The Lenny Bernstein and Lydia Tár of newsletters is shaking our baton at “women’s health deserts,” an unsavory veepstakes, and bad nannies.
What would make the perfect women’s magazine? Juicy yarns, hot goss, 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.
Tuning into Sunday night’s Golden Globes, we were hit by a couple of realizations. One was that Kate Beckinsale’s1 refusal to age even one bit is starting to give us the heebie-jeebies. The other one set in over the course of the evening, as we watched Greta Gerwig (age 40) take home a Cecil B. DeMille for making the pinkest blockbuster in history; Anatomy of a Fall filmmaker Justine Triet (45) land the night’s only surprise win, for a screenplay about a woman at the height of her creative powers2; Ali Wong (41) thank her apparently not-as-beleaguered-as-you’d-think ex from the podium; and Rosamund Pike (44) rock a no-effs-left-to-give black veil (Pike in Saltburn, btw: The world does not contain enough chef’s kisses). Hang on, was that Natalie Portman (42)—normally so snoozily poised—laughing her tochus off in a side convo with Wong? It leapt out at us: Hollywood has entered its Portal era.3
Substacker extraordinaire(42) first put forth her Portal Theory (capitalization ours) in October, and it’s been gaining steam among the core Spread demo ever since. In short, it’s a repackaging of a woman’s 40s as more than just the onset of aging, but as a time of awakening, curiosity, of “finding”/redefining oneself as we emerge from the nose-to-grindstone years of, say, raising little kids or working our way up the ladder. Maybe that means a career pivot, maybe it’s rethinking your marriage. Petersen, for one, experiences it as “a swell of creativity” made possible in part because “I’ve become a whole lot less concerned with bullshit.” Maybe you’re thinking, Isn’t this just “the prime” by a more woo-woo name? Which, sort of. But after the past few years’ deluge of essays pondering the bad news of “midlife” and the 37,000 symptoms of perimenopause, we feel ready for a more optimistic reframe.
If you’re reading this, there’s a high probability you’re in or around the Portal, too. How’s it look in there?
Rachel & Maggie
P.S. Since the holidays, we have been grasping for good reads from the women’s mag set but keep coming up short. We’re taking this as a sign that everyone in that corner of the industry really needed a break and that we’ll be rewarded with tons of reading material once the pub cycle catches up. But if you, dear reader, come across a feature that’s not from our usual mainstream suspects, please send it our way!
Can we keep opinion editors out of our bedrooms, please?
Maybe you’ve heard: This weekend the New York Times Opinion section attempted to get a cut of the T-Swift media action. Now staffer Anna Marks’s essay has even Swift HQ—normally so circumspect about this, the most speculated-about of stars—flipping its lid. Marks’s “opinion”? Taylor is more or less the Rock Hudson of our era. This conspiracy theory has been swirling around the internet forever (remember how people lost their minds when Taylor and Karlie Kloss first became besties?) so it’s unclear what made Times Opinion decide now was a good time to string all the Reddit threads together and run them at 5,000 words. Look past its Gen Z queerspeak and the whole story is deeply retrograde: Does Taylor Swift owe it to us to come out of the “shadowy, solitary recesses of the closet”— seriously? Unsurprisingly, lead publicist Tree Paine and her deputies have come down from on high to let everybody know they’re rrrrrrripshit. On our minds: No way would the Times run an article regurgitating conspiracy theories about the sexuality of Swift’s only close counterpart, Beyoncé. So why should Swift be fair game? Well, because she’s younger, because she’s unmarried, because she’s positioned herself as an everywoman. And also because Bey is part of the Illuminati, duh.…Can’t touch that.
Read “Look What We Made Taylor Swift Do” here.
With the New York Times’ harrowing podcast The Retrievals and ProPublica and New York mag’s investigation of abusive Columbia ob-gyn Robert Hadden still rattling around in my brain, I steeled myself for another round of gynecological terror, this time at the hands of a Virginia doctor named Javaid Perwaiz. Perwaiz’s crime? Casually performing surgeries and procedures on women who didn’t need them. You might go in for one procedure Perwaiz said you needed—say, a vaginal hysterectomy—and then wake up from anesthesia also without ovaries...or a cervix…or fallopian tubes…and with a huge incision on your abdomen. (You might also find out later that you did not even need the hysterectomy: Your pap was normal but he’d lied about the results.) According to the Atavist’s big recent feature by Rae Nudson, “Damages,” Perwaiz’s victims are likely in the hundreds. The reporting here is terrific, with Nudson interviewing these victims, many of whom are Black and on Medicaid—information that Perwaiz tried to hide behind, suggesting that because his patient population didn’t take care of themselves, more of them needed invasive procedures (if your stomach hadn’t already turned…)—but also squeezing info out of insurance companies, which in this rare instance were actually on the right side of history, sending up flares when they realized that Perwaiz’s numbers on certain surgeries were extremely high.—Rachel
Read it here.
Whose life is worth saving here?
Make no mistake, this is a dark age for American women: As an Ohio grand jury debates whether to indict Brittany Watts4—who miscarried a nonviable fetus in her own home and was reported to police by her own hospital nurse—on charges of “felony abuse of a corpse,” the New Yorker’s Stephania Taladrid breathes palpable life into Yeni. A home health aide and the daughter of illegal immigrants in Luling, Texas, Yeni was the kind of woman whose story would, without Taladrid’s humanizing reporting, read as just a statistic. At 27, newly married and thrilled to be pregnant, Yeni died due to a high-risk pregnancy. While detailing other outrages of the American health-care system (how exactly was Yeni supposed to pay $400 a month for insulin out of pocket?) Taladrid traces the tragedy back to Texas’s sadly ahead-of-its-time S.B. 8, which in 2021 banned abortion after six weeks. Conservatives consider S.B. 8 a big win: Thousands more babies were born in Texas in the months after it was passed. Doctors, not so much: It pushed abortion providers out of town or into retirement—leaving women like Yeni in “women’s health deserts” with only understaffed ERs lacking doctors trained in maternal-fetal health to turn to in an emergency. And, of course, S.B. 8 muzzled doctors: Of the many medical experts who weighed in on Yeni’s complicated case, not one told her that an abortion would likely save her life (crucial information that doctors take an oath to share with patients). All of these outcomes, you’ve read about before. Told through the lens of Yeni’s real and precious life, they’re a series of gut punches, all over again.—Maggie
Read “Did an Abortion Ban Cost a Young Texas Woman Her Life?” in the New Yorker here.
We interrupt this string of scary bodily stories to bring you: Ayo Edebiri. She already won our best-dressed award Sunday—she will cherish it next to her Golden Globe, in perpetuity—but have you seen her shut down the E! dufus who tried to embarrass Jeremy Allen White about his Calvin Klein tighty-whities?
Katie Engelhart’s tour de force New York Times Magazine cover story from last weekend—“Letting Naomi Die”—is, as sold, about anorexia. But it’s also a deep dive into the field of psychiatry—its ethics, its politics, and its unique reliance upon human connection as compared to other areas of medicine—and the question of whether a condition caused by mental illness should qualify for palliative care or even assisted death (a Canadian law expanding access to such will take effect this spring). The story is anchored by 42-year-old Naomi, anorexic since age 11, who has no interest in continuing to try to get better, and her team of boundary-pushing doctors. Palliative-care physician Jonathan Treem tells her, “We have talked a lot about the crisis of dying…We haven’t really talked about the crisis of survival. How that might be really painful, and really difficult. Maybe even more so.” The “we” here is, of course, not just Naomi and her team, but all of us. If you’re thinking, “Do I really want to spend an hour reading about anorexia?” the answer is yes, in Engelhart’s hands, you do.—Rachel
Read it here.
Gee, we’re really on a medical-story roll this week!
Looking for an excellent read that will trigger your health anxieties and your career agita (if you’re a media person, at least—and we know a lot of you are) but won’t make you even sadder about health-care issues affecting womankind because at least in this one the bad stuff happens to a dude? Look no further than’s doozy of a medical mystery set against the backdrop of a sinking media industry, “My Unraveling,” which is deservedly getting a lot of attention at New York this week. Good lord, will somebody give this man a real full-time job!? And while you’re at it, hold seats at that table for us, too, in case we need ’em?—Maggie
Read it here.
Nightmare on 63rd Street.
Most articles about nanny wars are rom-coms waiting to happen—dishy glimpses into the inner workings of elite New York households, usually with some plucky heroine for us to root for at the center. When I saw the Cut’s recent “I Know What You Did on the Playground” by Jen Wieczner, my first thought was, “Who will ‘we’ cast in the Chris Evans slot?” I should have taken its ominous title more seriously; this is a horror movie. In the sour world of “bad nanny” social media, strangers, usually parents themselves, post photos of nannies’ questionable behavior toward their charges in hopes of matching them with their employers. Then, the reasoning goes, it’s up to the employers to discipline or fire them if needed. This twist on it-takes-a-village thinking has morphed into a strain of vigilante activism across Manhattan and Brooklyn, and woah, it’s gotten daaaaark: Nannies ganging up on other nannies! Nannies ganging up on employers! Nannies bullying children. Parents out there, read this one through the cracks between your fingers. Also, you may want to consider daycare.—Rachel
Read it here.
Warning: This will not relieve your Trumpschmerz.
As talking heads sift through the basket of deplorables from which Trump might select his VP pick—or “his new pain sponge,” as Michelle Cottle puts it in her latest column—guess what: Steve Bannon told Sean Spicer it might be a girl this time! (Rachel, get mama her Tums please.) On the one hand, what better way for Trump to ease his pernicious lady troubles? On the other, wonders Cottle, “how pro-MAGA could a female V.P. pick be and still serve as a bridge to non-MAGA women? How non-MAGA could she be and still satisfy Mr. Trump?” It boggles. Cottle’s primer on the likely contenders includes: Former TV-news anchor and MAGA-crazed Arizona election-fraud conspirator Kari Lake! Fresh off her assault on three heads of elite universities, Elise Stefanik! South Carolina Congresswoman Nancy Mace—Bannon just loves her “set of titanium balls”! And let us never, ever forget Marjorie Motherfeckin’5 Taylor Greene, she of the unimpeachable “attack dog credentials” and the “belligerent, anti-elite, anti-expertise, anti-everything ’tude.” So, Canada it is then, yah? —Maggie
If you can stand to read it, here ya go.
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Who may or may not have murdered her husband, who was decidedly not at the height of his.
Post-portal or postcoital? We couldn’t help notice that Sunrise Ruffalo (51) watched most of the show from her husband Mark’s lap. Our sex-positive side wants to applaud, our inner Tracy Flick (now 42) feels…provoked. Would a chair not be more comfortable? Weigh in!
Inspired by Cillian Murphy’s Globes acceptance speech, I’m trying to make feckin’ happen. Who’s with me?—Maggie