We’ll Peel Your Orange for You
The Violet Beauregarde and Veruca Salt of newsletters wants the whole works: presents and prizes and sweets and surprises of all shapes and sizes. Give it to us. Now.
What would make the perfect women’s magazine? Juicy yarns, hot goss, 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’re half a team down this week with a combined RSV/strep diagnosis, but there are so many great reads around that we must share! So we’re gonna skip the usual tap-dance warm-up and get right down to bid-ness.
Can somebody please pass the Throat Coat?
Maggie, with additional reporting from Rachel’s bed
P.S. That headline? It refers to the orange peel theory relationship test: Would your partner do small kindnesses for you—in particular the little things you don’t want to do yourself, like peeling your orange? To which we say, Yes. Yes we would. We’d also let you eat that orange in bed.1
P.P.S. At least one of these things is true: Maggie’s book, The Kingdom of Prep, made the list of the New Yorker’s Best Books of 2023! And Gwyneth Paltrow is gifting a copy to each of her past selves this year! Be like G here.
The wolf in sheep’s skirt-suit.
Easy two-step prep to inoculate yourself, should you fall prey to the “she seems so…normal” effect during tonight’s fourth Republican debate: 1. Listen to this five-minute NPR story on Nikki Haley’s tightrope act as a “tough-as-nails woman” who insists she doesn’t play the identity politics game. 2. Watch Spread kindred spirit Jen Psaki decimate Haley’s performance of “sane, moderate alternative to Donald Trump”: The candidate supports six-week abortion bans; wants to send US forces into Mexico to fight drug cartels; and thought Florida’s so-called “Don’t Say Gay” laws weren’t tough enough—and, most recently, has proposed putting five-year term limits on every gov’t employee’s job, an idea Washington Post columnist Catherine Rampell calls “a good way to destroy the basic machinery of government.” Totally reasonable!
Listen to “Strong but ‘feminine’: how Nikki Haley navigates gender as only woman in the GOP race” here.
Speaking of Nikki Haley, she calls boys playing on girls’ sports teams “the women’s issue of our time.” Blergh.
Writer S.C. Cornell got a rude awakening on the issue of testosterone and athleticism when, in adulthood, she finally got answers on why she’d been battling horrific acne for years: Hyperandrogenism, an excess of sex hormones associated with men. Cornell has always identified as a woman, and as an athlete; her perspective is moving—but her personal experience is just an amuse-bouche. Here she goes full-bore New Yorker on athleticism and gender, illuminating fascinating biological and chromosomal gray areas2 that lie between easy definitions; the cruel ways these differences have been outed for decades in sports (turns out this is nothing new); and the catch-22 that many athletes find themselves in.
Read “Who Gets to Play in Women’s Leagues?” here.
Tim-Timothée, Tim-Timothée, Tim-Tim, Ter-rée (Sung to tune of “Chim Chim Cher-ee”)
“Any actor who dares to don the chocolate-maker’s top hat knows there is no way to make the character fuckable; the role becomes a stress test of their sexiness,” writes the inimitable Allison P. Davis in New York, on the occasion of—just in case you’ve been busy reading about Sandra Day O’Connor and Elon Musk and missed the important stuff—a national holiday the mag has dubbed “Timmy Week”! Is Timothée Chalamet’s emo-twink-heartthrob status (already seriously dinged by his union with the unforgivably obvious, not-even-a-little-subversive Kylie Jenner) “strong enough to withstand bathing in this vat of cringe, or will the role reveal he was never truly a sex symbol to begin with?”
“We can't even begin to think of all the stuff you could do with…quantitative insight on clitoral erectile function, because nobody's ever done it. Which is wild, right? I mean, we're in the age where you can see your EKG, your sweat content, your continuous blood glucose. Every fucking thing, there's a wearable device for it.” —Ashley Winter, the expletive-friendly urologist designing a Fitbit for the clitoris. A Clitbit, if you will.
All hail the May December friendship!
The Atlantic has a piece called “Your Friends Don’t All Have to Be the Same Age,” which your Spreaditors find both persuasive and validating, given our inter-Spread microgenerational gap (Rachel is an elder millennial, Maggie a Gen X enfante). In actuality, the article considers the downsides of age stratification in our lonely society; intergenerational friendships are linked with greater health and well-being for people of all ages.
On that note, we are thrilled to congratulate our esteemed friendon being named one of the New York Times Styles’s best dressed (and most courageous, most lion-hearted, most WINNING-est) people of 2023.
Entering the chat.
When the New Yorker launched its round-table podcast Critics at Large—at first glance, a brazen knockoff of Slate’s long-running Culture Gabfest—earlier this fall, we found it very “eat your vegetables,” which exactly no one is looking for in a chat show about pop culture. But last week, we gave it another go, and y’all, staff writer-hosts Alexandra Schwartz, Naomi Fry, and Vinson Cunningham have found their groove. While the Gabfest crams three topics plus recommendations into every hour-long installment, each 45-minute episode of Critics dives deep into a single cultural phenomenon, like the celebrity memoir (“Britney Spears Tells Her Horror Story”) or the high-stakes, TikTok-charged game of Resy that’s changed New York restaurants (“Why We Dine Out (or Don’t)”). The panel’s rat-a-tat rapport gets sparkier with each new ep.
If all celebrity profiles could be like this…
For the New York Times Magazine, writer Jon Mooallem spent the better part of two years thinking about, corresponding with, and spending actual time with the one and only Michael Stipe, who is working on his first solo album. The whole thing feels miraculously unforced; we’re even privy to unbrokered appearances from Jack Antonoff, Margaret Qualley, Matty Healy, “Florence — she of the Machine,” and (seriously) Taylor Swift—moments that, though thrilling, are far from the best parts of this tender portrait. Read it here.
A fight against transparency.
Also for the Times Magazine, resident legal eagle Emily Bazelon dives into a slightly counterintuitive crusade: LGBTQ families who want to preserve anonymous sperm and egg donation. “It’s one thing for parents to choose transparency,” Bazelon writes, “but it’s quite another for the state to mandate it—enshrining into law, some fear, the notion that genetics are an essential part of being a family.”
Read “Why Anonymous Sperm Donation Is Over, and Why That Matters” here.
“I am your maker.”
The art monster vs. motherhood. It’s a subgenre under our favorite tattered umbrella—maternal ambivalence—that has long produced reams of great writing. Ligaya Mishan’s new T magazine essay, “When Women Artists Choose Mothering Over Making Work” is a beautiful entry into the category. “Art and mothering, in the romantic imagination” she writes, “are each cast as the kind of labor that consumes wholly, that is worth being consumed by.”
Related: This week Rachel M. Cohen published “How millennials learned to dread motherhood” in Vox, which from where we sit (which is very, very close to the subject matter), feels like a blockbuster. “College-educated millennial women considering motherhood — and a growing number from Gen Z too — are now so well-versed in the statistics of modern maternal inequity that we can recite them as if we’d already experienced them ourselves,” Cohen writes.
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Mr. Big, to Carrie, S2, E9: “The oranges have to go. This is something I don't Iike about you. I hate that you eat oranges in my bed.”
“About one in every three hundred and fifty people has nonstandard sex chromosomes, and about one in every thousand has atypical genitalia. In élite sports, which select for many rare qualities, these rates can be much higher. At the 2011 World Athletics Championships, for example, women with XY chromosomes were overrepresented by a factor of a hundred and forty.”