The American Girl dolls of newsletters—Samantha and Molly, natch—has got a lot on our Limoges this week: Sex scenes, Supreme Court stuff, and so much more.
“Kiss me like we’re on the Bachelor.” Yes, Rachel and her husband often—mostly jokingly—invoke everyone’s favorite junk-TV show when requesting each other’s unfettered affection. We’re not talking about the sprint-and-straddle greeting that’s become a hallmark of the franchise’s one-on-one date—who really has that kind of get-up-and-go these days?—but rather, the face-grabbing smooch. It feels a little dangerous—not because of the unbridled passion, but because every time we see that move on-screen, we feel the need to call the dermatologist. Somewhere, sometime did we all absorb the notion that touching one’s face—or allowing a lover to do so—was a breakout-causing no-no? Or did the Spread just happen to get our mitts on the same issue of YM circa 1995? Not that we follow it: We will let literally anyone who is so inclined touch our faces—intimates, randoms, grubby children. We’ve just heard you’re not supposed to. But over at Vanity Fair, writer Jessica DeFino uses science (!) to throw that truism to the wind. She posits that face touching (and, presumably, full-contact lip-smacking?) is one of those occasions in which bacteria is good for you. Cue the Divinyls.
Here for the right reasons,
Rachel & Maggie
P.S. What do you call the Mx. who’s marrying the bride? Here comes the “marriers” and “brooms.”
The amazing Malone Sisters!
As if the Williamses weren’t enough, there’s another pair of top-of-their-game sisters drawing serious attention: Noreen and Clare Malone both published blockbuster pieces of journalism this week, in the New York Times Magazine and the New Yorker, respectively. In me, this occurrence simultaneously unleashes a flood of admiration, a deep curiosity about their parents’ child-reading styles (Noreen and Clare are just two of the six Ohio-born Malone children!), and a question: Should I rip my own lil sis from the comfort of the music industry in sunny L.A. and quickly train her up in journalism so we can attempt to be a budget version of the Malones? Anyway! In an ultra-ambitious essay about “The Age of Anti-Ambition,” Noreen—who has for more than a decade been masterfully constructing state-of-the-generation accounts—lays out the most sophisticated version of the Great Resignation story yet, layering in labor trends, the rise of unionizing among white-collar workers, and why no one seems to want be the boss anymore. Noreen, who like me is an elder millennial, somehow pulls off not showing her own cards or explicitly taking sides without seeming cynical or removed. It’s a feat. Meanwhile, younger sister Clare, who’s now the New Yorker’s media reporter, lands an interview with the Times’s outgoing executive editor Dean Baquet. Many bits of the interview have been all over media Twitter—especially when Baquet nonchalantly cops to having zero sense that Trump could have possibly won the 2016 election—but read it for Baquet’s career-twilight ferocity and his own perspective on having another journalism star as a sibling (casually, he and his brother Terry have both won Pulitzers).—Rachel
Read "The Age of Anti-Ambition” here.
Read “Dean Baquet Never Wanted to Be an Editor” here.
How hot is your mess?
If we’re talking TV antiheroines—and at Spread HQ, we often are—I’d say I’m a bit of a Liz Lemon (a perpetually stressed, Cheetos-dust-on-my-cardigan type) with a Fleabag rising sign (very questionable choices post-2 a.m.). Rachel, what kind of mess are you? Just in time for a pair of English profs to release a book called The New Female Antihero:The Disruptive Women of Twenty-First-Century US Television, HBO has generously served up Someone, Somewhere, starring Bridget Everett as Sam, a single, struggling 40-something who does not look a thing like the ladies of US Weekly. In the New York Times, said profs, Sarah Hagelin and Gillian Silverman, make the case for why we find such characters so satisfying, while tracking the trajectory of small-screen beloveds from the perky strivers—Mary Richards, Leslie Knope—to the decidedly un-aspirational, from Hannah Horvath in Girls to Arabella Essiedu in I Will Destroy You. “Because audiences expect cheery competence from women while tolerating laziness, violence and rule-breaking in men, the female antihero represents a far more profound threat to the status quo,” they write. “It’s a relief to see the women of small-screen comedy and dramedy turning their backs on ambition, personal growth and self-actualization.” I know I just delivered a major spoiler, but do read this, if only to restock your streaming queue. For instance, how did I miss This Way Up, which involves Sharon Horgan (LOVE) and is described by The Guardian as “a chaotic coming-of-age black comedy for the over-30s.” Come to mama!—Maggie
Oooooooh, Maggie! This is a thrilling exercise. Especially because you’ve taken Liz Lemon for yourself, forcing me to get creative. I think I’ll leave the chart behind to put together my own messy composite: Julia from the criminally underwatched British comedy Motherland, plus Miranda Hobbes (who we all have recently discovered is quite a mess despite her 30s reputation), with a little Elaine Benes and peak-mess Peggy Olson. Add a pinch of the Tyra Banks character as portrayed by Tyra Banks on America’s Next Top Model. How honest are we being? There’s also Selina Meyer, The L Word’s Alice Pieszecki, Ally McBeal (oof), The West Wing’s Ainsley Hayes… I could go on!—Rachel
Read “Why We Love Lazy, Drunk, Broke Women on TV” here.
Buy The New Female Antihero:The Disruptive Women of Twenty-First-Century US Television from the Spread Bookshop here.
So a pair of unicorns walk into a pharmacy…
As the future of abortion care in America gets grimmer by the day—maybe even by the second—Businessweek has devoted its cover to mifepristone, aka the abortion pill, the ultra-safe, at-home solution and “undue burden”-buster that’s been around—but has remained heartbreakingly inaccessible—for decades. So inaccessible, in fact, that in one informal text-message survey of ten college-educated women, none had ever even heard of the abortion pill. The piece, by Cynthia Koons, is hopeful in that the medication exists and that access to it by telemedicine could change the reproductive-health landscape for American women; less hopeful: at least for now, an undoing of the onerous and unnecessary regulations attached to the prescribing of it (like mandatory in-person visits) seems unlikely.
Elsewhere in reproductive healthcare: Male birth control. At this point—60+ years after the pill was FDA-approved—it’s basically the stuff of fantasy, like stumbling upon a pot of gold or…whatever (my metaphors are not clickin’ today). But according to Cosmo’s new issue, hormonal birth control for men could actually be on the market…in a decade or so, when the Spread’s Fertile Myrtle years will be well behind us. If so, it will be a clear gel that men rub on their shoulders daily. Cosmo writer Andrew Zaleski reports on an in-progress study of the NES/T supergoop, which suppresses sperm production. Since the study began, zero participating couples have gotten pregnant. The access Zaleski gets is impressive and the implications are huge.—Rachel
Read “Abortion Pill Is Safer Than Tylenol and Almost Impossible to Get” here.
Read “Welcome to the Era of Contraceptive Skin Goo” here.
Sexless superheroes are not your only option!
It sounds suspiciously like a Spread editorial meeting: Four New Yorker writers (Alexandra Schwartz, Doreen St. Félix, Naomi Fry, Vinson Cunningham) gathered round last week to discuss the state of the movie sex scene. My two favorite insights were both raised by critic Doreen St. Félix: A) She points out that the most erotic movie made in years is French director Céline Sciamma’s lesbian love story Portrait of a Lady on Fire, a film built on the sensation of longing through the female gaze that really earns its climactic (!) sex scene (sidebar: don’t miss this article’s smart riff about how nowadays sex scenes must be “earned.”); B) St. Félix notes that the decline of the sex scene is due to the decline of the mid-budget adult drama in favor of huge-budged all-ages tentpoles. Marvel, we’re looking at you. St. Félix is right on the money, but I was surprised no one on the panel brought up the new, Oscar-nominated Norwegian film, The Worst Person in the World, which, like Portrait of a Lady on Fire, is foreign, mid-budget, and sexy. (I saw it yesterday—it’s fresh—and I highly recommend you do too, on the big screen if possible.) In Worst Person, our 30-year-old protagonist Julie (brilliant, ultra-watchable coat hanger Renate Reinsve) ambivalently navigates love, sex, parents, career, and the future. There’s plenty of natural-looking, beautifully choreographed sex, in a way that reminded me of Hulu’s Dublin-set Normal People adaptation and also The Best Movie of All Time, summer-in-Italy dream Call Me by Your Name. But there’s also a drawn-out super-erotic scene that involves not a single kiss. So I guess you can still find sex in the cinema—you just have to go to Europe for it.—Rachel
Read “The Sex Scene Is Dead. Long Live the Sex Scene” here.
The moral of the story: You can’t cancel money.
For years now, since their bizarro anti-gay-adoption/IVF comments (“synthetic!”) and their Chinese runway show disaster…and…and.. and, I’ve found myself perplexed each time I find coverage of Dolce & Gabbana, in an otherwise culturally sensitive mag—whether it’s some rah-rah fashion news piece, or showcasing the clothes in a fashion editorial. Or a celebrity, still sporting the label on the red carpet. Did I miss some grand gesture on the part of Domenico and Stefano? Did I sleep through some moving mea culpa? Then royal watcher/fashion critic Elizabeth Holmes’s (no, not that Elizabeth Holmes!) Instagram feed reassures me: Nope, I have not! (Props to Holmes for using her sizable platform to spout truth.) It is perplexing, in the age of cancellation, how this one repeat-offender fashion brand just keeps chugging. Finally, Tahirah Hairston takes on this third-rail topic for the Cut’s spring fashion issue, and it is SATISFYING. In short, the answer is: $$$. D&G had enough of it to keep on advertising in the big glossies, double down on a (very good) celebrity/influencer strategy, and to continue making custom red carpet looks—as well as plus sizes. But the whole shebang is worth reading.—Rachel
Read “Why Couldn’t Anybody Cancel Dolce & Gabbana?” here.
The halcyon days of coke without ketamine.
I once interviewed Candace Bushnell. In her doorman building in Greenwich Village, in her appropriately art-lined, pink-tinged, gold-accented apartment, I patted her blond Ibizan hound, Tuco—a dog as leggy and expensive-looking as its owner—as Bushnell dug out the first pair of Manolos she ever bought: Black, shiny stiletto boots, footwear suited to a double agent. “My friend said, these will change your life. And I guess they did.” Still, I couldn’t shake the feeling that she was condescending to me for being there to talk shoes. The interview was fine, but it wasn’t a love affair. I realized within minutes that I had stupidly come there to meet someone who didn’t live there at all. Bushnell must be used to people experiencing this cognitive dissonance in her presence, and I maybe had a worse case than most, in that I had by that time already interviewed Sarah Jessica Parker twice. SJP is a lot like Carrie Bradshaw, or at least the on-screen version she created: Warm, winsome, charming. Whereas Bushnell is witty, sharp, acerbic, a real old-school dame—a New York media fixture who only looks like a lady who lunches. I never quite got off the back foot with her that day. But I was excited to see Jia Tolentino’s byline back in the New Yorker, after a long absence that was at least partially a maternity leave. Tolentino was the perfect person to lead this Q&A with Bushnell—a story that got everybody a-Twitter last week because Bushnell goes there, talking money: Specifically, her journalism rates in the ’90s, when she made $5,000 a month writing a column for Vogue. “I mean, this was a time that writers were getting a Vanity Fair contract for six pieces and $250,000 a year,” she says. “People valued writing; it wasn’t considered something everyone can do.” Reading her recount stories I already knew about her broke three-party-a-night 20s and her big swing at success (late-breaking at the ripe old age of 34), and her absolute certainty that she didn’t want children, I felt the love rekindled…from a safe distance.—Maggie
Maggie, Though talk of those publishing days gives me a stomachache, I must point you elsewhere in the New Yorker’s “digital interview issue” (which they seem to have put up online during the back half of a print double-issue’s newsstand life) as a reminder that magazines—fashion magazines in particular—can still inspire…if not make you rich. Enjoy this bit from Stevie Nicks’s interview by Tavi Gevinson.—Rachel
Read “Candace Bushnell Is Back in the City” here.
Read “Stevie Nicks Is Still Living Her Dreams” here.
Why did it take this long to get a simple C-section explainer??
My husband, who has now glimpsed my internal organs twice, during the births of both of our sons, has been known to tell dinner parties that my uterus resembles “an exotic melon-like fruit.” I haven’t personally seen this part of myself, so I’ll take his word for it. I had one emergency C-section (harrowing) and one scheduled one (comparatively blissful) and, in all that time, no one ever gave me as much clear, useful information as I got from reading Romper’s guide to the “Best C-section Ever.” This is old-school women’s magazine service journalism at its best: preparing parents for the way that 31.7% of American children arrive, without going on and on about how badly the medical establishment wants to keep those numbers down (in my case, knowing a C-section wasn’t the “right” way to have a baby meant that I failed to learn anything about what one might be like, beyond the 15 minute C-sections lecture during my two-day birthing class). Among the info I learned here: Why you shouldn’t paint your nails before surgery. Why your milk may take longer to come down. And why fibroids might come into play. Save it for your pregnant friends—whether they’re planning for a vaginal birth or not.—Maggie
Read “Best C-Section Ever” here.
Still processing stories from the past few weeks? So is the rest of the media.
Anybody else lying awake at night, brain slingshotting between Ukraine, doped-up Russian ice skaters, and Jane Mayer’s story from a few weeks back on Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’s right-wing conspirator wife, Ginni Thomas? This last one has a hold on me, readers. Now that we know about the Ginni Thomas problem, what are we going to DO about it?? Thankfully the story has not gone cold: This very day, the New York Times Magazine takes it a step further, plainly framing Ginni’s conservative cause as a shared effort in “The Long Crusade of Clarence and Ginni Thomas.” Reporters Danny Hakim and Jo Becker show how blurred the lines became between Ginni’s interests and her husband’s position in the effort to overturn the 2020 election. Will a growing pile of evidence—about, um, real news—lead to any actual action?
And, in far, far happier news, Margaret Atwood read Jennifer Senior’s story about friendship—you remember, the one we raved about in last week’s issue?—and felt compelled to tweet. She popped up in Senior’s replies: Wait till you get Really old. It will all change again. :) Margaret Atwood—author of 17 novels, 18 books of poetry, and 11 works of nonfiction—deploying a cutesy smiley-face emoji? I’m dead. The exchange led to a follow-up conversation between the two writers that you don’t want to miss.—Maggie
I love this newsletter so much! It's like a book club, but for magazine articles, and everyone is so smart and interesting and I'd rather hear their takes than share my own! So, not really like a book club. But a REALLY great newsletter -- one that I look forward to every week. Keep it coming, Maggie and Rachel! (Also, I thoroughly enjoyed This Way Up, but I can never remember the name of the show when I try to recommend it to people. I don't think that's my fault...? It's warm-hearted yet also hilarious, and there's an unforgettable rendition of the song "Zombie" by The Cranberries!)
Sisters! Nothing like a sister collaboration ! Thanks for all the fun pieces…and also loved the Tavi interview with Stevie Nicks! Sisters at heart!!!