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The Dog Ate Our Homework
The Lux Lisbon and Marie Antoinette of newsletters is diving straight into the biggest, baddest quarry, while wearing custom Batsheva (obviously).
What would make the perfect women’s magazine? Juicy yarns, 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.
Why is this issue coming at you half-baked…and on a Thursday? It is not an exaggeration to say that after a long season of excessive sun exposure and melamine-plate-spinning, now that we suddenly find ourselves faced with Back-to-School (Get-Your-Shit-Together) season, including actual professional events requiring a more elaborate uniform than cutoffs, and—already!—school cancellations due to weather events (heat advisories), your Spreaditors looked in the mirror Tuesday morning and discovered that we are Bill Murray in this throwback photo that Sofia Coppola recently reposted from 2003. While we were tempted to skip school and savor some Suntory time under the bleachers like the underachievers of yore, there were too many good reads this week to leave you high and dry. Please enjoy them while we grab some Nicorette and a pair of pants—elastic waist, we don’t want to shock our system too much—and prepare to clean up our act in time for next week.
Pass the guac,
Rachel & Maggie
P.S. Joan Collins is still alive. She’s 90 and she has a massive hat collection!
P.P.S. Congratulations to Spread Fairy Godmother and Goddamn American Hero E. Jean Carroll. It was announced yesterday that in her second defamation case against He Who Shall Not Be Named, the man is liable; the case, which will be about what damages he’ll pay for his sins, is now scheduled to be the first of many lawsuits he’ll face in 2024. Take the bastard for all he’s worth, E. Jean!
The Beyonce of Lit World
She reads at least two books a day. She can’t drive. When her cell phone breaks, she goes phone-free for months on end. She’s married to an architect, and instead of keeping up with her own contact lenses, she wears his prescription. She’s long feared childbirth, and has been “stalked by a pervasive anxiety around death her whole life.” She wears a lot of Rachel Comey; sometimes custom Batsheva. Are we talking about a long-forgotten supporting character on Girls? Or how about a manic pixie dream role from the quirky oeuvre of Zooey Deschanel? No and no. Here we have real-life literary critic Merve Emre—the ultra-prolific public intellectual/bombshell/lightning rod whom Anna Silman “bravely”—according to a friend of mine in academia—profiled a couple weeks back for Insider. If the article’s subsequent Twitter frenzy has left you tempted to fork over $1 for a month-long trial subscription, well, I am here to tell you it is definitely worth all one hundred pennies. Emre, who’s a professor at Wesleyan and a Contributing Writer at the New Yorker (and a lowercase-C contributor to a huge number of other publications as well as book projects), is both a wildly confident piece of work and a woman, which apparently blows a lot of people’s hair back (including my own at times—it’s just so rare to come across!). Her quite bold project is, casually, “the wholesale reform of higher education from the ground up.” While Silman pulls no punches, she does let Emre play with the magazine profile as a form from the inside out, which makes for a very charismatic (to borrow a favorite word from Merve herself) read.—Rachel
Read “How Merve Emre became the hottest—and most reviled—name in literary criticism” here.
We Could Be Heroes
This past weekend, toward the end of a day trip with friends to a gloriously sunny rock quarry in the Catskills—probably our last big swim of the summer, sigh—all of the kids (ages eight to 12) decided to leap into the water from a ledge that was maybe 15 feet high. We knew it was a safe jump; we’d already watched other, older kids do it countless times. But 15 feet was high for my eight-year-old. I watched him peer down into the water as kids and adults yelled a chorus of loving, loud encouragement. Go for it! You can do it! Reader, it was all I could do not to screech back at them, Pipe down! I knew he was capable of making that leap but I wanted him to know there was no shame in doing what felt right for him. In the last week I’ve been confronted with stories that made me feel all kinds of ways about how, in that moment, what I cared most about was making sure my kid didn’t feel pressured to behave “like a guy.” In “In Praise of Heroic Masculinity,” Atlantic columnist and frequent feminism-antagonizer Caitlin Flanagan (who, like me, has two sons) argues that the term “toxic masculinity” has gotten out of hand. On this, we agree. Sitting in a darkened theater this summer, watching Ryan Gosling’s Ken gallop around on his imaginary horsey, I occasionally winced, thinking of what that same eight-year-old might take away from a movie in which his whole species is the obvious punchline. Flanagan instead proposes “heroic masculinity,” which basically champions the knight who slays the dragon to save us princesses (and our children) from doom. We need these knights because “men (as a group and to a significant extent) are larger, faster, and stronger than women.” Hoo boy. As proof, Flanagan serves up a 2017 soccer scrimmage between the US Women’s National Team and a team of boys, all younger than 15. The women got smoked 5-2. You get the sense she’s been working this anecdote into cocktail chatter for years—to her it is concrete proof of the “obdurate fact” that women are smaller, weaker, and slower. (As a mother of boys, maybe she missed the next-gen Disney paradigm in which the princess uses her prodigious brainpower and her surprise nunchuck-wielding skills to outsmart both the dragon and the preening knight?) To be fair, Flanagan is actually thinking of the real-life heroes—indisputable and almost entirely male—who raced into the smoking, crumbling Twin Towers to save lives on 9/11, knowing full well they were running into a death trap. Who doesn’t think we need more of these pure-of-heart, unflinching good guys, er, people! But Flanagan, who really cherishes a binary, seems to believe that “repeatedly tell[ing boys] that we want to know their feelings and that we want them to be unashamed to cry” somehow prevents them from growing up to save their fellow man/woman/child. At times, the writer leans so hard into her counterintuitive, scarily conservative takes that I wonder if, in her own mind, she’s practicing Heroic Journalism: Racing into the burning building of woke-ness! Able to leap liberal norms in a single bound!
But back to my kid, and that other read about bravery. In a fresh New York Times op-ed about the alarming rates of anxiety in children, two experts propose risk and bravery as a cure, minus the reductive gender dynamics in Flanagan’s screed. “We think constant supervision and intervention could be hurting kids’ chances to become brave and resilient,” they declare. What if the real reason for kids’ soaring anxiety levels “was simply that kids are growing up so overprotected that they’re scared of the world?” I’ve heard this argument before but this time it hit differently. In a flash, I realized that in my son’s moment of indecision, I had encouraged him to get in touch with his anxiety—not his bravery. The good news is he ignored me, as he usually does these days. He leapt. He loved it.—Maggie
Maggie, The journalism universe has really been there for the mothers among us this week! Since my almost-three-year-old has begun her transition from a sweet, play-based infant/toddler school to a more traditional preschool I have been a basketcase. When she was at what we now call “baby school,” I was in constant communication with her teachers and many other parents on Slack, and where, because this is a hippie-dippie institution that runs kind of like a co-op, I might find myself swinging by for any number of reasons during the work/school day. Now, I drop her off at 8:35 and I pick her up between 3:30 and (on Spreadline days!) 5. That’s it. Her days are a mystery to me. Just as the black box of it all sent my anxiety through the roof, like a burning bush among the azaleas, New Yorker parenting angel Jessica Winter appeared with a piece with this dek: “Families are more anxious than ever to find out what happens in school. But there may be value in a measure of not-knowing and not-telling.” It was 3,000 words of pure Xanax.—Rachel
Read “In Praise of Heroic Masculinity” here.
Read “Can Teachers and Parents Get Better at Talking to One Another?” here.
And here’s a smattering of shorties:
“There was, in her voice, something intuitively pleasant and genuine and good, something that implies happiness or at least the possibility of happiness.” In a nuanced essay in the New Yorker, Joe Garcia, who in 2009 was sentenced to life in prison and has been incarcerated for more than 20 years, bouncing from one California prison to the next—Folsom, San Quentin, on and on—says the music of Taylor Swift made “me feel that I was still part of the world I had left behind.” Read it here.
Dr. Luke—yes, that Dr. Luke—is back. WTH?! Rolling Stone has the story. Read it here.
GQ profiles the rare male model with industry clout, Alton Mason. Read it here.
“Leaning back slowly in my chair, I pictured myself as my lover, a cisgender man, talking to a woman dressed to receive him as I always have: pretty dress, light makeup, underwear off as a little surprise.” In a drag king workshop, where women practice dressing and acting like men, Maxine Swann gradually discovers she wants to be her lover more than she wants to be with him. Read her Modern Love here.
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Live and learn: It's pronounced Merv-ay Em-ray.
I found one point in the article extra strange: “‘She’s sort of a pioneer in building this bridge between academia and the larger literary, public sphere,” said the critic John Guillory, who sees Emre as a model for a new breed of public intellectual.’” While Emre may be the most glamorous and on-the-town of the pack, she is certainly not the first or only public intellectual of the moment to straddle these worlds! How about Jill Lepore? Or Agnes Callard, whose stealth-genius New Yorker profile by Rachel Aviv came out just a few months ago? Or the divine Andrea Long Chu (did y’all read her searing review of Zadie Smith’s new novel this week)? Or Spread Patron Saint Tressie McMillan Cottom? A sub to the Spread would do you good, Mr. Guillory. Oh, excuse me, Dr. Guillory.