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The Gwyneth Paltrow and Gwyneth Paltrow’s courtroom wardrobe of newsletters is going plastic.
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.
We hear from a close source (last name, Fair; first name, Vanity) that Barbie is having a moment? In addition to an eponymous film—starring Margot Robbie and the fourth most googleable Ryan, and directed by Greta Gerwig—in the hopper, she’s ratcheted up her Instagram following to a casual 2.2M. In past lives, Barbie has played doctor, STEM savant, saxophonist, pet photographer, Avon rep, rapper, Chief Sustainability Officer, farmer, Canadian Mountie, bowler, and cat burglar, to name just a few of her 200+ professions. Any thoughts about what Barbie should do for her next gig? Hmm. Thinking. Thinking. Thinking. Ooooh—light bulb! How about Spread Barbie!?
Some box copy that we just so happen to have lying around:
Spread Barbie is the gal who tries to have it all but never has enough time. She’s a former magazine editor with an (artfully!) messy home; two to four kids; the best of friends; inbox 33,437; a Netflix queue for “Critically Acclaimed Emotional Dramas from the 1980s”; and the perfect guy at home—dude is nuts about her when they’re not arguing about what to order for dinner or whose turn it is to scoop the cat box. She’s great at [reading] everything, while remaining humble and only judgy/snappish/harsh when feeling insecure or overly tired (rare!), and is always there to cheer on her friends as well as women-leaning writers of all stripes. That’s why everyone loves her and pays to subscribe to her weekly newsletter!
Boom! You’re welcome, Mattel!
You brush our hair, we’ll brush yours,
Rachel & Maggie
Elizabeth Warren has spoken extensively of her childcare fairy godmother, “Aunt Bee,” a mythical creature who arrived in Warren’s moment of need, “with seven suitcases and a Pekinese named Buddy, and stayed for 16 years.” In Time, she elaborates (so gosh darn relatably!) on how both being a mother—but also having the childcare that allowed her to work despite it—was the reason she ever had a career at all. And while I don’t actually believe that any circumstance on Earth could have kept this woman at home with a baby on her hip, the way Warren talks about having to convince the not quite two-year-old Amelia to wear “big-girl pants” in a single weekend, so that the only day care Warren could find and afford (which would only accept potty-trained children) would take her, had me fantasizing all over again about an America in which someone like Warren occupied the Oval Office…wait where was I? Right, childcare. Time wasn’t even the most moving thing I read about it this week! In last week’s edition of her newsletter, “Pulling the Thread” (also the title of her podcast), ex-Goop exec/editor Elise Loehnen lays bare her “acute” shame about employing Vicky, the live-in, full-time childcarer who has been a “third parent” to her two school-aged sons. The title is, “I Need Help: We all do.” I read it while “working” on my couch next to a feverish five-year-old while being bombarded by my own “backup childcare” (blaring Nickelodeon) so…yeah. Loehnen cites two reasons for her shame. The first, of course, is her awareness of her own privilege. The second: “Vicky is incredible with children. She is masterful. In comparison, I am sometimes impatient, irritable, and distracted—I love my kids, but I’m not particularly good with kids.” Loehnen’s not wrong: Admitting how good she has it will be triggering for plenty of readers. But this is a woman who digs deep, y’all—and she duly examines both lines of thought, and her own sense of culpability, and turns them inside out. “It’s perverse to feel this way about a relationship that’s one of the most meaningful in my life,” she writes. Perniciously female, too: Does Loehnen’s husband feel bad about Vicky? Not a bit! And while we’re on the subject: In the Atlantic, public-policy researcher turned freelance writer Stephanie H. Murray outlines the three devastatingly simple-sounding things it would take to make work more parent-friendly in this country, which are a) childcare working families can afford, b) a work schedule with enough predictability to arrange that childcare, c) “the ability to take time off or adjust her schedule as circumstances require—to recover from childbirth, for example, or to care for a sick kid.” Then she writes about all the ways in which our system fails on all three. Sigh.—Maggie
Read “How Motherhood Led Elizabeth Warren to the Senate” in Time here.
Read “I Need Help” in Pulling the Thread here.
Read “The Catch-22 for Working Parents” in the Atlantic, here.
When the ooshy-gooshy embarrassing stuff is the draw.
In this week’s New York (the one with Rebecca Traister’s “Abortions Win Elections” story on the cover), Allison P. Davis luxuriates in the state of the modern romance novel (and also the highly adjacent rom-com) using mega-selling author Emily Henry as her entrée. It’s a dreamy author-subject pairing: Davis, who is the Cut’s resident philosopher on the world of sex and dating and is working on a nonfiction book called Horny, has fresh thoughts on love in the age of Gen Z. (“These new adults looked around and saw an inhospitable world that was hard to manage, inhabited by people so jaded by a decade of slogging through swipes on dating apps that they’d conditioned themselves into near psychopathy instead of admitting they just wanted to spoon,” she writes of Henry’s audience.) Henry, for her part, might as well be a heroine from her own novels (Beach Read, Book Lovers, People We Meet on Vacation); at 31, she lives in a cute mid-century house outside Cincinnati with her mustachioed husband, constantly interrupts herself in a Meg Ryan-ish fashion, and talks a lot about therapy and anxiety meds. Davis describes her vibe as “the coolest friend at the Nashvegas bachelorette party.” The reason Henry’s novels—and the romance genre as a whole at the moment—have been so successful (People We Meet on Vacation alone has sold north of one million copies) is one-two punch marketing (maybe Sally Rooney, whose best-selling bestseller didn’t approach People We Meet’s numbers, should be slugging her swoony lit as romance, too, Davis suggests) and a combination of radical earnestness and personal details that, as one book editor describes it, offers readers “the Platonic ideal of a relationship right now.” One replete with therapy and anxiety meds and musician boyfriends-turned-husbands.
If Henry’s books are like a nap under a beach umbrella, Mary Gaitskill’s are, well…hmm…hard to find the metaphor for! Gaitskill, who has long leaned into the uncomfortable, especially as it pertains to our romantic proclivities and sexual urges, recently published a follow-up to her most famous short story, Bad Behavior’s movie-inspiring “Secretary,” in the New Yorker. She’s also found her second calling as a lightning rod here on Substack! In Slate, Gaitskill sat for a Q&A with critic Laura Miller, which includes a handful of surprises, for me at least (one being that even the untouchable Gaitskill—like your Spreaditors—hangs on every response to her posts). Be kind, people!—Rachel
Read “The Women Are Smart. The Men Are Sincere. And the Ending Is Always Happy” here.
Read “‘I’m a Little Too Interested in Understanding Certain Terrible Things’” here.
Last thing I needed was some eggheaded Pollyanna telling me I was doing marriage wrong because I wasn’t having So! Much! Fun! But then…
Confession: Last Thursday, when I first saw Nina Li Coomes’s Atlantic essay, “Marriage Isn’t Hard Work—It’s Serious Play,” the title alone was enough to rankle. But then, at approximately 11:27 a.m. yesterday, just as my husband and I were passing through airport security in Washington, DC, and I was still scrambling to put on my jacket, my mate of 15 years spontaneously picked my sneakers out of the bin and untied their laces to make it easier for me to slide them back on. It was the kind of momentary kindness that you only do for a person who is very young or very old, or quite dear to you. And I can tell you for certain that it happened because we had just spent 72 hours together, hundreds of miles from what Coomes describes as “an eternal to-do list.” Our marriage, briefly, had not been about work—it had been about play. Coomes shows us (fascinatingly!) how the widely held idea that marriage is “hard work” is one inculcated over decades, starting with “marriage prep” college courses for men and women in the 1920s, intended to dissuade people from the newly available alternative, divorce. Yes, sharing a household and especially raising kids involves a lot of (hopefully shared) labor, but Coomes argues that thinking about marriage as work is bad for business. In her home, “at its best, this attitude gave our marriage the clean hum of a caffeinated, productive morning at the office—every task checked off, every email replied to. At its worst, I felt resentful, exhausted, and miserly with my affection, like I could dole it out only after one of us had completed a job.” Trust: Nobody is untying anybody’s shoelaces when they’re feeling like that. Except maybe to make that special someone trip over them.—Maggie
Read “Marriage Isn’t Hard Work; It’s Serious Play” here.
Tear your daytime eyeballs off the Gwyneth Skiing Hit-and-Run and watch this instead: our favorite flame-haired former White House press secretary is two weeks into her stint at the helm of Inside With Jen Psaki (MSNBC). It airs at noon ET, which, ok, is not the most promising time slot. But we’re sure she has a plan for that.
Cue the Joan Osborne.
At the end of each episode of Slate’s excellent twice-weekly ICYMI podcast, which explains a particularly hot slice of internet culture (I cannot figure out how it is produced so well, so frequently), host Rachelle Hampton poses the show’s billion dollar question: Was Jesus hot? In the New York Review of Books, Anna Della Subin asks a high-minded version of the same…about JC’s dad. Subin reviews Francesca Stavrakopoulou’s book God: An Anatomy, which uses scripture and ancient texts as well as pop-culture depictions to put together a physical portrait of the Almighty, who according to the author is not just a cis male, but one large step further: a predatory alpha male who likes his meat well-done, sometimes gets drunk, and has a big penis and glowing skin. (You can watch the nose-ringed book proposal here.) Stavrakopoulou’s exercise, Subin writes, might be important due to its potential to “alter our sense of who should reign on earth,” but argues that there’s more interesting analysis to be had about the influence and ramifications of God's character when not constrained by mere-mortal ideas of the physical body. I’m sure that’s true to some degree. But as a human stuck in my own body—and as a straight woman who finds herself sometimes attracted to but mostly repulsed by the male body!—I’m here for the gimmick. So: Are you ready to hear what God looks like in the American imagination, here and now—and backed up by a 2020 study at Stanford? OK, here goes: Logan Roy.—Rachel
Read “A Body That’s Divine” here.
Professor [Cristel Antonia] Russell said a primary reason we rewatch television — a practice she believes has gotten more popular in the last decade because of streaming and its endless options — is to appreciate how we have changed between viewings of a show that has remained the same. A series like “Girls,” which is about lost 20-somethings, could be comforting to 30-somethings who have weathered the chaos of those years, she said.— “Why Are So Many People Rewatching Girls?” in the New York Times
“Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something.”
In February we wrote about the doomsday CDC report that found that “nearly 3 in 5 (57 percent) U.S. teen girls felt persistently sad or hopeless in 2021 — double that of boys” and “the highest level reported over the past decade.” In the New York Times, parenting columnist Jessica Grose handily does the Spread’s work by categorizing the ensuing think pieces: “There’s the social-media-is-the-devil camp (‘Smartphones and social media are destroying children’s mental health’); there are those using the report as a jumping-off point to talk about a different study showing that liberal girls, in particular, seem to be depressed and anxious (‘Why the Mental Health of Liberal Girls Sank First and Fastest’); there’s the view that anxious parents are causing kids to be anxious; and there’s the school-is-too-stressful argument.” Grose agrees the trend is cause for concern, but chimes in to offer some useful context: a) it’s hardly new news that girls have higher levels of anxiety, b) historically, singling out specific communities as particularly, uh, “hysterical” has a way of backfiring. And c), the word anxiety is now ubiquitous—bandied about by aforementioned romance novelists, but also by teens, who use it to describe any feeling that is even slightly uncomfortable. She goes on to points d), e), and f), which are all worth mulling. But the one that stuck out to me was one I’ve discussed recently with friends who are not only raising sensitive, hyperaware, inward-facing kids (not just girls) but also existing as sensitive, hyperaware, inward-facing adults. Part of our responsibility as adults is to teach our kids how to anticipate the hard feelings that come with…life. As Grose puts it, “I also think we can tell our kids that feeling anxious, angry or sad is part of being human.”—Maggie
Brooke Shields is…full of surprises?
Brooke Shields has been so famous for so long that to me she’s always kind of felt like…celebrity furniture. Nice furniture! Smart furniture! Sturdy furniture—which as a 5’10”-er myself I really appreciate! But furniture nonetheless. This furniture factor, I reckon, is why I’ve willfully ignored her recent press lap, pegged to the new documentary about her life, Pretty Baby: Brooke Shields (Hulu, April 3). (When I saw her face on the cover of People magazine last week, for example, I skipped right past the story to focus on the Book of the Week: The Kingdom of Prep by Maggie Bullock, whom—not to brag—I know personally.) But because I cannot resist the inquisitive wiles of the New Yorker’s Michael Schulman, I glanced at his interview with Ms. Shields last week while in the waiting room of LabCorp (healthy as a horse, thanks for asking), and found myself rapt. In it, Brooke calls the 1978 film Pretty Baby in which she played an 11-year-old prostitute “the most beautiful movie I’ve ever made…the only real quality film I’ve ever been in.” She rips the ghostwriter of her 1985 book, On Your Own. She talks out of school about ex Andre Agassi. And she marvels at Emily Ratajkowski’s propensity for nudity, which she saw with her own two eyes. Brooke, you’ve got my attention!—Rachel
Read “Brooke Shields Never Knew Normal” here.
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