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January Is Broken. We Want Our Money Back!
The Corey Haim and Corey Feldman of newsletters is thisclose to blowing a gasket. The balm? Juicy #MeToo profiles, whip-smart motherhood essays, and one Ricki Lake.
Good morning and please allow us to lay it on thick for our new readers! There are beaucoup of you, and we’re thrilled you’re here to join the conversation: Debate us, violently agree with us, and otherwise process what’s going on in the wide world of women…with us. For you gorgeous specimens who’ve been here from way back, i.e., since we launched in September: We love you more than our shearling-lined Birkenstocks. What we really hope for in 2022—let’s not call it a resolution, it ain’t that kinda year—is to hear more from you, in the comments, in our inboxes, over on Instagram. And for all of you, we have a favor to ask before you board the rollercoaster of this week’s edition: The Spread is starting to grow, but we can’t do it without you. Would you share us with one or two of your smart, funny friends? You can tell them that the Spread is the next best thing to a sabbatical. Or that the Spread is as titillating (and sometimes awkward) as sex in your 70s. Or that the Spread is the only way you will ever decode Yellowjackets. Whatever route you take, we’re here for you.
May the road rise up to meet you (and so on and so forth),
Rachel & Maggie
PS: As long as we’re putting all our cards on the table: It would really help us out with the Substack platform if you’d just click that little heart icon underneath our bylines. Yes, we’re just two girls standing in front of a newsletter audience, asking it to love us.
“B.Y.O. Subtext”: The Joss Whedon story.
You heard it here: This week’s New York cover story may go down in history as the definitive #MeToo profile. Written by the extraordinary Lila Shapiro and accompanied by The Perfect Cover Line—“Interview With the (Alleged) Vampire”...gah!—the piece is a clear, elegant, and insightful 360-degree exploration of the rise and fall (and real-time redemption attempt) of superstar showrunner/director Joss Whedon. For those who were not on the front lines of late-’90s/early ’00s geek culture: The pasty, redheaded Whedon burst into the biz as the creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and became the poster boy for feminist TV and, soon, one of the most powerful creators in the industry…before flaming out over the last decade or so as myriad allegations of abuse (nasty outbursts and threats; physical assault; affairs with young actresses on Buffy) bubbled up against him. Shapiro weaves reams of context and secondary interviews (everybody—except for Sarah Michelle Gellar—talks: actors, writers, producers, costume designers, and not all of them paint Whedon as a predator exactly, but more your typical maniac, brilliant, too-young, male boss) together with two afternoons spent interviewing Whedon at his Santa Monica home. After years of reading about the #MeToo accused, seeing one of the brightest of them attempt to defend himself, while in his own lair, feels like a revolutionary amount of access. Through much of the piece Shapiro plays the impartial narrator, but to use a cliché that may have been created for this very story, she gives Whedon just enough rope to hang himself (while leaving you on the edge of your seat for thousands of words). The ending may make the blood drain out of your body.—Rachel
Rachel, I guess my question is…why? If you’re Joss Whedon, why do you invite a journalist into your home for two days? Is it because you so believe in your own innocence that you think this story will redeem/exonerate you? Or because you have no choice—you have to address the questions that surround you if you have any hope of rehabbing your career? And: Is Whedon now blacklisted? Ok fine I haven’t read this one yet—can you just tell me the answers?—Maggie
Maggie, You hit the nail on the head with your second guess: Whedon had nothing to lose. People vaguely assume he’s a monster, so he’s here to win back his name, but… you have to read it! As for his current position in Hollywood: For the new show he created, The Nevers, HBO has removed his name from all marketing materials and replaced him as showrunner. But we’d be naive to think he doesn’t still have skin in that game. Now read this profile or we are breaking up, and I mean it this time! —Rachel
Read “The Undoing of Joss Whedon” here.
Does sauntering to the library count as exercise?
Last November, after a loooong stretch on the ole divan, I rediscovered my own heartbeat—still tickin’!—by leaping inelegantly from treadmill to rowing machine to free weights at the fitness chain Orange Theory. Afterward, still sweating, hard, I informed my husband that Orange Theory was my thing. And for a few blissful weeks, it was. Just before Thanksgiving, I upped my membership from eight classes a month to unlimited. Haven’t been back since. (Yep, still paying for that VIP membership! Yep, still planning on going tonight! Or…tomorrow? Uh, Saturday?) Somehow, despite knowing that I will feel better physically and mentally if I go back, I just don’t f*cking feel like it. My reluctance has something to do with rogue Omicron particles, and the 4:30 p.m., sunset and -2-degree temps here in Massachusetts, but it’s also due to the way that exercise looms over me—its a thing I’m supposed to want to do, especially in January, and under that kind of cultural pressure, I become Garfield, defiantly napping in the empty lasagna pan he just hoovered out, shooting the pathetically eager (definitely gym-going) Odie skeptical side-eye. “For women, is exercise power?” asks Atlantic staff writer Sophie Gilbert in her review of journalist Danielle Friedman’s new book, Let’s Get Physical. Or is it, at every turn, just more pressure to be, look, and act a certain way? The book, which tracks the relatively short history of women trying to be fit—until the ’50s, apparently, most people were pretty sure a girl’s uterus would fall out if she ran more than 2 miles—has been making the rounds, with an interview in the Cut and a review in the New York Times. It’s easy to imagine how a book like this might have been written, say, a decade ago, pre #MeToo and the fat acceptance movement and “wellness.” But though Friedman’s tone is distinctly “perky” (says the Cut, and we all know what that means) she’s produced a history of the “self-improvement” biz that is very much a product of 2022 thinking, dealing head-on with “its mixed messaging, its propagation of toxic ideals, its longtime exclusion of differently abled women, plus-size women, and particularly women of color,” Gilbert writes, not to mention the fact that, “rather than setting [women] free, the mainstreaming of exercise added yet another to-do item (pursuit of their best body ever) to women’s lists.” Literally the number-one item on my daily to-do list for the past eight weeks: Go back to Orange Theory. Ugh. Maybe tomorrow.—Maggie
OK, I’m so not reading that book. I do think there’s a massive audience out there for Ms. Friedman, it’s just not me—the lady whose Peloton is currently parked in her frigid garage literally gathering dust. The conversation brings to mind that Rose Byrne-in-a-leotard AppleTV drama from last year, Physical. As you know, I love nothing more than a prestige TV series starring super-famous people, but I couldn’t stomach this one—too depressing, especially because despite her eating-disordered, fitness-obsessed spiral, Byrne looks freakin’ amazing. What’s the lesson supposed to be here? For me, it’s to put on media-blinders and try to squeeze in a vigorous stroll a.k.a. phone call/podcast time.—Rachel
Read “For Women, Is Exercise Power?” here.
Now trending: Parenting!
Two weeks ago, on the heels of the all-together-now ho-ho-holiday season, the Spread declared that marriage was the thing that women all over the country—or at least the Twittersphere—were grappling with. Now, womankind has swung from that vine to one that is very closely related: Parenting, which it turns out was the problem with our marriages after all. I kid! Or do I? In the New York Times, critic Amanda Hess covers the current pop-culture trend: Antiheroines who abandon their children—from Olivia Colman’s Leda in Maggie Gyllenhaal’s The Lost Daughter (the film that kickstarted this latest paroxysm) to author Claire Vaye Watkins’s avatar in her new work of autofiction, I Love You But I’ve Chosen Darkness. Hess also mentions The School for Good Mothers—Jessamine Chan’s new novel1 about a society in which women who get slapped with parenting demerits are shipped off to learn to be “good mothers.” (The book is getting a ton of attention and selling like hotcakes, to boot.) Key takeaways: Amanda Hess is amazing. And bad moms are in.
Here’s where I should probably make a confession: I’ve become something of a troll on the Slack channel for my 15-month-old’s “school”—which closed for five days after a snowstorm in early January, and shortly thereafter fully shut down due to Covid exposures, with a tentative reopening date of next Tuesday. I am now paying for a babysitter on top of tuition, and channeling powerless rage into tiny debates and/or major battles with fellow community members—including the teachers I adore and respect, and who have been the best thing that ever happened for my precious petunia.
For almost every parent I know, this quarantine- and snowstorm-heavy stretch that is January (with an equally fun February no doubt ahead!) is….oof. The headline on a recent Cut story, “Parenting In Utopia,” about a commune located right in my Virginia backyard, was obvious clickbait. I previously knew Twin Oaks—the country’s oldest secular, income-sharing commune—for the tofu they produce onsite and sell to Charlottesville restaurants. But I had no idea that residents also share the labor of parenting2! When writer Kim Brooks arrives at Twin Oaks as harried and exhausted as the rest of us, a man on the commune asks her in all seriousness, “Was the pandemic hard on parents?” I mean, was this guy living in a commune, or on the moon? I was hooked, and found the rest of the story insightful and entertaining. But at the end of the day, I realized that as lovely as that guy was—I’d have eaten him for breakfast on Slack.—Rachel
Rachel, The New Yorker too has tuned into parenting, with a robust profile of guru Janet Lansbury. I can get down with Lansbury’s parenting advice, the essence of which is: Listen to your kids, confirm their feelings—rational and less so—just don’t give into them! But it’s Janet Lansbury herself that’s a little hard to stomach. At 62, she looks like the best-possible-aged version of the ex-model and actress she is; lives in idyllic-except-for-the-occasional-fire Point Dume, Malibu, with an adoring husband who lives to help her be more Janet Lansbury; and spends her days preaching to other people (mostly millennials) how to be better parents via a website, multiple parenting tomes, and a podcast, Unruffled, that has more than a million listeners a month. But that’s how it goes with gurus, isn’t it? The voice that New Yorker writer (and Spread favorite) Ariel Levy listened to on long walks during her pandemic pregnancy—the one that “reminded me of a kind teacher I had in nursery school, the only one who didn’t seem to think I was a bossy little brat”—is the same one that another mother Levy spoke with said was not her cup of tea or, more precisely: “Her voice makes me homicidal.” As it happens, Levy’s profile of Lansbury is the first thing that has actually made me want to listen to her podcast, despite knowing that her advice has comforted multiple friends: Levy paints a portrait of a far more complex, even darker human being than Lansbury’s sunlit press photos would suggest, one who survived cocaine addiction, rehab, affairs with Warren Beatty and Jack Nicholson, a withholding mother, a dysfunctional sister, and a father who drove around with a bottle of malt liquor in the front seat. At one point, while she and Levy are in the car together, Janet Lansbury, beatific maternal figure extraordinaire, essence of patience, calls a passing motorist a “twat” and then bursts into laughter. Dammit Janet! I didn’t know you had it in you! Is it wrong that this somehow makes Lansbury more appealing to me as a parenting coach?—Maggie
Read “Mommy Is Going Away for a While” by Amanda Hess here.
Read “Parenting in Utopia” by Kim Brooks here.
Read Janet Lansbury’s Gospel of Less Anxious Parenting” by Ariel Levy here.
A “hippie-dippy woo-woo” love story.
John Waters muse and ’90s talk-show great Ricki Lake has found herself a new man, a Malibu dream house, and the world’s most perfect orange caftan, according to this week’s New York Times Vows column by Tammy La Gorce. Say it with me: “Go Ricki! Go Ricki!”—Rachel
Do you think she likes me?
Is it harder to find a friend these days? Variations on the theme—specific to assorted demographics: women, men, twentysomethings, midlifers, pandemic-ers, relocators, stay-at-homers—crowd bookshelves and fill column inches, and yet the answer remains: Yes. In the Atlantic, Katharine Smyth describes moving from Brooklyn to the wilds of Montana for a relationship at age 40. Finding herself friendless for the first time, she resorts to “dating” on the Bumble app, swiping right “to woo a kindred spirit.” It’s a lovely read, and Smyth is imminently likable—I want to be her friend! But I’m not moving to Bozeman. She covers the many reasons befriending is harder in one’s forties and beyond, primarily that we have so much less free time to bond, and so much more on our plates (relationships, careers, mortgages, progeny) than we did at prime best-friend-making age (scientifically proven to be 21, it seems.) But she does not cover what is, for me, a primary reason I so rarely try to make a friend these days: With the constant dopamine drip of text messages coming in all day long from “real” friends far and wide, what’s the incentive for chancing it on someone new IRL? (In this day and age, even when you move to Bozeman, Brooklyn is still right there, in your phone, constantly updating you.) And yet, readers: last week, I did it. I made a brand new face-to-face friend. I mean, it’s been awhile, but I’m pretty sure that’s what happened. She had cool silver-streaked blond hair and a translucent septum ring that glinted occasionally in the sunlight through the coffee shop window. In 90 minutes we covered frozen embryos, antidepressants, irritating memoirists, battery-powered socks, and books that never seem to be finished. Now we’ve moved onto stage two: Texting. On Saturday my hotdog fingers did mistype the name of one of my favorite New Yorker writers, and New Friend did respond with the name correctly spelled (Kathryn not KathERine—duh—Schulz) but I hope she won’t ghost me. UPDATE: As I write, a second date has been put on the docket, and this time, things are getting serious: Alcohol will be involved.—Maggie
Maggie, Is the whole point of this post to make me jealous of this New Friend of yours? Because it’s working! I’ll take this opportunity to mention that I too am dating, thank you. Next up is lunch with a woman I met at a friend’s New Year Eve party and bonded with over our mutual and semi-extreme love for our shared OBGYN. She’s pregnant; too soon to bring her a baby gift? Don’t answer that.—Rachel
Read “Why Making Friends in Midlife Is So Hard” here.
Anna Marie Tendler is a lot of things. One of these is John Mulaney’s ex.
Spreadie-award-winning fashion magazine Harper’s Bazaar has scored a real “get,” as we say in the biz: An interview with Anna Marie Tendler. Though, for some reason, the key morsel of information that makes her a get—the fact that she was not so long ago married to comedian John Mulaney, who is fresh-ish out of rehab and coparenting with the intimidatingly cool Olivia Munn—is not something you’d spot, flipping through the story in the magazine or on its website. That morsel is buried at the end of the first paragraph, I can only assume because Bazaar cut some deal at the booking stage with Tendler, agreeing not to mention Mulaney’s name in the bold print? Which, fair enough. The profile, by Emily Gould, is a classic cool-girl feature, highlighting her photography career and, relatedly, her post-split abode: She lives in a moody 19th-century stone house straight out of a Sofia Coppola joint, in which she takes self-portraits highlighting her Virgin Suicides looks—imagine a Lisbon sister with the most gorgeous auburn hair you’ve ever seen—which she sells for hundreds of thousands of dollars. She’s also big on TikTok. John who? The Mulaney stuff is treated as a borderline afterthought, but it’s still juicy: Tendler and Mulaney were definitively not planning to have kids—childlessness was their shared identity. And now Mulaney and Munn have little Malcolm Hiệp Mulaney! And now Tendler plans to freeze her eggs amid all that lucrative art-selling! Whew. Maggie, I’m sure you have feelings about this. Ready, set, go!—Rachel
RB, As you know I’m still working through Brad and Jen’s divorce in therapy. There is no more addictive public narrative than that of the woman scorned; this is the kind of thing I get unnaturally invested in. The story I made up in my own head about Mulaney and Tendler—readers, please set me straight—is a gut-wrencher: She’s the long-suffering wife who was by his side during his rise to fame, and his addiction, and then he exits rehab and enters (sorry) Olivia Munn—who is kinda the worst-case scenario of who your husband might leave you for: Hot and funny, with Daily Show cred. Brutal. But I think I’ll rewrite that narrative: I choose the version in which Tendler gets sick of dealing with Mulaney’s celebrity BS, drops him, and goes on to the most productive years of her career gloriously solo or with a partner whose head could not be turned, even by the Munns of the world.—Maggie
Read “Anna Marie Tendler Turns the Lens on Herself” here.
Still with us? We’re impressed by your stamina. Bring it with you again next week!
Which some of us may have first heard about from Jenna Bush Hager’s Instagram! No judgement, please.
This piece begins by quoting French philosopher Charles Fourier on “the innumerable evils of the isolated household.” Um, ring-a-ding-ding!