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The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Wife
The Ben Smith and Justin Smith of newsletters is back with ambivalence—and ENTHUSIASM—about 2022. You in?
How many of us fell into bed one night this past week, existentially wrung out by the particular heaven/hell overwhelm of family holidays, and scrolled through advice queen Heather Havrilesky’s marriage essay1 in the New York Times—reading a little guiltily, perhaps; tilting the phone slightly away from our partner, lest he make out the bold font: “Do I hate my husband? Oh yes, sure, definitely.” Why bother hiding when chances are, said partner was reading the same thing on his phone, 18 inches away—wondering how he’d lasted 11 years handcuffed to the Grinch. As we round the bend into year three of this pandemic, with Omicron wafting under the doors and clambering through the windows of our once-safe refuge—taunting us with the possibility of yet more months of forced togetherness—marriage itself seems to be the question of the day, in a steady stream of essays by women describing marital dissatisfaction and, in some cases, dissolution.
In a beautifully wrought Atlantic essay, mother of three Honor Jones walks away from her renovation fantasy—the house and the husband and the infernal crushed Cheerios underfoot, though not the Cheerios-crushing children—to view the world once again through no one else’s lens but her own. In her newsletter, Jill Filipovic followed up with a lengthy rehash of Havrilesky/Jones, giving thanks for her own marriage while urging us to question the societal conditioning that makes nuptials hard on us modern women. And Tuesday, novelist and Harpers Bazaar executive editor Kaitlyn Greenidge published an opinion piece in the New York Times about her own pandemic divorce, which has led her and her daughter to move in with her mother and siblings; redefining their family, she argues, has benefited her child.
Of course, this kind of lady pluck always riles up the right wing. The American Conservative had this to say of Jones: “She ought to be ashamed of herself…the fact that it was written and published at all—is profoundly emblematic of the moral bankruptcy of our culture.” Eye roll? Sure. But we will say the through-line is a kind of radical remorselessness: I dumped the dude, I’m better for it! Could a man get away with writing with such a gives-no-effs take here in 2022? Probably not! Are we okay with women doing it anyway? Damn right! Here’s to the year of the tiger (who else is getting the sweatshirt?).
Rachel & Maggie
Go big or go home.
As the nation continues to reel from Michael Schulman’s takedown-or-was-it on Jeremy Strong/Kendall Roy, the New Yorker writer has come out with yet another can’t-miss pop-culture profile, this time on a hero of mine, the bodacious, bawdy alt-cabaret-singer-turned-HBO-comedy-star Bridget Everett. I was first introduced to Everett in 2014 when my friend Anna offered me and my now-husband James tickets to a late-night performance of Everett’s “Rock Bottom” cabaret show at Joe’s Pub. To avoid blushing on the page (hey, my aunts read this!), I’ll let Schulman describe her stage antics:
“Everything about Everett is large: her pipes (she studied operatic voice in college), her libido, her stage presence, and her body, which she uses as gelignite to spark a crowd into a willing frenzy. In a signature song, she belts, ‘What I gotta do to get that dick in my mouth?’ and then makes everyone sing along. She talks about sloppy sex, having abortions after sloppy sex, getting blackout drunk, the many varieties of ‘titties,’ her genitalia, her parents’ genitalia, her audience members’ genitalia—but it’s all too joyful to feel especially transgressive. Her blowsy sexuality is less a weapon than an invitation to feel as uninhibited as she does.”
Also in attendance that night at Joe’s Pub were Kathy Najimy, Victor Garber, and one Amy Schumer, who is now an Everett coconspirator and whose impression of Everett is recounted in the New Yorker piece and mirrors my own almost exactly! “Just to see a woman up there owning her own body and sharing what she wants of it, engaging in such a hypersexual way on her own terms, is thrilling,” Schumer tells Schulman. Thrilling and also hilarious, and I am counting down the moments until her show, Somebody Somewhere, in which Everett plays a version of herself who never left her hometown of Manhattan, Kansas, hits HBO Max on January 16.—Rachel
Read “Bridget Everett is Larger Than Life” here.
Sworn in, bowed out.
Over at New York mag, Zak Cheney Rice finally gets at a question that’s been in the back of a lot of minds for months: Why did Atlanta mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, a woman who ran on a campaign theme of “Black girl magic” and appeared to embody just that—and who was a rising Democratic-party star, a runner-up in Biden’s VP search—suddenly announce in May that, after a single term, she wouldn’t run for reelection? The answer she gives, delivered early on in the piece, is unusually…human for a politician: Bottoms cites the sentiments of Naomi Osaka and Simone Biles; like them, she says, she’s prioritizing mental health. She won the job of mayor, then realized it wasn’t the job for her. She’s an introvert. Life is short. Huh. Just as you’re beginning to ponder a new question—well, why do we need a lengthy profile on a woman who’s about to retreat from public life?—Cheney Rice turns the ship, recounting four years of tension in Atlanta, and in cities across the country—through the riots after the death of George Floyd to the rise of defund the police rallies—through his own lens as a frustrated Atlanta resident, facing the reality that the “revolutionary promise of last summer” has ultimately resulted not in criminal-justice reform but, in many cases, in realignment with the police. When Cheney Rice describes a bucolic, pricey new police-training center that both Bottoms and governor Brian Kemp (don’t get me started) have backed, his words palpably drip with contempt. He writes: “The assumption that Black political leaders are naturally more committed to justice for Black people looks as shaky as ever.”—Maggie
Read “Why Did Keisha Lance Bottoms Quit?” here.
Like sand through the hourglass…
Ah, maternal ambivalence! The bread and butter of women’s magazine features in the days of yore is now the subject of Maggie Gyllenhaal’s directorial debut, The Lost Daughter, adapted from the unflinching Elena Ferrante novel and streaming on Netflix. It’s also the subject of a pair of smart pieces from Slate and The Atlantic over “the break.” 2 For Slate, the intrepid Noreen Malone writes about how “the fertility plot” is the new marriage plot—the chief force in how women plan/angst about their lives and ambitions. Meanwhile, for The Atlantic, Olga Khazan digs into the concept of baby fever and concludes that yes, it’s a real thing; yes, men can have it too (but not as strongly or frequently as women); no, you’re not required to have it in order to have a baby; and posits that yes it is indeed a reaction to infertility struggles. Olga’s got the data! So: Should you on-the-fencers out there have a baby? You’ll have to wait for my memoir to come out in 2042 to find out!—Rachel
Read “It’s Okay If You Don’t Have Baby Fever!” here.
Read “The Fertility Plot Is the New Marriage Plot” here.
A “spread” in more ways than one.
After a pandemic and a sedentary book-writing siege, I have the bod of a woman who spends a lot of time on her couch sipping coffee, pondering what to write about things that other women write (ahem). And now we hit the time of year when the question of whether to endeavor to “fix” or to “accept” arises, yet again. Do I diet? Or do I dig deeper and just deal, like a good feminist? The two options present themselves as an impossible binary, leaving me locked in a pitched inner battle. I’m eternally grateful when smarter, more accomplished women than me—women who I assume have it all figured out—admit that they, too, are dogged by this one. “Over the course of a month last winter, I didn’t eat for 17 out of 30 days,” admits Kate Manne in an essay in the New York Times. Manne is a woman who, by her own admission “should know better.” She’s a PhD who teaches philosophy at Cornell; she wrote 2018’s feminist door stopper Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny. She knows thinness doesn’t equal health, that dieters almost always backslide, and that—as the mother of a two-year-old daughter—by kowtowing to diet culture, she is complicit in the problem. And yet, last year, she lost 50 pounds. Reading about it, I found myself nodding at the complexities she explores—admiring the work of fat activists who celebrate the beauty and normalcy of bigger bodies; recognizing “how much my internalized fatphobia owes to oppressive patriarchal forces”—like a bobble-headed convert. Manne argues that the chronic hunger dieting subjects us to is a moral harm. And I couldn’t agree more. And yet even as I read it, that little voice kept interrupting my thought stream, nattering: Yeah, but how’d she do it? And: Could/should I do it too? Which, of course, perfectly illustrates Manne’s point. And leaves me…where, exactly?—Maggie
Maggie, You know that I feel your pain—deeply. I’ve spent so many valuable minutes of my life wringing my hands and bashing my inner self about my weight—a huge waste of time, I realize, and also a huge part of the way I see the world. All I have to add is that my first reaction to your take above was to google Kate Manne, a writer/thinker whose work I’ve long admired but have never gotten a visual on…in search of before/after weight-loss photos!! It’s a sickness. As therapy I’m thinking of rewriting Sondheim’s lyrics for West Side Story’s “Gee Officer Krupke” to be about the weight-loss rat race. Some key lyrics will stay the same, obviously, because, “We’re psychologically disturbed!”—Rachel
Read “Diet Culture is Unhealthy. It’s Also Immoral.” here.
No country for Black women? Tressie reconsiders.
Yes, we know that country music has a women problem. And a race problem. And we could namecheck dozens of articles that state these facts and back them up with depressing statistics and the occasional hopeful roundup of could-be tide changers. But writing in the Undefeated this week, Spread all-star Tressie McMillan Cottom does the work to skillfully unpack the why behind this grim phenomenon, while introducing us to a new wave of Black women artists who are shaking country music by its skunked-beer-smelling, mullet-grazed shoulders. McMillan Cottom writes from a weeklong reporting trip to Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium, where Jason Isbell (the rare country star who is both wildly progressive and wildly successful) has chosen to share his residency with a slate of Black women. The result is a 6,000-plus-word opus that is at once edifying, enraging, joyful, and service-y: Since reading this piece, my Sonos has exclusively blared the work of Black country up-and-comers Madeline Edwards, Mickey Guyton, Brittney Spencer, Joy Oladokun, Adia Victoria, and Amythyst Kiah, and Shemekia Copeland.—Rachel
RB, How does Tressie do it? She is the hardest working woman in showbiz—which must be why we gave her that Spreadie, huh? Also: Can you make us a playlist of these new artists for next week, please and thank you?—Maggie
Read “The Black Vanguard in White Utopias” here.
“The sh*t parents need to do to not lose our sh*t”
Of course this is never a problem for me. I’ve got parenting on lock. But should you find yourself, say, screaming at a four-year-old who WILL NOT PUT ON HIS PAJAMA PANTS AND IT’S 8:34 PM AND YOU WERE GONNA WATCH LOST DAUGHTER TONIGHT, well, Childproof might help. It’s a new pod from the people behind the mindfulness pod/project Ten Percent Happier, and it’s not about tricks to help your kids—its about how to help you get through the “all joy, no fun” chaos of raising small people. The fact that the answer ends up being, more or less, “mindfulness” initially turned me off—that’s a skill I am basically immune to learning, a fact that I don’t like to be reminded of, but the show won me over by a) assuming that exhaustion is a basic fact of life, not a solvable problem, and b) acknowledging that bedtime—or dinnertime, or getting-out-the-door-time, or whatever your trigger moment may be—does in fact suck, and you thinking it sucks is not you being a terrible person, it’s just you being a sentient human being.—Maggie
Find all the ways to listen to Childproof Episode 2, “Yasmeen’s Bedtime Problem” here.
We are monitoring this breaking news situation—YAS GIRL—and will keep you posted:
AND we stand by this lonely-ish tweet!
The essay is an excerpt from Havrilesky's memoir, Foreverland: On the Divine Tedium of Marriage, out next month.
Kidding! We all know mothers don’t take breaks, and days without school or day care? Bahahahaha!