Sometimes the Clothes Do Not Make the Mag
The Bill Pullman and Bill Paxton of newsletters is knee-deep in Naomis, stockpiling September issues, and tripping up on “trigger warnings”
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If there’s one thing people say about both of us, it is, “You're fierce, confident, and always know how to slay a runway.” Seriously, aren’t you guys always saying that about us? Anyway, that’s what Vogue’s “Which ’90s Supermodel Are You?” quiz told us, when it pronounced us both…Naomis! We are slightly puzzled because we have never dated Robert De Niro and cannot run as fast as Naomi can walk a catwalk, but, hey, with September Issue season knocking at our door? We’ll take it! Anyway, we sure needed the pick-me-up after the New York Times forgot that “women’s magazines” are about more than shopping. What a funny and charming mistake! For those of you who were on vacation on August 5—a date that will henceforth bear a black X on our calendars—let us provide a CliffsNotes: The Times rubbed salt into an old wound when it published “The Women’s Magazines of 2023 Are in a Facebook Group and Your Inbox.” Among the Future of All Women’s Media, the article spotlighted our deserving Substack sisters Becky Malinsky’s 5 Things You Should Buy and Caroline Moss’s Gee Thanks, Just Bought It! Respect, fashion eds! But, uh, if we may: Since when did the term “women’s magazine” solely apply to shopping content? Oh right, since always. But here in Spreadlandia, we know that while women love to shop, we also love to read. Can we get an amen?
Step lively and never show weakness,
Naomi Rachel & Naomi Maggie
The Truths We Hide
Honestly, I wasn’t sure I could handle Jennifer Senior’s 13,000-word masterpiece of reporting and personal essay in the Atlantic, in which she probes a family secret: the severely developmentally disabled aunt that Senior’s grandparents consigned to an institution in the 1950s. Doctors predicted that Adele, 21 months old when she was admitted, would never be able to walk or talk, and told her parents that institutionalization was the best course of action for both child and family. I felt incredibly naive at this point in the story: I did not know that even for middle-class families, institutionalization often meant leaving a child “warehoused, disappeared, roughly shorn from the family tree”—sometimes never to be seen or heard from again. At six years old, Senior’s mother abruptly lost her baby sister; she would not see Adele again until she decided to visit her in the ’90s. Senior movingly writes about how that kind of abandonment wasn’t just ruthless to the disabled child—Adele spent her formative years at a medieval-sounding “school” that embodied “the horrors and moral degeneracy of institutionalization”—but also left a hole in the hearts of her mother and sister, like “an unmourned death.” When Senior and her mom reconnected with Adele in recent months (presumably in the service of this story), they found a childlike 70-something who had exceeded doctors’ expectations. Living with loving, familial caretakers in a small group home, Senior’s aunt loves to make beaded necklaces and sleeps in a room full of stuffed animals, a Disney-princess blanket on her bed. But what happens next, I never expected. Put it this way: When I listened to the audio version of the story on Apple News, the final 10 minutes found me driving around my small town, blinded by tears yet blown away by the gorgeously wrought journey Senior (with her mother’s consent) is brave enough to take us on.—Maggie
Read “The Ones We Sent Away” here.
Thawing a final fertility taboo?
A couple years ago, I heard from a friend-of-a friend that a conservative Christian pro-lifer with whom we’d gone to grade school had leftover frozen embryos from IVF that she planned to “put up for adoption.” Ever since then, I’ve been desperate for the definitive magazine article on embryo donation (Maggie can vouch for this highly specific yearning of mine). Last week, the Cut published something fairly close! (New Yorker editors, you can tell Remnick that I still have an appetite for the Big New Yorker Feature on this subject, replete with a full cast of complicated characters and dramatic how-on-earth-was-the-writer-there-for-that scenes, please.) The Cut’s piece, by Sara Harrison, is a profile of Deb Roberts, the woman who started Embryo Connections, an embryo matchmaking agency founded as an alternative to the predominantly conservative Christian agencies that have cornered the market. (An executive at one such company tells Harrison: “I don’t see it as any different than me adopting a baby that’s already been born.”) It’s a fascinating survey of a highly unique sub-industry, one with major implications for reproductive rights, privacy, science, and family. Elsewhere in the world of reproduction, and in lockstep with the final episode of The Retrievals (if you haven’t listened yet, we’re in a fight) Vogue’s Hannah Jackson has a piece that will likely make you bug your eyes and nod emphatically, starting with the headline: “Does IUD Insertion Really Have to Be So Painful?”—Rachel
Read “The Embryo Matchmaker” here.
Read the Vogue IUD article here.
Listen to The Retrievals here.
From one freshly minted Naomi to the other Naomis.
Flipping through my new September Vanity Fair—yes, flipping physical pages—my blood momentarily ran cold. Here was smarty-pants Naomi Klein calling out internet idiots for a gaffe that I, too, once tragically embarrassed myself by making: Stop confusing Naomi Klein with Naomi Wolf! In the olden days when I was a twentysomething wrangling my way from the beauty pages into the promised land of the features department, the confusion was kind of understandable: When the two Naomis made their initial splash, they were both blond-highlighted brunette, Jewish authors of big-idea books (Klein: No Logo. Wolf: Beauty Myth). But by the late aughts, the woman Klein had begun to think of as “Other Naomi” was already on her way from being “a standard-bearer of 1990s feminism” to her current iteration: “full-fledged crossover star on the MAGA right.” Wolf was soon spouting theories that sometimes sound like Klein’s own research, but run through a “bonkers blender” and spoon-fed to Tucker Carlson. Now, Real Naomi is taking matters into her own hands, using the mix-up as a jumping-off point for a new book, Doppleganger (the VF piece is an excerpt) that explores the “mirror world” of inauthenticity: AI-generated content, planted conspiracy theories, deepfakes. Also, and more unexpectedly, she gets into our fully sanctioned norm of creating doppelgängers of our own—the clean-scrubbed, perfected selves we present on social media, and even the marketable version that high schoolers have to craft in their college essays. In college courses Klein teaches, students tell her that, “through these high-stakes writing exercises, they learned to tell stories about their young lives that had less to do with truths as they knew them than with meeting the imagined needs and requirements of an audience of strangers for certain kinds of identities.” All of which makes it hard to say, who’s playing whom here?—Maggie
Read “When Naomi Klein Realized People Regularly Confused Her With Naomi Wolf, She Went Down a Rabbit Hole” here.
“Perception is reality.”
It’s Trauma Month in the Mainstream Media. Last issue, I wrote about my new writer crush Danielle Carr’s New York magazine cover story which examined trauma as the prevailing diagnosis of our time. Now, in a bold, relentlessly self-aware Atlantic essay, OG feminist blogger (and Spreadie Award-winning fellow Substacker; hey girl) Jill Filipovic dives headfirst into trauma’s increasingly central place in social-media culture and its impact on an entire generation of very online young people. Filipovic herself is very online, and has long been on the front lines of how feminist spaces should navigate “deeply problematic” subject matter; for many years she was a proponent of trigger warnings. Now, as the mental health of teenage girls in particular reaches crisis levels, she wonders whether trigger warnings—and the mainstreaming of terms like “problematic,” “toxic,” and even “potentially problematic”—have inadvertently shielded young people from learning to process the thorny realities of the actual world in which live. “Applying the language of trauma to an event changes the way we process it,” she writes. “That may be a good thing, allowing a person to face a moment that truly cleaved their life into a before and an after, and to seek help and begin healing. Or it may amplify feelings of helplessness and hopelessness, elevating those feelings above a sense of competence and control.”—Rachel
Read “I Was Wrong About Trigger Warnings” here.
I give it three stars.
Among my favorite nano-genres (and I mean nano) is Lauren Bans On Sex Stuff, and that category has a new entry: Bans on the “trend” of people she knows giving or receiving threesomes as a birthday present. Funny lines!—Rachel
Read it here.
What the heck is preppy doing on the streets of Greenwich Village circa 2023?
In The Kingdom of Prep, I wrote that preppy style, depending on your point of view, is either the psycho or the hero of the movie: Just when you think the look is dead, donzo, thoroughly vanquished—next thing you know, it’s baaaack. Writing in the New Republic, historian and New School prof Natalia Mehlman Petrzela wonders what her students are doing wearing preppy duds in this day and age. In addition to covering my book (gratzi, merci, and whatever 🙌 actually means) Petrzela hits all the essential notes of the modern preppy conversation: podcast savant Avery Trufelman1 (whose American Ivy season of Articles of Interest is definitive, y’all) and Jason Jules, whose book Black Ivy—documenting the ineffable chic of John Coltrane, James Baldwin, and Sidney Poitier, among others—was both incredible eye candy and a crucial reference material for me.
While you’re indulging me and my publisher in this brief sojourn back into the realm of TKOP, let’s turn to another confusing acronym. Team, what do we make of Jenna Lyons’s turn on RHONY? I can’t tell you how many Housewives virgins have told me that her presence is the thing that finally wooed them over to Bravo. Could Jenna succeed in elevating the whole franchise?—Maggie
“Females…are, like, running the game right now.”
You’ve likely heard that hip-hop turned 50 this year (also freshly quinquagenarian: Kate Beckinsale, Adrien Brody, Pharrell Williams, and Heidi Klum) from the mixed bag of related media gambits marking the anniversary. Only one of those pieces made me go, YES!, as if I was in an Herbal Essences commercial circa 1998 (when, incidentally, hip-hop woulda been a whippersnapping 25). In the New York Times Magazine, Spreadfave Niela Orr casually flexes an incredible command of the history of the genre as she argues that right now the real creative action—and all the fun—in hip-hop comes from women rappers: Maiya The Don, Sexyy Red, KenTheman, and dozens more (how good are their names!). While the men have entered a strange and joyless period of crisis, contradiction, and depression, she writes, the women hold the joy and the humor that this genre—or any other—depends on to thrive. The essay, which accompanies glorious portraits by photographer Adrienne Raquel, is packed with insights, quotes full of swagger, and, like the best of hip-hop, just the right amount of writerly indulgence. It’s also topnotch service journalism: Shall we start a “Women in Hip-Hop in Magazines” playlist?—Rachel
Read “The Future of Rap Is Female” here.
Daughters of Lydia.
I would like to thank the editors at Cosmopolitan for giving me a fresh peg from which to breathlessly recommend Netflix’s not-so-new Queer Ultimatum, a messy, painful, deeply human reality show in which eight women partner-swap in hopes of self-discovery and, ideally, wife-discovery, too. This show is so good, mostly owing to the fact that women know how to talk about their feelings—we waste zero time on nonconfrontational or less-than-introspective males. Over at Cosmo, writer Sara Youngblood Gregory identifies Queer Ultimatum character/alleged real person Vanessa Papa as a “Misery Lesbian,” a new character type, of which Lydia Tár is Exhibit A. It’s a very fun culture trend piece that checks out: After reading, I found myself poring over a list of all the L Word ladies in an attempt to prove that this archetype predates Yellowjackets (Taissa is another example)—sorry, I’m a skeptic by nature!—and no dice. Sara, your coinage stands! Long live the Misery Lesbian!—Rachel
Read “The Spectacular Rise of the Misery Lesbian” here.
And Finally….Our Eyes Are Peeled.
We’re looking for someone to help us process this deeply blergh-y Lizzo situation. Who’s brave enough to render the think piece we all need right now?
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P.R artistes, we are not! Awhile back, M.B. and Avery Trufelman were interviewed about all things #prep on the podcast The Big Idea. Host Caleb Bissinger asked THE most impressively tuned-in and observant questions, MB was honored to be there, and nevertheless, we forgot to share it over here in Spreadlandia. Listen here.