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’ve been seized by an urgent need to mix it up. What is it about the Tuesday before Halloween, this no-woman’s-land on the calendar: Labor Day so far in the rear view, we have no clue how we even spent it; Thanksgiving break still—checks Google cal; heart begins palpitating because my gosh how will it all get done in time—a month away. So we’re getting wild with a little aural experiment: Today is the Spread’s pilot audio issue, through which you can consume every morsel of this newsletter (yes, we’ve heard, “it’s quite long!”) while driving, pondering the moral imperative of what to do with your Yeezy collection, researching vicious egg white allergens, and otherwise juggling balls actual and figurative. Listeners will also get bonus audio-only scoops, bites, and flourishes along the way. (Y’all know we can’t resist a flourish—or a y’all.) We hope you’ll come along for the ride, and let us know what you think of the experience via comment, email, or message-in-a-bottle.
At this point, you know how we feel about how you treat that heart button…
Who’s got shotgun?
Rachel & Maggie
PS: Pardon me, do you have any Grey Poupon? Give the marketing whiz behind this one a corner office and a raise: The mustard maker is getting in on Saladgate with 100 limited edition glass jars of the key ingredient in Olivia Wilde’s Heartburn dressing—so good it made Ted Lasso lie down in front of a moving vehicle.
Lions and tigers and scapegoats, oh my!
It’s been a minute since I just Could. Not. Wait. until Spread Tuesday to get the word out about a magazine story. Then last Thursday, I read Helen Lewis’s feature on the ouster of the Guggenheim’s chief curator Nancy Spector in the November Atlantic, which prompted me to immediately send a bat signal to Maggie, text a half-dozen friends, make a physical copy for my mom, and literally email a note of thanks to the print magazine’s editor. (I realize I’m a total weirdo; it occurs to me at this moment that maybe this is why people use Twitte1.) In “The Guggenheim’s Scapegoat,” Lewis provides a brave, clear-eyed, and yet somehow impressively economical account of how our country’s post-George Floyd atmosphere has upended the museum world, using Spector’s resignation as a lens into the thorniness that’s come with predominantly old/white/male institutions’ necessary attempts to diversify everything—from their personnel to the art they showcase. The subject matter is incredibly tricky, and Lewis doesn’t flinch. While I’m fangirling: The same Atlantic issue features an epic feature about wild, dearly departed magicians Siegfried & Roy. It’s by Chris Jones and Michael J. Mooney; in some stretches it indulges the kind of grandiose writing that was Jones’s claim to fame for years at Esquire. There, it often made me roll my eyes. Here, his style fits the subject matter spectacularly, making it a don’t-miss for fans of magic, big cats, Vegas, Germans, real estate, danger, and/or showy prose. Clearly I am all of the above.—Rachel
Read “The Guggenheim’s Scapegoat” here.
Read “The Original Tiger Kings” here.
Look, we’re just gonna say it: Meghan Markle is not funny.
Two weeks ago, we got a reader request: What does the Spread make of Meghan Markle’s podcast, Archetypes? Sigh. The Spread rises to your challenge, reader—but you might not love what we’re here to say. First, indulge me in a stroll down memory lane. It’s 2015. At Elle’s annual celebration of its TV issue in L.A. Viola Davis, Regina King, Priyanka Chopra, Sarah Paulson, etc, are in attendance. As are two strivers, beaming to have a literal seat at the table: One of them was me. One was Markle, then the girl from Suits—whose striver game has since turned out to beat even that of Jeremy Strong. Markle was lovely that night, and as far as I’m concerned has been lovely every day since, but there’s no denying, on that particular ladder, she (like me) was also rather lowly. Cut to 2022, and I’m writing this in my stepson’s bedroom in Charlottesville while Meghan is presumably ensconced in a coastal-hued recording studio in her Montecito palace. Sour grapes? Not exactly. Just: My gosh, what a world. So, Archetypes. The fruit of a three-year deal she and Prince Harry signed with Spotify for an estimated $15 to $18 million, the show aims to dig into “the labels that try to hold women back.” Labels like “singleton,” “the diva,” “ambitious,” and “bimbo”—which, according to the show’s premise, have been slapped on major celebrities (Mindy Kaling, Mariah Carey, Serena Williams, and Paris Hilton, respectively). Deconstructing stereotypes is a noble project at first glance. Yet, when I think about Mindy Kaling, “single” is not among the first dozen words that comes to mind. Nor does “dragon lady” top my mental search result when I think of Margaret Cho. If anything, the show reinforces stereotypes many Spread readers will not associate with its guests. There is occasional entertainment when these mega-celebs speak with the kind of weird intimacy that bubbles up among A-listers: Serena Williams is willing to veer slightly off her well-practiced sound bites with Meghan, in a way she won’t with most interviewers. But Archetypes, in all its correctness, has none of the freewheeling flavor that makes a chat podcast sing (Glennon Doyle, Dax Shepard, the SmartLess guys, and even Gwyneth Paltrow all at least sound like they’re enjoying themselves). I’d argue this is because despite being an astute enough conversationalist to hit her marks and chuckle at the correct moments, Meghan Markle is not funny. And also because the stereotype that she has carefully constructed for herself—let's call it “righteous princess”—isn’t exactly a personality type. More like media training incarnate. And while her guests do have actual world-beating accomplishments and high personality quotients, Meghan’s effort to identify with them leads her to stumble into accidentally hilarious moments: Take the recent newsmaking aside when Meg piped up about feeling “objectified”...while playing the role of an actual object—a briefcase dangler—on Deal or No Deal in 2005. (Here, Spread hall-of-famer Whoopi Goldberg goes after Markle on the View.)—Rachel
RB, you nailed it. Still, I feel bad calling anyone unfunny—it’s kind of the worst thing you can say about a decent person, isn’t it? I can’t think of anyone I truly love being around who isn’t funny. Still, sometimes I wonder why life just isn’t quite as funny as it was when I was, say, 19 or 20—back when everything was so goddamn hilarious I used to collapse regularly, laughing at, well, nothing much. When was the last time you laughed that hard? My husband—who is funny but, contrary to our sons’ opinion, not funnier than me—recently stumbled across a vintage episode of Hidden Brain featuring a Stanford behavioral scientist on the science of humor. I found it validating and depressing. Turns out my current lack of hilarity is scientific fact: “The average four-year-old child laughs 300 times a day. By contrast, it takes more than two months for the average 40-year-old adult to laugh that many times.” Yes, there is a “humor cliff” that we fall off at the ripe old age of 23. We don’t find things quite as funny again until we’re 70. That’s a helluva wait.—Maggie
If Megan Markle’s “Archetypes” still appeals to you—fine!—listen to the podcast here.
If you want to understand the science behind Markle’s tragic un-funnyness, find “Hidden Brain: Humor Us” here.
Fans of Grey’s Anatomy, E.R., House, or any other long-running medical drama with a Munchausen plotline—and they all have one eventually—should quickly click over to the Cut for a very dark, very weird dose of the real thing.
“Please take your leather jacket and resign”—a male sportscaster tweeting after Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin dared to go out dancing.
Is one of the reasons you don’t really want to go back to the IRL office life that you just don’t want to have to worry about what to wear? According to Fast Company, that is how onerous women—even those who occupy the highest offices in the land—find the time, money, and stress of dressing “correctly” for the workplace.
Read “Double Standards for Women’s Professional Appearance Persist (Even Working Remotely)” here.
“The reality is, what are they going to argue against? They want men to ejaculate irresponsibly? Who's going to argue for that?”
If your Spreaditors could have concocted a new face of pro-choice morality in a lab, she would look exactly like Gabrielle Blair: A Mormon mother of six with short bangs and piercing blue eyes (Miranda July would play her in the movie) and a parenting blog whose most recent post is about making autumnal apple votives. Her new book, a manifesto named Ejaculate Responsibly, is a thin volume (133 pages or just three hours in audio form) with an ultra-groovy cover, in which she argues that the abortion debate is misguided—refocusing on men’s role in causing pregnancies (the idea being that they’re the one to, um, pull the trigger on the process of making a baby in the first place). Since the book’s release last week, she’s lit up middle-of-the-road media, with hits on CBS Mornings, USA Today, and Vogue. I especially appreciated the following exchange with NPR’s Sarah McCammon.
SM: There is a certain type of rhetoric on the left that says we should not stigmatize abortion, we should not talk about making it ‘rare.’ How do you think about that?
GB: I'm pro-choice. I think women that want or need an abortion should be able to get one whenever they want or need one. But I can also say I've gone through six pregnancies and I found pregnancy extremely difficult. And I'm saying that as someone who had a ‘normal,’ typical pregnancy with nothing unusual that happened. I still found it very difficult. And I found the first trimester especially difficult. And so if I could reduce abortions...I would do that, simply because it could prevent women from experiencing this very difficult thing that they didn't want to experience in the first place, that they didn't choose to experience. And so while I'm not worried about abortion numbers, for me, if abortion numbers went down, that would mean I'm relieving a burden from women, or that a burden is being released from women, and also that men aren't treating women's bodies so casually.
Of course, before every man in this country is given a copy of Ejaculate Responsibly for Christmas (as CBS’s Tony Dokoupil suggested), we’ve got to make it through Roe-vember. Cosmopolitan partnered with the Planned Parenthood Action Fund to produce a solid package on the five midterm races (in Pennsylvania, Arizona, Ohio, Michigan, and North Carolina) that will be most consequential on the abortion front. It’s letter-writing, phone-banking, dollar-donating, door-knocking time, Spread Nation.—Rachel
Buy Ejaculate Responsibly at the Spread Bookshop here.
Watch Tony Dokoupil’s full-throated endorsement here.
Read the NPR interview here.
Read “The 5 Midterm Races That Matter Most for Abortion Access” here.
Shania Twain called it in 1997.
For five years, since Brad Pitt2 allegedly assaulted Angelina Jolie and their son Maddox on a plane, I’ve been waiting for the full-on Brad Pitt takedown. (Yet I didn’t want to be the person to put her name on said takedown—what kind of man-hating scold would want to crush a star so likable, so game!?—which is something I should work out in therapy.) Since then, Pitt has hardly hid out: He’s admitted to being a dick (in the form of face-blindness), but mostly he’s been skating through one glowing media op after another; he’ll star in a total of three movies this year. But finally, two smart critics are at least swatting at the idea that maybe Brad isn’t America’s best dude—but there’s an all-around feeling that no one really knows how to make sense of the 58-years-running charm offensive that is Brad Pitt. This weekend, in her Culture Study newsletter, Anne Helen Petersen focused on the image-shapeshifting of both Jolie and Pitt, then—like clockwork—Vulture’s Angelica Jade Bastién, who to be fair has been giving Brad the side-eye for a while now, released slightly more baked consideration of the couple the next day. Still, these essays are relatively small potatoes. Who’s doing the reported definitive takedown? New York Times, perhaps? Atlantic? New York magazine? Something tells me it definitely won’t be GQ…—Rachel
Read “Brad Pitt and the Stink of Sad Smut” in Culture Study here.
Read “What Was Brangelina?” in Vulture here.
Words to you, mothers.
Buckle up, RB. I’m veering hard into parenting territory this week. I know, I know, child-rearing is a topic we try to scatter somewhat lightly into the Spread’s mix, because a) not every reader is or wants to be a parent, and b) we suspect that those of you who are raising small hellions come to the Spread every week seeking sustenance for the non-mommy part of your brains. (Amen, my sisters.) But this past weekend my husband and I went to my cousin’s wedding in South Carolina—hi Eden! hi Eric!—leaving our boys at home with grandparents for the first time since the pandemic. To be clear, we have escaped individually, but this was the first time we managed to leave together, on an airplane, for multiple nights. And what did I find myself lying in my Instagram-perfect hotel room bed doing? Texting Rachel one motherhood essay after the next. Good god, have I become that woman?3 Maybe. But these were seriously Spread-worthy stories, and each felt in some way laser-targeted directly at me.—Maggie
Loyal Spreaders will recall mother-of-three Honor Jones’s gutting Atlantic essay about her divorce that ran earlier this year, a story we’ve linked to more than once because it’s exactly the kind of searing, deeply personal essay we live to share with you. (Who else out there still has regular flashbacks to Jones brushing Cheerio crumbs off her feet before getting into bed?) Consider Jones’s latest, “The Only Two Choices I Ever Made,” the much-needed follow-up. Part Deux finds Jones dating! Sort of seriously! In Italy! Sans kids! While also sorting through the various satisfactions of parenting/freedom/sex/love. For the many Spread readers we heard from, who deeply related to Jones’s feelings about marriage, and were left wondering whether divorce would, indeed, lead to happiness, it’s a must read. Find it here.
“Ohhhh, enjoy these years, when your children are little—they were the best years of my life.” There is not a parent alive who has not been told this by older people (98 percent female) in bookstores, airports, coffee shops, as their progeny adorably hugs a worn stuffed animal in one hand and a parental leg in the other, looking like the secret to eternal happiness, personified. Thing is, these reminders usually arrive about 45 seconds after that same kid caused that same parent to completely lose their shit, and wonder (possibly aloud, to said child) how they were ever going to survive these years. Tell me I’m “supposed” to feel a certain way, and I will be sure to feel the opposite—and then to worry about it, a whole lot. Thus I’ve managed to internalize this kindly meant, utterly banal sentiment, turning it into one more wellspring of guilt (that I’m not enjoying my years with young children as much as I “should”—or more to the point, as much as a “good mother” would) and dread (that these years will soon be over, and I’ll be filled with regret that I didn’t enjoy them enough while I could; also that if these are “the happiest years” of life, well…just how bad are the other years going to be?). Read “Why We Long For the Most Difficult Days of Parenthood” by Stephanie H. Murray here.
It’s embarrassingly one-note to recommend a third Atlantic essay in a single post (for those who are keeping count, yes, it’s also the fifth of this issue) so I’ll just cherry-pick my favorite I-feel-so-seen passage of Sophie Gilbert’s “How Did Healing Ourselves Get So Exhausting?” which is a motherhood essay rolled up inside a takedown of wellness culture—the only takedown topic I’m more into than Rachel’s takedown of Meghan Markle, Ace Podcaster:
“In the summer of 2020, I had twins and inadvertently took on a second job as the project manager of a four-person unincorporated company: my family. What I’m writing now still fails to convey what it felt like—how my brain, which had previously held two or maybe three zones of focus, suddenly had hundreds of different pockets of obligation: baby clothes to buy; baby clothes to wash; too-small baby clothes to sort and donate; doctors’ appointments; day-care tours; day-care emails regarding tours; video visits; different kinds of nontoxic food to research, buy, and then prepare; mental lists of which allergens to expose the babies to and which allergens they’ve already tolerated; online sleep seminars; sleep logs; sleep-training research; sleep-training preparation; sleep training; age-appropriate educational toys to acquire; non-age-appropriate toys to photograph and post for donation online so they don’t end up in a landfill. Birthday lists. Christmas lists. Thank-you cards. Photos for holiday cards. Diapers to buy because twins go through 24 a day. Playdates. Trying to get my body to even vaguely look and feel like it did before so I don’t feel so disassociated from myself. Trying to meditate so I don’t explode. Trying to do yoga so my back doesn’t hurt every minute. Trying not to get COVID. Making sure we have enough COVID tests to see if the babies with runny noses can go back to day care and I can try to do my job, the only thing I love to do, the only thing I ever used to be obligated to do before I became the inadvertent project manager of a four-person unincorporated company, my family.”
Because I’m on a tear and this item is already wildly long (which Rachel says I have a problem with—I’ll work out my guilt about that at length in a future issue, I’m sure)—why not throw in a few more tidbits:
Who else identified hard with the defense of the online mom group that Jessica Gross published a couple of weeks ago in the New York Times? My inner late-Gen-X skeptic so shared Gross’s “push-pull of wanting connection but not wanting to be a type and fearing judgment” when my boys were infants. Like her, I eschewed all support groups—in person and online—populated by what I then considered “randoms”...undoubtedly cheating myself of a tidal wave of tips and tricks, not to mention the communion of fellow travelers. Read “In Defense of the Mom Group” here.
Recently in Vogue, Faran Krentcil tapped into a weird psychological glitch that I share: not just a longing for a girl-child, but rather harboring a lifelong assumption that your “imaginary daughter” will one day exist. In my case, the physical manifestation of that longing lives on the shelf full of gilded, well-thumbed copies of Anne of Green Gables, Little Women, Jane Eyre, etc. in my living room, all tomes that I have saved since childhood, through countless moves, for a future daughter who, facing facts—I won’t have. (I’m OK with that now, honestly. But it took a while to get there.) In Krentcil’s case, that vision of a future was archived via clothing. Read “How I Let Go of the Clothes I Saved for My Imaginary Daughter” here.
And, finally, ohmygod—every paragraph of Claire Zulkey’s latest Evil Witches newsletter resonates. Zulkey interviews Take Back the Game author Linda Flanagan, who writes about how the over-pressured, hyper-invested tiger-parent era of kids sports has sucked all the fun out of the game for the very people these sports are actually supposed to be for—our kids. But this quote, about the detrimental effects of “show-off” sports on young girls, really hit home:
“If I had a girl, I would avoid sports that were dependent on judges like gymnastics and figure skating because the emphasis is so greatly on their appearance and getting the favor of others. I think that’s kind of a terrible lesson for girls, in particular…to have your performance be based on other people’s judgment of you rather than sports like running and swimming where it’s really meritocratic and the other team sports is more in the middle.”
Read “It’s Actually *Good* Parenting to Skip Some Games” here.
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Reader, my girl cried actual tears just because this story was so good.—MB
Wondering about that Shania reference? So was Maggie. Here’s Rachel’s answer: “So you’re Brad Pitt? That don’t impress me much!” Do yourself a favor and watch the video.
Um, if the shearling Birkenstock fits...—RB