Discover more from The Spread
How Loose Is Your Goose?
The shirtless Chalamet and skirtless Stewart of newsletters is here to do more than recap the recaps.
We know, we know, you already lost a full workday to rehashes and various unmuted clips (thank you, Australians with DVR) of the slap heard ’round the world. Because we care about you and want you to remain productive members of society, we’re not here to go back down that rabbit hole. But there is one heretofore unexamined side effect that we think is worth noting. Yesterday, a cursory Twitter search left us stuck in a muck of repugnant vitriol—all aimed not at the smacker or the smackee but at one woman who was left holding the bag when the Oscars veered wildly off script. The night’s cohosts Wanda Sykes and Regina Hall seem to have come through largely unscathed. But not Amy Schumer. In a barrage of tweets, strangers insulted her body and her face, decried her as the most irritating person on Earth, and questioned whether there is anything funny about the woman at all. Sorry, what? And, huh? And…srrrsly? But the thing that really got us were the countless variations on: “Why couldn’t it have been Amy Schumer who got smacked?” This one was spewed by men and women alike.
Let’s remember who we’re talking about here. Whether or not you find Schumer national-treasure-level hilarious (we do, and we challenge anyone who does not to a duel, with water pistols, at dawn), this is a woman who has gone above and beyond to promote voting and abortion and LGBTQ rights, to share unvarnished truths about pregnancy, IVF, and how much she adores her husband, a hot chef who happens to be on the autism spectrum. After the murder of George Floyd, Schumer participated in Black Lives Matter vigils and workshops every day for six months. As her new Hollywood Reporter cover story reveals, after she told her 11 million Instagram followers to send her their #MeToo stories—posting a Community text line where she could be reached, “She started gathering victims—four from this guy; three from that one—and passing them along to lawyers, counselors and even the press.” Most recently, Schumer opened up about her struggle with trichotillomania, which got so severe in high school that she had to wear a wig (now a plotline on her new Hulu series, Life & Beth). And she’s done more to normalize the look of a real female body on screens large and small—flashing her beige control undergarments and weapons-grade brassieres for the all world to see—than anyone we can think of. She’s radically transparent, even when it comes to her decision to have liposuction: “Everybody on camera is doing this shit, I just wanted to be real about it.” But it seems that all this honesty has turned off at least as many people as it’s won over. “In recent years, she’s watched her venues shrink from 15,000-person arenas to 5,000-seat theaters, and has been pilloried from all corners of the internet,” notes the HR. Ok, but why? What is it about Amy Schumer that makes her a ready punching bag? One of our relatives recently told us they think her jokes are “disgusting.” But is it really about a filthy mouth? Or is it just safe to pile on a privileged white woman who can take it? Or is it just that people can’t stand to look at the kind of woman we’ve been conditioned to find repellent—even though that kind of woman looks a lot like…all the rest of us?
We must note that Hollywood’s Biggest Night’s Biggest Confrontation wasn’t the only thing to unfold in the seven days since we last landed in your inbox. This week also saw the death of brooch-loving powerhouse Madeleine Albright, a female director’s best director Oscar win, and the absurd, racist conspiracy-theory-fueled questioning of Ketanji Brown Jackson—which led to a hashtag we should never have needed: #whatisawoman? Hand shoots up in the air. Oooh, ooh, let us answer this one! Well, one woman is Amy Schumer…
Peace and love and quiet,
Rachel & Maggie
PS: To borrow and butcher a phrase: Get our name in your f%$king mouth! (Ok, that didn’t really work. Would it help if we added…please?) By that we mean, if you like us, please like us by pressing that heart up there, and also by passing us along to anyone who gets you and therefore might get us, whether that be your friend, your friend who’s like a sister, your actual sister, your sister wife, your sister’s wife, your work wife, or all of the above.
Take a deep breath. Then get thee to this issue.
The New Yorker’s Rachel Aviv is making me shake my fist at the injustices done to vulnerable kids by America’s flawed social-services system—yet again. This week she takes on now-24-year-old Mackenzie Fierceton, who first made headlines back when the University of Pennsylvania decided she’d inaccurately cried poverty in order to snag a Rhodes Scholarship. The truth, as illuminated by Aviv, is much more complex and also more heartbreaking: Fierceton (who chose that bold last name herself in her journey to independence) was abused by her mother throughout her childhood, during which she went to a fancy-ish private school outside St. Louis, but didn’t land in foster care—and find herself poor—until high school. Which, as she tells it, wasn’t poor enough or alone enough for the university or the press to consider her worthy of the hardship she claimed. The piece elegantly untangles ideas about how these kinds of institutions actually operate in relationship to equity and inclusion as well as the fuzziness around what qualifies someone to be considered a first-generation college student. Aviv’s reporting is comprehensive, her portrait of Fierceton crystal clear. The story is sad and involves many twists and turns, but it’s also very much worth your time (and if you want to spare your eyeballs, the New Yorker has put out a fantastic audio version for you). If you’re anything like me you’ll walk away from it wishing every kid like Mackenzie could have a Rachel Aviv on their case.
In the same issue, steely staff writer Paige Williams takes on a story that frankly I can imagine few other women wanting to report: The distressing, politically motivated, now-legal mass killing of wolves that is happening in Idaho (and beyond). Williams—who in a combo disclaimer/humblebrag I should mention is my toddler’s godmother—reports the hell out of this thorny and layered phenomenon, getting up close to both the pro-kill sportsmen, activists, and showboats (one is literally an aspiring YouTube star) and the pro-wolf environmentalists, who have helped the gray wolf finally get off the endangered species list in the state as recently as 2011. The title of the article says a lot (though not all—read this thing!): “Killing Wolves to Own the Libs?”—Rachel
Read about Mackenzie Fierceston’s nightmare here.
Read about the wolf killing here.
“How fetishization can in fact be murderous.”
It took the novelist Elaine Hsieh Chou four years to craft the essay she published this week in the Cut, entitled, “What White Men Say in Our Absence.” It’s a painful read that encapsulates the doubt and fear that comes with being an Asian woman in a society that stereotypes, “relentlessly erases,” and in some cases brutalizes them—all while minimizing their claims that discrimination is even happening. Chou started researching white men who fetishize Asian women while she was writing her new novel, Disorientation; over time, that research collided with a wave of anti-Asian hate crimes that has still failed to rouse a widespread response in this country. Hsou calls out the kind of remarks we’ve all heard: “I’ve never been with an Asian girl before” or “I have a thing for Asian girls”—comments based on a “terribly unoriginal myth: that Asian women, in appearance and mentality, are somehow different from other women—so different as to be a separate species.” But she also goes further, drawing a link between that kind of fetishization and the violence perpetrated against Asian women: “I wonder if the men who attacked and killed us are the same men on the Internet who argue that we make better wives because we don’t talk or fight back and that we make for easy sex because we are, after all, such easy prey,” she writes. Chou says Asian women now connect online to share their stories, but also their tips on how to stay safe. As for Chou herself, “I researched where to buy pepper spray in NYC. I started keeping my back against the subway wall (again). I walk down stairs with my hand over the handrail, fearful that someone will push me down the steps. At night, I startle when a shadow appears behind me. I haven’t stopped thinking about the woman who had acid thrown on her face — how could she have prevented it? What precautions could she have possibly taken? I can’t think of a single one.”—Maggie
Maggie, I’m ashamed to say that this piece was an eye-opener for me. I have watched these instances of violence against Asian American women unfold in the news with horror, but that image of Chou gripping the handrail into the subway in fear shook me in a new way. And yes, I found myself complicit in the fetishism she writes about, too. My now-husband’s high-school sweetheart was Filipina. Whenever she comes up in conversation, I point out that she was Asian—because I am giant (5’10”) and blonde and round-featured with unruly hair, the physical opposite of the Asian stereotype. I’ve always thought this was a gross attempt at self-deprecation, joking (sort of) that he might have preferred her physical type to mine. But also maybe joking on some level about something deeper, that I wasn’t conscious of. Now, with a sick feeling in my stomach, I realize that the easy fallback joke exoticizes the idea of this woman based on her race—one that is shared by so many people, women in particular, who I love and admire, including my entire favorite branch of cousins. I hate to think of another white woman making that terrible joke about any of them.—Rachel
Read “What White Men Say in Our Absence” here.
An addendum for the Cassandra files!
In this week’s New York, writer Nora DeLigter investigates the question “Why Is Everyone Suddenly Reading Cassandra at the Wedding?” by tracing five strains of culturati influence that got the word out, from the Stein Strain (as in former Paris Review contributor Sadie) to the Early Strain (as in comedian John). But DeLigter missed one important Strain—one that blazed the comeback trail for Dorothy Baker’s 1962 novella two years before even Stein: The Peg Strain. You don’t know Peg? Let me introduce you. Peg, who moonlights as a realtor here in Charlottesville, Virginia, is a grand dame of my book club with a knack for choosing vintage reads that feel incredibly relevant. She selected Cassandra as our July 2019 book, and like so many other fancy lit-world types after me I became obsessed with the off-kilter tale of the gay sister who comes home from college to Southern California for her straight sister’s wedding, even giving my mom and sister their own copies of the Deborah Eisenberg-forwarded 2012 New York Review of Books reissue for Christmas that year. Bonus: The cover is super appealing, too.—Rachel
Read the article via New York’s Strategist here.
Buy the novel via the Spread’s bookshop here.
So I’m, like…a warm spring apple with an inverted triangle face?
This is not another Amy Schumer post, promise. But I can’t stop thinking about a micro-moment in her series, Life & Beth: Beth (Schumer) is walking down the street with her younger sister. Another woman passes by, and the sister turns to watch her, then points: “Is that my body?” she asks. Beth shrugs: Kinda. They keep walking. The exchange smacked me like a Fresh Prince (sorry, had to). Is this what I look like? Or is it that? Oh, the things I could have gotten done in this life if I hadn’t wasted untold hours playing this wildly narcissistic mental game. Which has only gotten worse in the weeks since the New York Times helpfully informed me that I’m not just imagining that I’m turning into an “apple” in midlife. (In brief: It’s true; it will happen to most women; and there’s not a lot we can do about it. Cheers!) I had just resigned myself to a long life of “Pants for Real People” when writer Mariah Kreutter found another weird wrinkle in generation TikTok: Somehow, the kids have stumbled onto the throwback body-typing system developed by “image consultant” David Kibbe in the ’80s—back when there were systems for this kind of thing: You cut your hair based on your face shape, chose your eyeshadow based on your “season,” and knew whether or not you needed a peplum or an even wider belt based on your Kibbe type. For those of us who are already confused about what to wear, Kibbe types sound even more confusing. It’s hard enough to know if the waitress at my local coffee shop has an ass like mine, let alone to decipher if I’m a “soft dramatic,” a “bold romantic,” or a “flamboyant gamine.” Nevertheless, TikTok videos tagged #kibbebodytypes now clock hundreds of thousands of views; the Kibbe Reddit forum has more than 30,000 members. It’s interesting, in this era in which rules about gender and sexualty and “appropriate” dressing have been thrown out the window—when it seems like no male rock star’s portfolio is complete without his own line of nail polish—that a generation raised on the churning trend cycle of fast fashion with, really, no rules whatsoever about who can wear what, when, and how is goes rooting around in the wayback culture files to find some rules they can follow.
Look, if you really want to figure out what looks good on your body, I suggest a trip over to friend-of-Spread Hillary Kerr’s newsletter, Hi Everyone, which is basically how I do all of my shopping now. After the births of two kids shifted her proportions, Hillary did the yeoman’s work of ordering 29 pairs of jeans and photographing each, to find which are best on her new-ish shape. Girl has energy. Since my own favorite pair of jeans bit the dust last week—stop, it’s too painful to talk about—I vow I will stop ogling random women on the street and instead order five pairs of Hillary’s favorites and do a mini test-drive of my own. Hey, nobody said this would be easy.—Maggie
Read “What’s Your Kibbe Type?” here.
In my day, an appreciation of Breaking Bad was the dating-profile must-have. Things change!
The New Republic has made me feel many things over the years: Informed, dumb, bored, intrigued, scared, hopeful. But it’s never before made me feel really, really old. Until now! Last week, the publication threw a new word at me: “Petromasculinity,” which I now know describes the relationship between the patriarchy and climate-change denial / lust for fossil fuels (for a minute I thought maybe my dad had years ago enjoyed a “petromasculine” phase, but I read deeper and found that this mix of things is associated with the Proud Boys stuff, which he has thankthelord never been!)—and apparently is a hot topic in the world of…online dating? Liza Featherstone mines an OkCupid survey’s data about their users’ dating dealbreakers. Turns out, climate denial has become the number-one turnoff: 90 percent of respondents saying such a stance would result in a hard pass—even more so than differing attitudes on abortion or gun control. Featherstone concludes that this means “climate change has become central to many people’s emotional lives.” Which, yes. Also, climate change is an easy-peasy litmus test for “Do we live in the same reality?” If a potential date denies climate change, they’re denying science, which means they’re more likely to deny all sorts of other anti-science stuff, like—hello!—vaccines, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. If concern about climate change has become an online-dating bellwether for being a normal, science-believing human, sign me up for that filter and save me the energy of going out for drinks with someone who’s been using that Ivermectin horse medicine to slow Covid’s roll.—Rachel
Read “‘Petromasculinity’ Is Becoming Toxic, Too—at Least to Online Daters” here.
The fantastic Mr. Fox.
In a previous life, I once got pedicures with Megan Fox and then helped orchestrate her escape from the paparazzi who were camped outside the salon—a state of affairs that struck me as…convenient, given that I was writing a cover story on a woman who, at the time, was a Transformers wet dream come to life courtesy of Michael Bay, but not the kind of famous that would lead to being organically staked out at a nail salon. I liked Fox. She was quick, funny, feline—supernaturally aware of her affect on regular folk—and the kind of babelicious that I figured would be a whole lotta fun while it lasted. Which I did not imagine would be until 2022. Now she’s bigger paparazzi bait than ever, thanks largely to A) her embrace of a late-pandemic fashion moment that I’ll be patiently waiting out, thanks, and B) her love for this person called Machine Gun Kelly, aka Colson Baker, aka “my achingly beautiful boy.” Who, it turns out, I might maybe have a bit of a crush on? Trust me, no one’s more surprised than I am. In this Billboard cover story by Meaghan Garvey, “the king of giving no f*cks” now reads like a long-tortured outcast who’s logged some serious hours on the therapist’s couch, shedding what he calls an “exoskeleton of arrogance and cockiness.” He spends a lot of time sweet-talking a tiny kitten—more evidence of a great publicist at work, perchance?—and his hands visibly tremble when he speaks about finding closure with his dad who both taught him to play his first guitar and once kicked him out of the house. What I’m saying is, in a world gone mad, there are worse ways to spend eight minutes than nursing a crush on a young bleeding-heart rock star, right?—Maggie
You paint a darling picture, Maggie. I too very much like to do baby talk with small animals and I love the right kind of therapy-fluent emo boy. But as a Mom Who Demands Action, I can’t get it up for a kid who calls himself Machine Gun. I mean, vile! I realize I sound like a zillion-year-old marm who doesn’t get the joke—and I guess I am!—but I’ll have to sit this crush out. I do like Megan Fox, though, especially in the 2009 Diablo Cody-written horror film Jennifer’s Body, which you can rent via Amazon for $3.99. Still think I’m a prude? HA!—Rachel
Read “At Home With Machine Gun Kelly, the New Prince of Pop-Punk” here.
The devil wore Levi’s.
In many ways, I am that parent. The one who was quoted on the front page of the local paper advocating for school reopening in the spring of 2021. The one who has become a test-to-stay vigilante on my toddler’s school Slack. (My husband prefers the loving term “troll.”) So when I saw this New York Times story about a Levi’s executive who lost her career after being vocal about Covid policy, I felt pre-outraged on her behalf. And then I read the article and yikes! Not me, coach! (To clarify: I have not and will not ever guest on Laura Ingraham or marry a science denier or…)—Rachel
But Rachel, are you this parent—the one who hooks her toddler up to a leash? I was, once. I tried one of those leash/backpack thingamajigs on a remarkably wiley 19-month-old during a layover someplace in Germany. My shame was so intense—and his leash so instantly twisted around every foot, kiosk, and actual dog leash in the airport—that I barely lasted half an hour. I couldn’t take the side-eye. But over on HuffPo, one brave believer gets over her baby-harness shame.—Maggie
Read “She Was a Candidate to Lead Levi’s. Then She Started Tweeting.” here.
Two quick follow-ups!
Two weeks ago we wrote about Sarah Hepola’s buzzy (and I maintain, brave!) Atlantic essay, “The Things I’m Afraid to Write About.” This week, Hepola appeared on our most/least favorite rabble-rouser (depends on the day) Meghan Daum’s podcast, The Unspeakable. The two spend a lot of time unpacking Hepola’s comments about Stanford sexual-assaulter Brock Turner, for which she was vilified in the twitterverse (which is kinda meta given the topic of the piece). The conversation is sincere, serious, and refreshing.
In January, Maggie wrote about respectful-parenting guru Janet Lansbury, who’d just been profiled in the New Yorker by Ariel Levy. This week, also for the New Yorker, staffer Jessica Winter examines the entire genre of gentle/respectful/mindful/intentional parenting under the guise of a book review of the new Brain-Body Parenting by child psychologist Mona Delahooke. And the result is so good! Also: funny! Also: useful in a you-are-not-alone way!—Rachel
Listen to “The Censors Within” here.
Read “The Harsh Realm of Gentle Parenting” here.