiatives on the ballot this fall. A huge one: Ever-crucial Ohio voters will decide whether to enshrine abortion rights, and so far? The polling’s looking good.—Rachel
Read “The Surprising Places Where Abortion Rights Are on the Ballot, and Winning” here.
Thank you to our crush Kara Swisher, for this 50-word review of a book that, let’s be honest, we were never going to read.
Why did Drew, in particular, get the “full Game of Thrones shame bell treatment”?
Right before we pressed “publish” last week, I deleted the Drew Barrymore-is-canceled post I’d written. Because, not gonna lie, I’m very into Drew. Not her show, which is too schmaltzy even for me. But I loved this cover story about her soul-searching, unabashedly emo approach to life and TV so much, I may or may not have used a photo from it as my computer screensaver. [Pause for laughter.] Anyway, I wasn’t quite ready to trash her, no matter how terrible her decision to cross the WGA+ SAG/AFTRA picket lines to re-open her show. Vulture put Josef Adalian and Kathryn VanArendonk on the case: Why, with Kelly & [Insert-latest-co-host-here] and The View back on air, did Drew draw a special kind of ire? In addition to lots of inside-baseball info on the technical details of the strike in this Q&A, there was also this fist-pump-worthy bite of analysis by VanArendonk: Drew is a “unique, perfect storm for a blowback narrative. Her public identity is something between ‘beautiful, delicate empath’ and ‘motherrrrrrrr!!!’.” We love her because her approach to her show “is more driven by feelings than by careful assessment of the media landscape.” On Sunday night, Drew walked it back, giving into the pressure to close the show down during the strike. Rachel, I already had to park my Lizzo tee in the bottom of my drawer. What does this mean for my screensaver?—Maggie
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Emre even takes Dubin’s publisher to task: “There are times when one wants to shield both Dubin and her son from such exposure, and times, too, when one feels rage toward Seal Press, which should have used better editorial discretion with a first-time author. Aptly enough, the fortunes of Seal Press echo, in a way, the current mainstreaming of feminist theory in nonfiction publishing.”