Processing the unimaginable. And waxing philosophical on life’s big questions, including the sphinx that is Kate Moss.
This week’s newsletter was ready to go out the door when the alerts started pouring in. “School shooting”...“18 children”...”Uvalde, Texas.” No. No. Not another one. We hesitated to click the links, knowing that once we had, we’d be adrift in the all-too-familiar feelings—the shock, the grief, the fury at a broken system that allows mass shootings to keep taking the lives of American schoolchildren. As mothers of young children, what happened today in Texas is our worst nightmare. Our hearts are with the families of the 20 victims, as of the latest count, tonight. And with you, readers, who will no doubt be holding your friends and loved ones extra close.
Rachel & Maggie
Let’s start at the beginning.
Maggie regularly accuses me of getting overly excited about things (TV shows, articles, the fizzy water at Chick-fil-A): “Rachel, you’re such a rah-rah camp counselor type.” It’s a label that I accept with great enthusiasm—of course—and also humility (thank you always, Maggie!) and one that I am wearing today on my maternity-top sleeve, because: Friday’s episode of the Ezra Klein Show, “The Ethics of Abortion,” was soooo good. I want everyone to listen to it! The hour-long conversation with Oxford law professor/philosopher Kate Greasley, who seems to be around my age and according to Google wears her hair in a rootsy middle part that looks great on her, aims to throw out all preconceived and/or politically motivated ideas about abortion, to get at the squishy fundamentals of whether—and when—it’s a moral choice. I have never found Klein more human. He and Greasley delve into fascinating questions about personhood, and touch on all sorts of questions that have become third-rail territory for capital-F feminists—the relationship between miscarriage and abortion; a vague mention of abortion in the Bible. I emerged as pro-choice as ever, but convinced that the left is going about our fight all wrong. “My body, my choice,” for instance, isn’t going to get us very far if we have any real desire to convince an audience that believes that to abort is to kill a person. As we white-knuckle through this chapter of Roe’s last gasp, this was a welcome ideological reset, necessary in a moment of stifling partisan gridlock.
Elsewhere on the Roe beat, there’s a LOT of excellent journalism going on now that everyone’s had time to process the leak and pump out longer-lead pieces in its wake. New York mag continues to go big on post-Roe reality, with a service-heavy (basically the opposite of the aforementioned Klein-Greasley convo) cover package, titled “This Magazine Can Help You Get An Abortion” that includes a state-by-state “Find an Abortion Clinic Near You” tool hosted by the Cut as well as a guide to getting a medication abortion. (If you haven’t read last week’s Irin Carmon essay, “I, Too, Have a Human Form,” which isn’t part of the print issue, click right here.) Meanwhile, here goes Spread goddess/Atlantic writer Helen Lewis, back at her argument for using the word “women” as opposed to the newishly in vogue “pregnant people,” this time as a tactic more than anything. At this point I’m all about the tactical. And the philosophical. And where the two meet.—Rachel
Listen to Greasley and Klein talk “The Ethics of Abortion” here and read the transcript here.
The Trial—yes, that trial—is bringing out my character flaws.
In the immortal words of Dr. Jake Houseman, “When I’m wrong, I say I’m wrong.” A couple weeks back, I mouthed off about the Heard/Depp dumpster fire, quoting Johnny’s therapist, who said that in her opinion, theirs was a relationship of “mutual abuse”—I may have even said (or maybe I just thought) the unconscionable: Why didn’t she just leave the asshole?—knowing, even as I fired off these words, that they’d be back to bite me. Cue Michelle Goldberg’s persuasive op-ed in the New York Times, reminding neanderthals like me that mutual abuse is a concept that most domestic violence experts entirely dispute, and pointing out that there’s nothing “mutual” about the siege of online vitriol smearing Heard in the press—some of it funded by right wing orgs, which now apparently care what happens in celebrity breakups?—and also nothing new about ridiculing women who come forward about abuse. Goldberg is one of several recent voices—including two impressive Jessicas, Bennett (New York Times) and Winter (the New Yorker)—illuminating the anti-woman darkness this trial has unleashed. Winter’s piece, posted yesterday, makes quick work of explaining why, from a legal perspective, it’s bizarre that Depp stands any chance of winning. The combined effect of all three stories is a strong urge to cleanse my brain of this sicko sludge. But Rachel, the UsWeekly side of me keeps winning out over the Atlantic side. How am I supposed to resist the disgust and, yes, titillation of a trial that is this deeply entwined with 30 years of pop culture and what feels weirdly like my own history? I felt a spike of shame when Winter enumerated, among the various cohorts of Depp’s raging fan base, “women who were in middle school when Edward Scissorhands came out.” Gulp. Thing is, it’s not Depp that’s got me fixated. It’s not Heard either. It’s the specter of all the other women who have loved him: Winona? (Forever!) Kate? Vanessa? The man’s dating résumé reads like a murderer’s row of my former girl crushes. Now, last night, word arrived that Kate bloody Moss has been called by Depp’s legal team to take the stand, presumably to refute Heard’s testimony about “Kate Moss and stairs.” I should hate this idea: one woman being brought in to publicly chip away at the case of another woman—especially since I’m 99 percent sure Heard was emotionally and physically abused in their marriage, and certain she’s being beaten up in the public eye now. But it’s also…catnip? Kate, the sphinx, the party girl who hates interviews, who never kisses and tells, is TAKING THE STAND. GoldbergGoldbergGoldberg! I chanted inwardly last night, trying to om myself to higher ground. Do not google “Kate Johnny Viper Room ’90s,” Maggie. Do Not Do That. That Is Bad. Rachel, guess what I did from midnight to 1 a.m.?—Maggie
Maggie, I have done my darndest to ignore the Heard-Depp spectacle altogether. However, when word came last night that Kate freakin’ Moss would be entering the chat—in a speaking role—all bets were off. My heart does hurt for Amber, whose 2015 Elle cover and cover story by Jessica Pressler will always be among my favorites. I’m sure she’s been wronged six ways to Sunday, and I hope deeply that her abusers get their comeuppance. But this is Kate Moss, and if I’m being true to myself—and my therapist says authenticity is everything!—I’m tuning in for at least her slice of it.—Rachel
Read Goldberg’s “Amber Heard and the Death of #MeToo” here.
Read Bennett’s “Why We Love to Watch a Woman Brought Low” here.
Read Winter’s “The Johnny Depp-Amber Heard Trial Is Not as Complicated as You May Think” here.
Get your grin on.
You may have heard that Julia Roberts is back in our lives for the first time since 2018’s Homecoming. Allegedly, there are people out there who are immune to the Julianess of Julia Roberts, but I am not one of them. For me, it is a gift from Aurora, Female Archangel of Peace—yes, I just I looked up “lady angel”—that in Starz’s Gaslit, she plays Martha Mitchell, the “mouth of the south” who became a thorn in the side of the Nixon administration during Watergate. (Also Starzing: Sean Penn, GLOW’s Betty Gilpin, and Dan Stevens, who’ll always be THE BEAST to me.) The show is pretty good, but even better is the pleasure of this essay in the Believer (which is enjoying a little homecoming of its own) by T Kira Māhealani Madden—“a gay, Jewish woman of color” who obsessively and joyfully collects Julia Roberts memorabilia. She and her wife don’t want to sleep with Julia, she’s careful to point out; they relish her as a wellspring of charisma and joy, a one-woman fairy tale, a rom-com incarnate. Of their fleece blanket bearing Pretty Woman-era Julia in that blue-and-white minidress: “I like to fold the blanket so her face and teeth are always showing, beaming from the couch, not her bare torso, not her legs—too objectifying.” Should Gaslit’s historical prestige drama leave you craving that signature Julia guffaw, catch David Marchese’s Talk column from a few weeks ago: Julia reveals little to nothing about her actual life. But the Julianess is palpable.—Rachel
Read “Object: Julia Roberts Memorabilia” here.
Read “Julia Roberts Hasn’t Changed, But Hollywood Has” here.
Turning Red, I feel you.
The first day I got my period, I carried my new pads to school in a big green-and-white purse made of ripstop nylon, not because, like some Judy Bloom heroine, I had longed for this day and was proud to be “grown-up,” but because I worried that repeatedly carrying my giant purple backpack into the bathroom—which was in a corner of our classroom—would attract attention. I didn’t consider the fact that I’d never carried a purse in my life, and that it would attract attention. Or that the white nylon of the purse was fairly sheer, and the label of the pads was clearly visible through it. So much for secrecy. Of course I didn’t think of those things: I was ten. I had boobs, bras, a noticeable adolescent weight gain, and now my period—years before any of my friends. Even now, remembering that day brings a flush of shame, plus a strong mourning for my own girlhood, which should have stretched on for years but in many ways was cut short by my own biology. This week’s story by Azeen Ghorayshi, who reports on the intersection of sex, gender, and science for the New York Times, alarmed me even before I started reading in earnest. In brief, puberty is happening earlier and earlier for girls. The average age has dropped by three months per decade since the ’70s, and more and more girls develop breasts as young as six or seven. There’s no shortage of theories: Early puberty has long been associated with rising levels of childhood obesity. A sedentary lifestyle seems to contribute; athletes or very thin girls—I was/am neither—tend to get their periods later. Endocrine-disrupting chemicals found in certain plastics, now ubiquitous, may contribute. And family stressors have been linked: Childhood abuse, and not living with a biological father in the house, are both factors. And perhaps because of some cocktail effect of some or all of the above, Black girls are much more likely to go through puberty early. But the thing that jumped out at me in Ghorayshi’s story—and that lit a fresh torch of rage—was that really, scientists don’t know why this is happening. Because, like pretty much everything having to do with women and hormones, puberty is still maddeningly mysterious and largely understudied. Paging MacKenzie Scott: Can we get a women’s health research grant up in this sitch? Like, stat?—Maggie
Read “Puberty Starts Earlier Than It Used To. No One Knows Why.” here.
This should be a movie: From not so bad to the worst.
Way back in the halcyon days of 2015, Elle magazine—where Maggie and I were then editors—named Elise Stefanik one of its annual Women in Washington honorees, alongside get-it-done-r Jen Psaki, Rachel Dratch-bait Amy Klobuchar, and now-dearly departed legends Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Gwen Ifill. Sigh. Stefanik, who won New York’s 21st district after graduating from Harvard and working in the Bush II White House, was the rare young, female, Republican superstar—the youngest woman ever elected to Congress, a super-moderate who bucked the party line. She and I were (are) the exact same age, and as luck would have it, my middle name was (is) Elise: a one-sided kinship was forming. But as Dana Milbank outlines in the Washington Post Opinions this week, Stefanik has since gone full J.D. Vance, selling her soul to Trump’s ugliest base as a leading election denier and now, in the wake of the Buffalo shooting, as a reckless evangelist for the boldly racist “great replacement” theory. The column is written through an interview with John Bridgeland, Stefanik’s former Harvard professor and champion, a senior advisor to George W. now “heartbroken” by her untruthful turn. (Bridgeland thinks maybe she’ll come back around one day, which at this point seems sweet and utterly delusional.) In the movie version, Anna Kendrick should play the unraveling antihero that is Stefanik; Colin Firth can brush up on his all-American accent as Bridgeland. In my dreams, Boo Killebrew of Mrs. America—whose name I really like and who hails from my home state of Mississippi—is set to script and Marielle Heller is on tap to direct.
Also new this week and ripe for the biopic treatment: Jennifer Gonnerman’s New Yorker profile on flight attendants’ union honcho Sara Nelson, whom you might remember from her Fast Company cover last year. This one’s a no-brainer: Charlize, start honing your acceptance speech now.—Rachel
Read “How Elise Stefanik, ‘bright light of a generation,’ chose a dark path” here.
Girl, you’ll be a woman soon.
Boy, did the Atlantic fight hard to Atlantic-ize Megan Garber’s new dual book review on Helen Gurley Brown’s classic Sex and the Single Girl, plus a new essay collection, Sex and the Single Woman, timed to the original’s 60th birthday—wedging it into the context of Roe and slapping on a stiff-upper-lip headline: “The Fight to Decouple Sex from Marriage.” With women’s rights set to roll backward in this country, Garber gives us the rundown on Brown’s feminist legacy—which, let’s be honest, is a bit of a mixed bag: Back in 1962, she dared to point out that women like sex, not just to please men, or to reproduce, but for their own pleasure. She told “women who were scouting the uncharted acreage between Miss and Mrs.,” as Garber puts it, to have as much sex as they want, serving up “a book-length brochure for a life that is free of marriage’s compromises and confinements.” Of course Brown was flawed (who isn’t?)—both ahead of her time, and a product of it: The women she was addressing were assumed to be white, straight, and well-off enough to live independently. And if they weren’t dependent on marriage, they were dependent on male desire—in Brown’s estimation, the greatest feeling a woman could experience. This discounts Brown’s mentality to the status of cautionary tale, in Garber’s estimation. Though SATSG “claimed to celebrate women’s pleasure,” she writes, “its primary concern was that women be pleasurable to other people.” What struck me though was an essay from the new collection, by author Samantha Allen, a trans woman, which Garber highlights: In my view, it’s amazing these two pieces exist within a century of each other. And as bad as the news for women is right now, we deserve a moment’s celebration of how far (parts of) society has come in a scant 60 years. Here’s Allen on the relationship she found after a long identity struggle: “I’m a woman married to a woman who’s attracted to women—a beautiful, parsimonious alignment of body and desire.” Helen Gurley Brown, writing in 1962, could never have imagined such a thing, Isn’t that…great?! —Maggie
Read “The Fight to Decouple Sex from Marriage” here.
Buy Sex and the Single Girl at our Bookshop here.
Buy Sex and the Single Woman: 24 Writers Update Helen Gurley Brown’s Cult Classic for a New Era at our Bookshop here.
Before we go…a Rorschach test: Which of these two women do you identify with?
As you can probably guess, both of your loyal Spreadmakers are solidly Team Melanie Lynskey, pictured here in her breakout role, in 1994’s Heavenly Creatures, opposite the ever-luminous Kate Winslet. Lynskey has been sparking joy in us ever since, though we never get as much of her as we want (it’s a tragedy that HBO’s Togetherness was only around for two seasons), and now we know why: In a convo with Vulture’s E. Alex Jung, she covers her goth teen years, her awkwardness in Hollywood, and—with amazing openness—how it felt to be paired with the successful, desired Winslet.
Read “In Conversation: Melanie Lynskey” here.