Notes on a Scandal
The Odie and Nermal of newsletters has flipped into “goblin mode” as we rage at the life insurance machine and kinda sorta say we’re sorry—our feet planted firmly in the grid.
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.
Yesterday, while Rachel was shopping for frozen rice and cilantro at Trader Joe’s, USAA called to let her know that the monthly premium on the life insurance policy she just signed up for was going to be higher than originally quoted. FIFTY PERCENT higher?, she may have shrieked. Why!? I am healthy! I am not even 40! Postpartum depression, the representative calmly replied. For those in the back: RACHEL’S PREMIUM WENT UP FIFTY PERCENT DUE TO POSTPARTUM DEPRESSION. Ripshit, your Spreaditor of course began to unscientifically poll every woman she encountered at school pickup and in group text. Turns out, her friend S’s premium also soared due to a PPD diagnosis. J’s premium skyrocketed due to generalized anxiety disorder and the fact that she sees a therapist. C’s provider told her that her life insurance would not kick in for any anxiety-related incident whatsoever. The list goes on. Apparently, the New York Times picked up on the problem in 2016, the year medical providers started screening pregnant and postpartum women for depression en masse. Because there is not a lot of data1 about the long-term outcomes of pregnancy-related mental-health issues—to put it bluntly: Are women who once had PPD more likely to kill themselves?—life insurance companies are able to justify charging women with a history of PPD more.
So today’s Spread starts with a call to action: Our friend Jodi Neuhauser—one of the women Rachel bumped into at school pickup while her eyes were flashing red—is an entrepreneur in the women’s health space who writes the In Women’s Health newsletter. If you’ve had a rage-inducing run-in with the life-insurance industry related to PPD/mental health—a topic we’ve supposedly all worked so hard to destigmatize!—Jodi and your Spreaditors want to hear from you: Reply to this email (we’ll keep your name to ourselves unless you say otherwise) or if you, like Rachel, no longer give a single ef, comment below.
Rachel & Maggie—who in her postdivorce, post-little-kid career boom is as Portal-y as they come, y’all.
P.P.S. Sending love and solidarity with a heaping side of (mom?) rage to all of the journalists who’ve lost their jobs at the L.A. Times, Pitchfork, Time, and Sports Illustrated in the last few days. TF!
The world is her shimmering, ear-size oyster with a slick, condom-ribbed exterior, smelling of an overcast morning on the bay.
Personal essay hotshot Leslie Jamison has a new and very Spready book out next month: Splinters: Another Kind of Love Story, about “what it means for a woman to be many things at once—a mother, an artist, a teacher, a lover.” Casual! Last week, the New Yorker went ahead and ran its excerpt, which focuses on Jamison’s experience having a baby, whom she’s super into, and a husband, whom she’s now dramatically less into. The piece is dizzyingly self-assured, catch-your-breath moving, and kind of exhausting in that Leslie Jamison way2. (Her mother is also a character, and the moments she stars in are exquisite, full-stop.3) In one disorienting scene, Jamison lays her writer cards out on the table (and under a glowing, patinaed, dome-shaped pendant-lamp), and I’m still not sure exactly what to make of it. Teaching a class, she explains to her students how to write for impact: “You have to uproot the cocktail-party story, I said, in order to get at the more complicated version lurking beneath it: the nostalgia under the anger, the fear beneath the ambition. I didn’t want their breakups summarized, I wanted specifics—wanted them stress-eating cookies as big as their palms, their fingers smelling like iron after leaning against an ex’s rusty fire escape.” Which, you know, is how she writes. Luckily, the book comes out on February 20, which gives me four weeks to recover from this chunk before reading the rest.—Rachel
Read “The Birth of My Daughter, the Death of My Marriage” here.
Smells like teen spirit.
With my (perfect, lovely, genius) twin nieces turning 21 to-morr-ow—look alive, Burlington, Vermont!—it seems the impossible has occurred: These girls made it all the way to adulthood liking their parents. I don’t get it. The New Yorker recently re-promoted Kimberly Harrington’s 2021 humor essay on Gen X girlhood, and I hooted at it all over again, and also understood myself anew. Of course, as a member of the cohort “parented by the first big wave of ‘Ha ha, fuck this!’ moms heading off to work” and the last generation that “couldn’t wait to get the hell away from your parents and do whatever you wanted,” I am left scratching my head at kids who make it to legal drinking age without ever hurling obscene insults at the people who birthed, fed, clothed, and nurtured them. I mean, how...weird, amiright?—Maggie
Read, “What to Expect When You’re Expecting to be a Gen X Girl” here.
“What do BAFTA voters have in common with Alison Roman? They both love Fennell!”
Thank you, Nate Jones, for delivering what may be the Spreadiest joke ever.
Wild this is not.
In a rare-for-the-Spread move, I’m about to spoil Elizabeth Weil’s kicker to her gut-wrenching narrative in the current New York mag, about two sisters and one 13-year-old boy who tragically tried to live off the grid4. The entire story is absolutely worth reading, but this final frame crushed me whole: “We have stories for men who leave the world behind: the Desert Fathers, the Unabomber, Into the Wild,” Weil writes. “The deprivation is monastic, the radical run at self-sufficiency heroic, even if it’s born of mental illness, even if it results in death. Who is the woman who leaves? The woman who, in trying to protect her child from the world, hastens that child’s demise?
She is unthinkable. And she is terrified. She already believes that she stands to lose it all.”—Rachel
Read “The Women Who Walked Away” here.
“We should normalize separate bedrooms.…To me, I would literally—I have my house, you have yours. We have the family house in the middle. I will go and sleep in my room. You go sleep in your room. I’m fine.…And we have the bedroom in the middle that we can convene in for our relations.”—Cameron Diaz, “relations” wizard, on Molly Sims’s podcast, Lipstick on the Rim (truly, we leave no stone unturned around here)
Have your carrot cake and eat it too.
It’s something about the human spirit: A Playboy Bunny story is always catnip—and when that story involves a bunny’s #MeToo-era awakening, you can consume it guilt-free! Say what you will in defense of May-December unions, which it seems we’re supposed to cosign now, in the name of feminism or something (?), but Hef’s final Mrs. was a deeply icky 20 to his 80 when they got, well, something on. Now 37, Crystal Hefner’s gone a sensible dirty-blonde and has “come into her power,” as they say, with a long overdue epiphany that we can sum up as, “Ewwww.” Read it here.
Exploring “the duet between the one who feels angry and hurt and suspicious and the one who is guilty and ashamed and defensive about making her feel that way.”
It’s not that it’s all that hard to apologize. It’s that it’s hard to apologize right—indeed, not just hard, it requires “a miracle,” writes the increasingly high-visibility philosopher Agnes Callard5 in the Drift, applying her big brain to why “sorry” is anything but simple. For starters, in order to move on from a slight, the slight-ee needs the slight-er to apologize. But what if they don’t organically offer one up? To ask for an apology is to “definitively disable the power of those words.” It’s a catch-22 that any married person will recognize off the bat.—Maggie
Read “The Paradox of Apology” here.
Hey, “digital nomads.” Know what’s actually kinda great about this “trauma-dumping” “hellscape”?
Who do we have to thank for the evolution of the English language? Teenage girls, that’s who! It is no great surprise to me, of course, that Spread Readers (okay, you got me, National Geographic said “women”) “are linguistically ahead of men by a full generation.” Step aside, Shakespeare: Historically, women have been faster to adopt and invent new language. Wayback, we were the reason those pretentious swanes stopped saying “doth” and “hath” and “mine eyes” and got real with does, has, and my. Why? Because we’re more socially aware. Have larger social circles. And, like, talk to people. We also raise people, so while “boys usually learn language from their mothers…women and girls learn words from other women.” The point is we are doing the lord’s work over here, using all our words with you. Now, could somebody please explain what “yeet” means?—Maggie
Read “New words are spreading faster than ever—thanks to teenage girls.” here.
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In a description of a Judy Chicago place setting: “Blue waves curled off the plate, as if gazing hard enough at the sky could eventually pull you off the ground.”
“When my mother arrived from California, I sat there on the starched sheets holding my baby, and my mother held me, and I cried uncontrollably, because I finally understood how much she loved me, and I could hardly stand the grace of it.”