What's Wrong With This Picture?
The Beatrice and Eugenie of newsletters is playing salary peekaboo, crafting like a madwoman, and respectfully disagreeing with Dame Judi Dench.
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.
SPREAD NATION (ROE-VEMBER 1, 2022) — By the time our next Spread hits your inbox, a week from today, the midterm polls will be closing. So much hangs in the balance. Please take time this week to do something, anything. Remember: Since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June, at least 66 abortion clinics have closed or stopped providing abortion services. Abortion is now completely banned in 12 states. Other states are in the process of pushing through bans as early as six weeks of pregnancy. Doctors who violate these bans face felony charges and penalties as severe as life in prison. Women are dying.
Alrighty, let’s Spread.
In magazine writer Taffy Brodesser-Akner’s hit 2019 novel, Fleishman Is in Trouble, title character Toby is a newly single, Jewish hematologist/dad/horndog who lives on the Upper East Side and spends a stomach-churning amount of time and brainpower on what the kids call “the apps.” Soon after the book came out, news broke that Fleishman would be given the Hollywood treatment. With Brodesser-Akner running the show and Spread-beloved New York magazine superstar Allison P. Davis backing her up in the writers’ room, your Spreaditors could not have been more invested. When Brodesser-Akner asked us for casting tips—fine, she didn’t—it was clear: the title role should be played by Ben Stiller. Steve Carell, if they could get him. Or possibly Adam Sandler, doing his serious-actor thing a la Punch Drunk Love or Uncut Gems. Sandler does have a knack for onscreen schvitzing. Fast forward. Last week the Fleishman trailer arrives. (The show, via FX, via Hulu, will bow on November 17.) We learn that Claire Danes is playing Rachel Fleishman, Toby’s addlepated ex, and nod approvingly. That fits. But what of Stiller? Ben? Mr. Zoolander? Focker? Chas Tenenbaum? Helloooo? Where aaaare you? Okay, we figure—they must’ve snagged Carell or Serious Sandler. Maybe they gave Fleishman a glow-up in the form of Justin Theroux. But, wait, what is the adolescent brother from that recent indie hit The Squid and the Whale—the fuzzy-headed lil’ dude who just anchored that Mark Zuckerberg movie—doing on-screen? Jesse Eisenberg is playing the crusty, past-his-prime Fleishman? Googling ensued. Chests tightened. The sky fell. The problem, we realize, isn’t that their math was wrong. On the page, Fleishman is 41. On IMDB, Eisenburg is nearing 40. Indeed, this casting was unusually age-appropriate. But what does this casting says about us, your Spreaditors? For Rachel, the gut punch came in seeing a kid she thought of as impossibly young play her age (kinda) which is also…middle age. For Maggie, who has already had that particular anxiety attack countless times at the ripe-but-stunning age of 45, it’s recognizing how much her own internalized ageism and sexism comes into play in who “feels” what age. Somehow, Claire Danes (actual age: 43) seems right on target to play 40. Likewise, we’ll buy Fleishman supporting actor Lizzy Caplan (age 40) as her contemporary. But their castmate Adam Brody (at 42) still feels preposterously boyish to play anyone out of college (which, we know, was the point of his stunt-casting in Promising Young Woman). And somehow, Stiller and Sandler (real age: 56) and Carell (headed into AARP territory at 60) feel like what a Fleishman would look like. Anyway, we are coming to grips with some things over here.
For the record, that minx Justin Theroux is a frisky 51, and he can play any age he wants. Any age. Anytime. Anywhere.
Rachel & Maggie
PS: Speaking of foundational texts! This week, our lil’ Bookshop is launching THE SPREAD CANON: An ever-evolving roster of books that inform your Spreaditors’ worldview and/or that we find ourselves referencing with some frequency. So stop wondering what to read next! Click here to find a curated list of the books you love to love; the books you keep meaning to read; the latest books to feature in the ongoing cultural “conversation” centered around women’s lives. Books written by our friends and colleagues. And just about every book—memoirs, nonfiction, fiction, audio—that we’ve ever mentioned in this free-for-now (watch this space!) newsy-letter. We get that you’ve gotten into the habit of putting your book money into Uncle Jeff’s pocket, but do us a solid: Order your next round from us, and pass along a teeny tiny commission to Auntie Spread. Both L'Oréal and Mika Brezinski keep telling us that we are worth something. Heed their call. Happy reading.
PPS: Thanks for listening to last week’s audio issue! Please let us know if we should do it again sometime.
You may have heard that the nice dude who Spread lightning rod Meghan Markle casually refers to as “my love” released the cover of his memoir, which will be published by Random House in January, last week. Spare, you say? The title, presumably referencing that British-ism about birth order, “the heir and the spare,” has been earning kudos online—what humility! What candor! But over at Spread Central we heard in that word choice the sound of the world’s tiniest and most relentless self-pity party, playing in the head of a party-hardy, born riche, actual, honest-to-God PRINCELING, comfortably ensconced in a Santa Barbara manse, and not having to spend every single damn day gladhanding old ladies and kissing babies, as his brother the Heir must do. So first, there was that. But as we stared at the jacket cover, a deeper sense of déjà vu set in. Why were visions of hairpieces held on by sweatbands suddenly dancing in our heads? Ding-ding-ding! We had seen this book before, only it was called Open, starred Andre Agassi, and was published by HarperCollins in 2009. The similarities do not cease with the design, type, and Martin Schoeller-style1 portrait: Prince Harry’s coauthor is Andre Agassi coauthor J.R. Moehringer (J.R., congrats! Way to own what must be a highly lucrative niche!). Call it an archetype—cough, cough—but we’re on board: We loved Open, and just remembered to add it to the Spread bookshop. Can’t wait for the sequel.—Rachel, with additional bitching by Maggie
While we’re on a royal roll: Last week, Dame Judi Dench took The Crown to task in an open letter to the Times (UK). The closer the show’s storyline comes to the present day, she wrote, the more it “seems willing to blur the lines between historical accuracy and crude sensationalism.” Who is going to fight an 87-year-old international treasure of stage and screen? Not Netflix, which promptly smacked a disclaimer on the show’s opening credits. But the first thing I, for one, did after reading Ms. Judi’s rant was google the launch date of the new season. November 9, next Weds. Day after the primaries. I will be watching either as an escape from the American political hellscape or a Golden Jubilee of celebration.—Maggie
Maggie, I am with you 100 percent. As you know, I am champing at the distinguished English bit to see Elizabeth Debicki’s (finally, tall!!) Diana in action. I’d also like to note that while I understand Dame Judi’s appeal, were it not for The Crown I would not have given a royal rat’s bottom about the death of Queen Elizabeth this fall, nor any of the ritual thereof. Sure, The Crown is fictionalized and sensationalized, but it had people like me considering the House of Windsor for the first time. We know the players now, and that kind of relevance isn’t something the monarchy can afford to sneer at, especially with King Chuck at the helm. Also: I AM HORRIFIED THAT WE ARE TALKING ABOUT ROYALS TWO WEEKS IN A ROW AND IT’S ALL MY FAULT. —Rachel
Show us the mon-aaaaaayyyy.
Little birdies tell us the Gray Lady has been doing a desperate little two-step over the past week or so; among other things, the New York Times has given a smattering of raises to staffers of its beloved Wirecutter product-rec division, in an effort to bring their compensation up to par (at least, a little closer to par) with those of the prized ponies who staff the Times mothership. It’s hard to ignore the timing: The pay bumps occurred right up to the wire on the long-awaited pay transparency law that went into effect today, after what feels like eons of anticipation—an issue that, according to the Spread’s wholly unscientific research, the Times has not covered allll that extensively. Hmm. Anyway, starting today, companies in the Big Apple are now required to post a clear salary range for each job listing: Candidates will theoretically walk into the application process knowing how much they can expect to earn (instead of doing the whole dog and pony show only to find out they’re getting undercut at the close); coworkers will get a clearer view of how much their colleagues make—and how their pay stacks up against those at other company’s. And, importantly, pay transparency should make it tough to pay a woman less for the same job as a similarly qualified man. But the new law already has plenty of workarounds: as Axios points out in this handy explainer, many of the ranges being posted are absurdly wide: “A senior analyst role advertised on the Macy's jobs site is listed as paying between $85,320 and $142,080 a year. A senior podcast producer role at the WSJ advertises an ‘NYC pay range’ of $50,000 - $180,000.” Is it weird that while I applaud the law in theory, I find this “looseness” with the numbers oddly…comforting? Don’t answer that. All of my parental, cultural, and professional training to date has hardwired me to conceal these figures. I grew up in a family in which it was crass to get specific on dollar amounts. As the tides on this issue have turned in recent years, I’ve experimented with more transparency about my income. (As Rachel can attest, this basically means I’ve been whining to friends about money, sometimes throwing in real numbers instead of euphemisms.) But revealing these figures to the world at large feels like walking through Times Square buck naked. Indeed, a friend sent me a job listing at Wirecutter—come one, come all, and see the editorial salary in its full glory—and I reflexively cringed: but…but….everyone would know how much I make! Which, DUH, is the point. Which is progress. Rachel, as your therapist would say, what am I really afraid of?—Maggie
Maggie, I’ll pass on the chance to psychoanalyze and instead use this as an opportunity to reveal something major: Your Spreaditors’ salaries. OK. Ready? Here goes! As of this writing, we make zip, zilch, nada on the premium product before you. So please throw us a bone by sharing this free newsletter with friends and colleagues, frenemies and enemies, rivals and nemeses and encouraging them to subscribe. Love y’all!—Rachel
Girl / woman.
Last year, when we wrote about the phenomenon of early puberty—reports of which have skyrocketed, and not just in the U.S., during the pandemic—it was the first post that prompted Rachel’s husband, James, to note that he wasn’t quite sure which one of us had written it until he got to the byline at the end. It was me. But early puberty is something we both experienced, and—Rachel, you with me here?—were both pretty fucked up by. It’s hard to write a quick “take” on Jessica Winter’s piercing, in-depth New Yorker story, “Why More and More Girls are Hitting Puberty Early.” Winter’s challenge here is interesting: She speaks to experts who want to reframe early puberty as “normal”—after all, it’s not so rare anymore—and also rethink puberty itself, as one more continuum of childhood, not an ending point: when an eight-year-old gets breasts or her period, she has hardly “become a woman.” But other experts acknowledge that early puberty is not normal, since there’s no denying it will plunge a girl into territory (both internal, e.g., raging hormones; and external, e.g., the altered perception of adults and peers) that she’s not psychologically equipped for. Which is why some parents choose to give their daughters pretty heavy-duty medication to stave off puberty until they’re ready: My eyes zeroed in on the name Lupron, a drug that Rachel and I both injected into our own bellies daily during our IVF treatments…which no, we did not do together! Of the many, many lines I highlighted as I read, most to share with girlfriends, the one below is what made me send the story to my husband—as if reading it was an essential clue to understanding me as a human.—Maggie
Of a girl who looks older, Winter writes, “adults and other children will almost inevitably relate to the girl differently—and not necessarily even in a sexualized way, although that is of grave concern; but intellectually, socially, emotionally. They may have advanced expectations of her, and she may strive to meet those expectations or fail to, and, either way, that cycle of stimulus and response is determining her place in her social milieu, conjuring a mirror in which she sees herself, and wiring her brain in configurations that subtly differ from those of her average-developing peers. Nature begets nurture. For this girl, the hands of the clock simply go faster.
”Read “Why More and More Girls Are Hitting Puberty Early” here.
Fat, thin, cool, uncool, etc.
There’s been a lot of fat in the news these past few weeks and I’m not talking about “fat” as in “cut the fat/filler” or even your typical body positivity fare. I’m talking about fat-in-the-headline kind of stuff. The New York Times Magazine ran a story a couple weeks ago about fat anorexics—people with high BMIs who are literally undernourished because they do not eat enough—that totally blew back my (rapidly thinning postpartum) hair. Calling all doctors: Please add this one to your Spread-recommended reading list, alongside that haunting clitoris article from a couple of weeks ago. This week, NPR put out a joyful photo essay by Jackie Molloy about a weekend-long pro-fat camp in Ohio, and Bustle ran Madeleine Aggeler’s profile of pro-fat podcast host Aubrey Gordon, whose show Maintenance Phase is suddenly everywhere, recommended by everyone. With good reason: Gordon’s own personal story is inspiring. Read it! I also found myself literally shaken up (in a good way) this week when on Love is Blind a woman named Alexa, who is gorgeous but also significantly heavier than anyone I’ve ever seen on such a dating show, found love in the pods—and was greeted with awe and a sexy embrace when she met her thin-man match outside of the pods. (The moment hit me: In all the junk TV I’ve watched over the years I don’t think I’ve ever seen a large woman “succeed at love”.) This all leads to my point, which obviously is about Taylor Swift. She picked the right time to jump into the conversation by using the word “fat” in her new “Anti-Hero” music video. No, that’s not really my point—though that is a point and a fact. My real point is that for a minute I thought maybe we as a culture might be taking a baby step toward actual body acceptance or, fine, even just body neutrality. Then Maggie pointed me to the cool girls who knit stuff. Maggie, please explain.—Rachel
Rachel, did I tell you that on Saturday I took home the prize for “best trunk” —no not that kinda trunk—at my son’s elementary school “trunk or treat” for turning the hatchback of my Prius into a giant monster mouth, complete with a five-foot-long, fat pink fleece tongue? Oh, I did tell you? Well, I’m just reminding you. Again. Anyway, point is, Cool Girls Craft!! In light of my victory, I was feeling very on the money when I saw the headline “Welcome to Craft-Girl Autumn” in Air Mail. But when I scrolled through it, one thing and one thing only leapt out at me: Craft-Girl Autumn was “cool” because the crafters in question were extremely, radically thin. RB, I appreciate and want to suck the marrow out of every sign of progress you’ve just pointed out. But sometimes it really slaps me in the face that, even in the 2022s, a low BMI is still the best credential for proving that something is “cool” and “now.” Wrap the hand-crocheted scarf that Air Mail celebrates here around the neck of a gal with my body type and it starts to look a whole lot less aspirational, lemme tell ya. Thing is, I’m guessing that Air Mail would no longer publish a trend story in which every example of the trend is a white girl—which, hurrah! Amen! Let’s never do that again please!—yet they have no issue whatsoever with posting a story in which every woman fits the same old Conde Nast cookie cutter shape. Picture me, sticking out my giant pink tongue at the whole damn situation.—Maggie
Read “You Don’t Look Anorexic” here.
Check out “A pro-fat camp for women? Sign me up.” here.
Read “Aubrey Gordon Doesn’t Think Your Brain Is Broken” here.
#MeToo turns 5, heads to court.
It’s been five years since Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey supercharged the #MeToo movement with their watershed investigation of Harvey Weinstein, a moment that—in addition to inspiring the new film She Said (and its precursor book, available at: Spread Bookshop TM!!)—inspired women across the land to come forward with workplace abuses. In Elle’s recent Women in Hollywood issue, there’s a lot of where-are-we-now talk, including an essay by Kayla Webley Adler and a survey in partnership with the Kathleen Kennedy-founded Hollywood Commission that left me feeling really depressed! But I digress! Most survivors who came forward with their stories used the press as their outlet…and then there was then-TNR editor Moira Donegan who just fired up a fresh spreadsheet in her Google Drive and birthed the Shitty Media Men list, which spread like wildfire, as a newly formed whisper network2 (anonymous accusers revealing their alleged abusers by name) shared a litany of sins—from vaguely creepy behavior to full-on rape—at the hands of men employed by nearly ever major publication in New York. (When I first saw it, having recently moved away from NYC, I remember being surprised to find myself holding my breath, hoping none of my male friends were on it.) Donegan was sued for defamation by the Rumpus’s Stephen Elliott, one of the men accused of rape in the spreadsheet, and now they are finally heading to court. New York’s Lila Shapiro—who wrote the iconic-to-us profile of allegedly vampiric Hollywood powerhouse Joss Whedon, this past spring—has the definitive feature on the list and its main players. One supporting player is Donegan’s lawyer Roberta Kaplan, who powered Time’s Up’s legal efforts before being forced to resign due to a Cuomo-related scandal and who continues to represent world-beating, advice-doling Spread fairy godmother E. Jean Carroll in her quest for justice against Donald Trump. I would kill to read a meaty profile of Kaplan in New York (paging Olivia Nuzzi or Lisa Miller). Or in the New York Times Magazine by—full-circle moment— Fleishman author Taffy Brodesser-Akner or Vanessa Grigoriadis. Or in the New Yorker by Emily Nussbaum or Lauren Collins or Molly Fischer! (There are a lot of ways this profile could go!). Editors reading this: Get her while the gettin’s good.—Rachel
Read “What #MeToo Changed in Hollywood—and What It Didn’t” in Elle here.
Read “Bad Reputation” at the Cut/New York here.
School-board media has been a subgenre of which I cannot get enough since the fall of 2020, when I earned my wings as a full-fledged community busybody by being extremely vocal at a series of local school-board meetings related to Covid-related policy and school closures. (For the record, I was right.) I enjoy the genre for the drama, the hyper-local theater of it all—even when it gets a little politically sticky. But when I settled in for Paige Williams’s school-board feature in this week’s New Yorker, I wasn’t ready for such a wallop of a read. The piece is about Moms for Liberty, a group of right-wingers—mostly ladies but not all moms—who use the levers of the school board to “reclaim education,” which translates to flipping out parents, scoring points for the con team, making life a living hell for educators, and making sure your children NEVER GET THEIR HANDS ON A BOOK ABOUT SEAHORSES. Gird your loins and start gathering signatures to get yourself on your district’s ballot stat.—Rachel
Read “The Right-Wing Mothers Fueling the School Board Wars” here.
Mark her words.
In her new Wired column, Virginia Heffernan has a blast with history, demography, labor politics, and the English language—all at the expense of Elon Musk. It’s a delight.
Read “Elon Musk wants you to have more babies. Should you?” here.
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Shhhhhh. Lower your voice. We're speaking of whisper networks here! Elsewhere in articles about hushed-tones information-sharing on the internet: Glamour's got one called "Inside the Secret Facebook Group Where Women Review the Men They've Dated."