Naked and Unafraid
The Luscious Jackson of newsletters is a zillion weeks pregnant and with just as many opinions, on Sheryl, Elliot, and several Janes, too.
Did you think we abandoned you? Never! We’re back after a week off, fortified by actual in-person contact—that’s right, we had a Spreaditors retreat last weekend IRL. Still working through the minutes from that meeting, but we can say this: Stronger together than ever, with big plans bubbling for later this year.
Question: While our humble getaway to a Courtyard Marriott in Westchester County, New York (not a joke), was rejuvenating in many ways, may we please now have a breakup vacation without the breakup? According to the Wall Street Journal, which is oddly attuned to small shifts in the modern relationshipverse—when did this become a beat for them?—the new thing is post-divorce breakup trips. In the Maldives, you can stay in a cabin perched right on top of turquoise water, where the “solo experience” package includes a “Dine in the Dark” dinner: They blindfold you, and a staff member guides you through the meal. Humiliating! Erotic! Both? “You are eating alone but you’re not alone,” the resort’s GM told WSJ. Huh. Afterward—presumably when you’ve had a chance to shampoo the spilled quail eggs and cashews out of your hair—one of the resort’s butlers will lead a photoshoot of you next to a palm tree: New snaps for your dating profile! Or your LinkedIn! Or that Aura digital frame you got your mom for Mother’s Day! The butler’s work is quite versatile.
Rachel & Maggie
PS: Our big kids are at overnight camp this week, roasting marshmallows and singing about how it only takes a spark to get a fire going / and soon all those around can warm up in its glowing (and so on). Which reminds us: Will you light the Spread’s fire by liking this post and fan the flame by sharing us with your friends? If so, we’ll spare you the 236 additional hot-hot-hot metaphors burning in our brain.
Here I am, 35 weeks pregnant, and all I want to do is talk about abortion. Some people get it; others seem to find it creepy (looking at you, Dad!), given that this pregnancy is wanted, even hard-won (IVF, baby!). But something about being a manatee whose nascent pup is constantly kicking her ribs won’t let me stop thinking and talking about how I actively made this choice and how all other humans deserve the same option. Something about that and, you know, the reality that IN THE NEXT TWO WEEKS AMERICANS ARE GOING TO OFFICIALLY LOSE A BATCH OF HUMAN RIGHTS IN A CYCLONE OF DESTRUCTION THAT WILL RESULT IN MASS TRAUMA, FORCED PREGNANCY, AND THE DEATH OF WOMEN. NOT TO MENTION THREATS TO LEGALLY RELATED RIGHTS, SUCH AS BIRTH CONTROL (!), FERTILITY TREATMENT AS WE KNOW IT, AND EVEN SAME-SEX MARRIAGE. Is it hot in here? By “here,” I mean in this entire confused, bankrupt country.
Last week, I went to an event in my town about the impending end of Roe, hosted by a badass legal scholar from the local university at her gorgeous country club-adjacent home, and featuring Amy Hagstrom Miller, the head of Whole Woman’s Health, whom my friend Claire has in the past referred to as a “huge abortion celebrity.” The room was packed with well-coiffed women in impeccable florals, including my friend Carrington, who worried the devastating information flowing from the event leaders’ mouths would cause my cortisol to shoot up and send me into early labor. It’s true, the news is grim: While the overwhelming majority of abortions currently happen in the first trimester, organizations like Whole Woman’s Health are preparing for long queues in states where abortion is still legal—pushing more abortions into the second trimester. Also, they’re gearing up for increased scrutiny of “pregnancy outcomes”—i.e., suspicion around the causes of miscarriage. And, yes, I’ll say it again: They believe more women will die as a result of the demise of Roe. I was moved when Hagstrom Miller described the privilege of being at a woman’s side when she chooses to have an abortion, an inflection point in her life in which she finds clarity and takes control of her own priorities, her worth, her purpose. To me, the parallels to taking control of my infertility—something many believe will also soon be at stake—were acute.
The event also provided action steps that push beyond “go vote” and “tell your story.” In addition to donating to abortion-advocacy groups and clinics, including Whole Woman’s Health (do that here!), we were urged to buy abortion pills online and stash them, in case someone we knew needed them. To read Handbook for a Post-Roe America. To urge our governor’s office to keep Virginia (in our case) abortion-friendly. They also suggested we watch The Janes, the new HBO doc about an underground abortion network of women in pre-Roe Chicago. (I dragged my feet on The Janes, thinking it would just be preaching-to-the-choir, blood-pressure-raising entertainment, but reader, it’s great, only an hour and forty minutes, and full of surprises.) While we’re at it, I’ll add this week’s New Yorker story, “A Texas Teen-Ager’s Abortion Odyssey,” in which Stephania Taladrid gives us a close-up view of a family in Texas whose daughter becomes pregnant at 13, and the lengths they must take to travel to New Mexico for an abortion. The primary tale of the girl and her family is told in unflinching detail, and Taladrid rounds it out by expertly weaving in other families’ stories about abortion access. Lastly, the Cut has launched a series of short-ish articles and essays about gynecology and reproduction, aka, “The State of the Uterus,” that add up to more than the sum of their, uh, parts. The piece on endometriosis and how it’s only taken seriously by the medical establishment once a woman says she wants to become a mother was my experience almost to a tee.—Rachel
Read “A Texas Teen-Ager’s Abortion Odyssey” here.
Watch The Janes on HBOMax here.
Run this town.
It sounds like the lede to one of those celebratory #ladyretirement stories—which, let’s be honest, I will never not read: A bunch of female friends, looking for a place to spend their golden years, don’t just buy a house together…they buy a whole town! But when Renee Walters moved to Freedom, Georgia, she was driven by a darker force: “What can I do [so] my son won’t have to be a hashtag?” She and two female friends—who, like her, were beset by fears about the pandemic and police violence, and by symptoms of racial trauma (similar to PTSD)—saw a headline: “You Could Buy an Entire Town in Georgia for the Price of a Luxury Apartment in NYC.” Eventually that led them to a 97 acre plot; with a total of nineteen families, they are now developing a 502-acre pro-Black settlement with the perfect name: Freedom. Rachel, this ought to be a movie!—Maggie
The funny-tummy epidemic.
Apparently, I have been living under a rock. If you had asked me, Trivia Night-style, what disease hot girls were most prone to catching, I would have answered loudly and emphatically, sloshing my tightly held glass of Grüner in my assuredness: “LYYYYYYYME! AND OTHER AUTOIMMUNE-ADJACENT DISORDERS!!!” But nope, Lyme is not the hot-girl disease, and it hasn’t been since at least the spring of last year when, according to Natasha Boyd for the Drift, IBS officially became the hot-girl disease du jour. (Lyme friends: You are still gorgeous to me.)
As Boyd writes, the fact that irritable bowel syndrome involves, well, bowels is kind of the point. She quotes an Insider article that says “all hot girls constantly fart, burp, bloat, and suffer from constipation and diarrhea.” On TikTok, “videos with the hashtag “#hotgirlswithIBS have received 11.9 million views [and it’s] a popular topic among influencers like Emma Chamberlain and Claudia Kathryn, who recognize the wellness marketing value of what Katie Kane has called ‘bloating positivity’ and have done much to make diarrhea and intestinal gas hallmarks of modern femininity.”
The article digs into why IBS numbers have shot up significantly in the past few years, to between 25 and 45 million people. For starters, it’s a catchall condition for gastro-challenged people whose cause of suffering can’t be more specifically identified. Boyd’s entire investigation into IBS is a disarming, fascinating read—and I say this as someone who loathes bathroom humor—as it’s also a history of diseases de rigueur, tracing fashionable maladies from the 1700s to present. Still, when I got to the end of her piece I realized I’ve never wanted less to be hot.—Rachel
RB, Are we sure this idea that IBS specifically afflicts “hot girls” isn’t some red flag for / coded language about eating disorders? I am all for people getting the diagnosis they need, and therefore the treatment; also applaud destigmatizing the condition; AND am perfectly able to see someone with IBS as feminine and/or pretty. But I draw the line at gas as a “hallmark of modern femininity.” Nope, sorry. Back to the drawing board, ladies! As the mother of two boys who spends 35 percent of our time together trying to shut down “potty talk,” I call bullshit—so to speak—on this one.–Your friend, Margarette
Maggie, Nah. I’m typically quick to draw a line to eating disorders, but that’s not the case here. This “hot girl” throughline instead wreaks of the hotdog-eating, bathroom humor-spouting guy’s girl trope—the one from the Gone Girl diatribe about the Cool Girl.—Rachel
Read “Sick to Our Stomachs” here.
Read it and weep.
In 1973, Minnie Lee and Mary Alice Relf—then ages 14 and 12—became national posterchildren for the issue of forced sterilization, after being “taken from their home in Montgomery, cut open and sterilized against their will and without the informed consent of their parents by a physician working in a federally funded clinic,” writes New York Times Magazine contributing editor Linda Villarosa, who tracks down the Relf sisters, now 61 and 63, and finds them still deeply attached to each other, living in an apartment complex in Montgomery—and still saddened by their inability to have children. (As I read, I couldn’t stop scrolling back to the haunting portrait of the sisters by photographer Hannah Price.) Villarosa’s reporting goes deep but it’s her lyrical writing and her clear affection for the sisters that carries us along, as she recounts the history of eugenics in America—a practice that, needless to say, disproportionately affected poor Black women—and even finds the social worker and the lawyer who helped the sisters find justice. Not compensation, though: Three states now offer restitution to cases of forced sterilization, but Alabama is not one of them. The Relfs’ plight might have helped set a precedent that led to the end of this practice, but their impoverished family did not get a penny. If you think this is an issue of the past, it’s not: In recent years, judges have promised reduced sentences to incarcerated men and women who agree to vasectomies and birth-control implants; and hysterectomies have been performed on undocumented women in ICE detention centers. With reproductive rights on the chopping block, Villarosa’s tale feels scarily timely.—Maggie
Read “The Long Shadow of Eugenics in America” here.
A tale of two centrists.
Between Roe’s last gasp, the gun-reform deal in the Senate (it’s something!), and the January 6th hearings (Ivanka, we are still never ever ever getting back together), even Maggie and I—superwomen that we are—are having trouble taking it all in. It’s with sadness that we admit there are only four eyeballs between us. Rebecca Traister, however, has no such problem. Her New York cover story starring Dianne Feinstein as the personification of the Democratic establishment tackles all of the above. Traister manages to treat the declining 88-year-old senator from California, who still burns for the system and the process above all else, with respect, even generosity. But she also lays out why the Feinsteins of the world are not going to be the ones to get us out of this shitshow. As someone who often considers herself a down-the-middle Democrat, often yearning for old-school compromise and feeling betrayed by both the far left and the nasty right, I found this class in Feinstein—though comprised of information I mostly already knew—a total blow to my outdated fantasies about how we move forward.
Meanwhile over at the Atlantic, staff writer Elaine Godfrey introduced me to Sharon McMahon, an Instagram star with 915,000 followers who calls herself “America’s Government Teacher.” McMahon, formerly an actual government teacher, has found fame and fortune online by teaching the masses basic information about how the government works, using facts. Since the start of Covid lockdown in March 2020, her power has grown: Now she has a podcast and a webinar business, but remains staunchly nonpartisan. Staunchly. Constitutionally. Nonpartisanship is, like, her big thing. As Godfrey teases out in this profile, that’s an impressively effective hook to lure in and educate women (90 percent of her fanbase) worn out by political squabbling, who might otherwise be susceptible to ideas that aren’t remotely fact-based. But it’s also maddening for those of us screaming at the top of our lungs as democracy as we know it hangs in the balance of how people actually vote. Anyhow, this is a woman to watch—she may just be our country’s next Glennon Doyle-size influencer-turned-superstar. Y’all heard it here first.—Rachel
Read “The Institutionalist” here.
Read “Sharon McMahon Has No Use for Rage-Baiting” here.
We see you, Tracy.
It seems somehow poetic that in the one-week stretch that saw OG girlboss Emily Weiss step down from the top job at Glossier, Sheryl Sandberg leave—under investigation for misuse of company funds! —Facebook/Meta, and Ivanka Trump maybe sorta kinda try to weasel her way back into polite society by distancing herself from Daddy’s Giant Lie, we also got a new book about Tracy Flick, the ultimate grating, success-at-all-costs female overachiever. Isn’t each of these women a Tracy Flick in her own way? Tracy, you’ll recall, is the plotting teen heroine/villain of Tom Perrotta’s 1998 novel, Election, a girl who’d do anything to be class president, played by Reese Witherspoon in the 1999 movie that pretty much branded Reese, and every other chipper, well-groomed, high-achieving gal a Tracy Flick for life. Tracy Flick embodied Sandberg’s now-out-of-fashion Lean In philosophy before it was a twinkle in Sandberg’s eye, and, ever since, the character’s name has been shorthand for “the slightly exhausting superwoman, flying in male-dominated airspace,” as Katy Waldman writes in the New Yorker—not to mention a mixed bag of associations for any ambitious woman: Was it good to be a Tracy Flick? Or not so good? Perrotta’s follow-up, Tracy Flick Can’t Win, arrives in a post-#MeToo world that has reconsidered Tracy—of course: She is a pop-culture woman of the ’90s, after all—as “a dogged go-getter being mocked and dismissed,” says Waldman. “Was Tracy the problem—or was it the sleazeballs around her?” But, interestingly, new Tracy also arrives in a post-“girlboss” era, after a raft of young (also slightly exhausting) world-beating women who founded companies and seemed to be the future of, well, everything (Audrey Gelman, Leandra Medine Cohen, the aforementioned Weiss) have been kicked off their pedestals. It’s an interesting landscape in which to re-meet Tracy, now a single mother in her mid-’40s doing meditation for hypertension, and not as high up the ladder as we might have expected—she’s an assistant principal at a high school. Will we root for her to get the big job this time? What if she’s still a tiresome creature who drives us nuts: Can we admit that in 2022? Rachel, she’s on my summer reading list. Keep ya posted.—Maggie
Read “Tracy Flick Takes on the World, Again” here.
Read “The Sunsetting of the Girlboss Is Nearly Complete,” about Weiss’s departure, in the New York Times here.
We’re featured in Babe, Hatch Collection’s content offshoot. Read all about us! I promise Maggie only uses the word “perineum” once. And yep, she’s referring to mine.—Rachel
Brrrrreaking! Frequent readers will know that I am dangerously obsessed with Virginia “Ginni” Thomas, batshit wife of Justice Clarence—he who STILL sits on the Supreme Court despite glaring evidence of conflict of interest! Gah! Well, expect to hear a lot more about a little story that popped up today: In the ’80s, Ginni had to be yanked out of a group she considered a “cult”—it told followers to unlock their superhuman potential—and sent to be “deprogrammed.” That led to her becoming an anticult crusader. So how does this fit with being in the hip pocket of QAnon, which is a…cult? Watch this space!—Maggie
Mark your calendars: The first time I read A Visit from the Goon Squad, I was sure it was wildly overrated. Now I’m reading Jennifer Egan’s follow-up, The Candy House—and DYING to discuss. Do I have time to reread Goon before Egan sits down with New Yorker fiction editor Deborah Treisman on June 21st, as part of the New Yorker Live Summer Series? Or should I just prep with this profile of Egan in Vogue, from March?—Maggie
The Spread congratulates Wills and Kate—and especially that cheeky monkey, Louis—for totally smoking Meghan and Harry in the high-stakes social-media game of proving who is the cooler royal couple during the Queen’s diamond-studded intergalactic cherries Jubilee, or whatever that big party we missed the Spread to go to last week was called.