Who's Afraid of the Bitch in the House?
The Kathy Najimy and Maggie Smith of newsletters are taking stock, doing math, and Whoopin’ it up.
Now that we’re back at it, we’ve been doing some capital-T thinking about the Spread. In the wild, vast, growing constellation of newsletters, who are we? What service do we provide? Do we talk too much about ourselves when we should just, as they say, do the news? Worse—do we complain too much about our lives? This tangle of Big Questions about the degree to which the Spread is confessional/personal vs. “service” (e.g., a reading list) landed just as a birthday popped up on our shared calendar: The Bitch in the House is turning 20! It’s possible that our younger readers have never met this particular Bitch, but throughout our long run at Elle, she was canon. The 2002 volume of essays edited by Cathi Hanauer in which “26 Women Tell the Truth About Sex, Solitude, Work, Motherhood, and Marriage” featured writers we knew and admired (and worked with: then-Elle colleagues Laurie Abraham, Daphne Merkin), writers we admired and hoped to know (Vivian Gornick, Kate Christiansen), and a few we’d never actually heard of before but pretended to know—but was originally released before either of your Spreaditors had come into her own as a true Bitch (i.e.: a human burdened/blessed with homeownership, progeny, life partners, crow’s feet). But, two decades after its publication, we’ve aged right into the bracket many of its writers were in when Bitch first came out. Rereading it now, it’s impossible not to notice that out of almost three dozen contributors, there are only two women of color and one Black woman on the roster. That said, man, do these essays hold up. Indeed, they feel fresh in their indulgence, and we mean this in the best way: Women taking the space (to use an oh-so-now term) to rail and rage, but also to parse and analyze the personal as political. As a read, Bitch is cathartic. It’s also catching: After each chapter we found ourselves more fired up than before. And ominous: The mixed blessing of knowing many of its writers is to know that, today, many of the relationships these sisters were unspooling about ended in divorce.
Gah, what we would give for writers like Jia Tolentino, Doreen St. Felix, Allison P. Davis, Jazmine Hughes, Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah, Tressie McMillan Cottom, Jenna Wortham, Salamishah Tillet, Roxane Gay, and and and…to contribute to the next sequel!!
Where is the space, now, for women’s essays about our own interiority, our evolution, and yes, our bitching? You can find these stories piecemeal, from time to time (Honor Jones’s divorce essay, “How I Demolished My Life,” in the Atlantic springs to mind as does Jean Garnett’s story “Scenes from an Open Marriage” from earlier this year in the Paris Review). But, in the absence of old-school women’s media, what is the home base for this kind of personal exploration of domestic life? That, yes, can be self-indulgent. And, yes, that was historically told by a certain kind of woman about a certain kind of life (white, educated, privileged). But that is also the kind of story that gets women thinking, and talking, and fired up. That get us beyond niceties and into the kind of dicey emotional territory that can fuel an entire girls’ weekend worth of rambling conversation.
Guess that’s what we’re here for. Spread it, don’t regret it.
Love ya bitches,
Rachel & Maggie
P.S. You’ll want to read this next bit with a Chloe Fineman-as-Nicole Kidman accent: Big ups to Naomi Chrisoulakis at Aussie site the Primer for including the Spread among some very fine company in her list of 9 Newsletters to sign up for IMMEDIATELY. (OK, we ad-libbed the IMMEDIATELY.)
P.P.S. If you’re feeling it, don’t keep it to yourself. Show us some love and smash that “heart” button. We could all use the dopamine hit.
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The love and terror of the other Maggie.
In her new Trump tell-all, veteran New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman reveals that the former president’s own aides believed he was “operating with the emotional development of a 12-year-old.” In the week leading up to the book’s release, it’s become clear that 12 was generous. I’d carbon date his emotional development at nine, tops: In his rush to discredit a reporter he has often referred to as “my psychiatrist” he’s pushing one of his signature nicknames on her. “Maggot” I can tell you from personal experience, is the preferred “Maggie” joke of third-grade school-bus bullies everywhere. Maybe it’s the name, but I’ve long nursed a fascination with Haberman that extends beyond her almost symbiotic relationship with the Lying Liar in Chief. The relentless Twitter churn of the Trump years were singularly exhausting for all political reporters, but they were next-level for Haberman, who published—wait for it—599 bylines in 2016 alone. Kruse tells the story of why Haberman was in some ways born to cover Trump. She grew up idolizing and resenting her reporter father, who preached that a “real reporter never leaves the scene of a story”—that’s her in the photo above, meeting then-Mayor Ed Koch when her dad was working the City Hall beat. Kruse argues that that backstory led her to be one of few reporters to take Trump’s presidential bid seriously from the jump. He also delves into Haberman’s life in Brooklyn (not D.C.) with three kids—something that, as a woman, I’ve wondered about since reading this excellent primer on Haberman by friend-of-Spread Rachael Combe early in Trump’s presidency, while at the same time being ashamed to wonder about it (after all I’m not wondering this about male reporters who have three kids): I mean, how does she do that job with three kids—I think the youngest was three when Trump was elected. Kruse paints Haberman as obsessed, consumed by her work and potentially torn: wanting to be a better parent than she had, but also knowing that she will never turn her back on this job, will never not take that call from a source or an editor. And also knowing that, as long as Trump is alive and kicking, she will never extricate her career from him. “Once you cover Donald Trump closely,” a Trump biographer tells Kruse, “you are never free.” Here’s what she has to say:
“I love being a journalist. I do. There are things that I haven’t done. I didn’t move my children to D.C. I haven’t taken assignments in foreign countries, right? What I do is not the same as what my father did. But have I missed more time than I wish I had? Yeah. That’s 100-percent true. And I make it up by trying to be much more present now. And I am. But this is also my job,” she said. “Whatever beat I’m covering I will do with an intensity.”
Read “It’s My Curse and My Salvation” in Politico Magazine here. Since we didn’t really cover the book itself, here’s the Washington Post’s review of Confidence Man: The Making of Donald Trump and the Breaking of America. Order it at the Spread’s little bookshop here.
The O.G. (and yes, the G.O.A.T. and the E.G.O.T.)
The New York Times’s new profile of Whoopi Goldberg, which takes us from the gardens of New Jersey to the shining Tyrrhenian Sea—it’s in Greece, not Westeross—is the kind of classic, high-access portrait one rarely encounters in the days of Instagram and (relatedly!) that only seems to work when the subject is wise, middle-aged, with no fucks left to give. (At this point I honestly cannot get excited about any profile of a Hollywood performer under 40; yes, I am ageist and I also believe I am justified.) Thankfully, writer Jazmine Hughes, who I’d estimate to be in her early thirties, has begun to carve out an on-location legends-only niche (the Goldberg profile comes on the heels of her excellent Viola Davis cover story, for which Hughes traveled to South Africa). Her Whoopi installment dazzles on all fronts: As a ride-along with a famously mouthy celeb (there are shades of a 30 Rock episode in here: After Olivia Newton John and Issey Miyake die in a two-day span, Whoopi is determined not to be the famous person who completes the Rule of Threes); a biography of a singular American character (even as a Whoopi superfan I learned a lot); and a personal meditation on Whoopi’s iconoclastic appeal, which actually made me cry. “I had never aimed for normalcy, a land for middle children and people who knew how to drive,” Hughes writes, after her own therapist tells her that her woes are “normal.” “I liked feeling different from everyone else, and I had felt that way as long as I could remember. What I wanted was to feel OK about those differences, to feel their power instead of their weight. Assimilation is a grieving process: losing the very essence of you for the comfort of acceptance. That Goldberg has refused makes her a role model (even if she would hate that) for going against convention and relishing it.” Maggie, What other women do you crave a deep profile on? To get your juices flowing, I’ll start my own wish list with Bette Midler, Bonnie Raitt, Angela Bassett, the Indigo Girls, Anna Deveare Smith…—Rachel
Angela Davis, Grace Coddington, Chrissie Hynde, Margo Martindale, Joan Cusack? But only by a truly innovative writer and if the editor is going to give them the necessary pages to unspool. If it’s just gonna be a nice tight standard profile, fuggedaboutit—what you need is the writer who references her own therapist, and who comes at it with a theory about the person to push. Spreadinistas, who would you love a nice juicy profile of?—Maggie
Read “Whoopi Goldberg Will Not Shut Up, Thank You Very Much” here.
Rachel, you’ve definitely “owned” the Spread’s childbirth beat in recent months, with good reason, but man: Three cheers for Glamour’s reporting project “28 Days,” which flooded me with sharp memories of that “longest, shortest” time in my own life, when everything felt momentous yet I knew even then that my brain was Swiss cheese, riddled by hormones and chronic exhaustion—and unlikely to retain much of anything. “28 Days” follows eight women through the first four weeks of motherhood, meticulously documenting their experiences via photography, text messages, and short video clips. We see the first moment a baby is laid on the chest of mother Abi; Diana feeding her twins in the NICU; the “lemon-size” blood clot Ashley discovered after she got home; and, throughout, the deep exhaustion, the often slow and complex process of physical recovery, and the looming financial stress of taking leave from work—which is the underlying political raison d'etre of the story: without national paid family or maternity leave, a quarter of American women return to work two weeks after giving birth. These stories drive home how inhuman that truly is. As a print media dinosaur constantly bemoaning the death of the page, I have to give it up for the digital-only Glamour told this story viscerally and visually, in a way that print simply cannot do; I felt so conscious of the care the editors took with their subjects. Mostly, though, I felt this should be required viewing not just for policymakers and HR execs, but for men and partners, who—unpopular opinion these days but come ON, let’s face it—are only really going through about 15 percent of this experience, at most.
Speaking of the sky-high cost of American parenthood…writing in the Atlantic, Annie Lowrey, whose sons are two and four, writes about the brokenness of the child care system: ridiculously expensive for parents, underpaid for workers, and with little profit left on the table for day care centers. The federal government could fix that—but would have to pass a plan that would sufficiently fund early child care…in perpetuity. Lowrey finds herself in a position I too have been in: Her combined child-care costs exceed her rent. In my house, we are counting down the days until our youngest is finally out of preschool and in public school next year; the combined cost of his (less than full-time) care, plus our out-of-pocket healthcare as two self-employed parents—and don’t get me started on what sometimes feels like my pro-bono journalistic career—is something I have to heavily compartmentalize in my brain in order to just…get on with it. But of course the burden on us is nothing compared to that of lower-income households. “The issue is straightforward,” Lowrey writes. “Child care is labor-intensive. You have vulnerable, fragile kids. You need competent adults to keep those kids safe. Advanced robotics, AI computing systems, assembly lines, and McKinsey consultants will not make child care more efficient. No other business is so impervious to productivity enhancement, because the core services being provided—tenderness, watchfulness—do not scale up.” Reading it I also realize (not for the first time) that there are essential questions I have not asked of my son’s school: What are the wages the teachers are being paid? Do they get benefits? I don’t know…maybe because I haven’t wanted to know.—Maggie
Experience “28 Days” here.
Read “The Reason Child Care Is So Hard to Afford” here.
Lionesses among the Cobras.
On Sunday night, as promised, I donned my lavender jumpsuit—the outfit that says I am fun! and young! and festive!—and with my squad braved the rain and my perpetual fatigue to go to Madison Square Garden to see Lizzo. Readers, the lady was glorious. Phenomenal. A burst of aural Prozac that united me and the 20,789 other people in the sold-out crowd on a cloud of positivity and something I hadn’t felt in eons—a massive sense of connectedness with a bunch of strangers (who probably didn’t all have Covid, right?). My only regret watching Lizzo and her backup dancers (she calls them her “Big Girls”) own every inch of that stage was that we had not thought to bring along daughters, nieces, mentees, young cousins: I kept wondering how it might have shaped my younger self to witness the overwhelming success of Lizzo—in a mostly-transparent superhero catsuit of neon yellow—when I was, say, 10 or 11 years old. Spreaders, I’m already looking online for my next concert tix. Also open to comedy tours. Suggestions?
In bed the next morning, regretting that second Negroni (the one that came after the espresso martini…and before the $17 MSG beer) I found Allyson McCabe’s Vulture story on Sinéad O’Connor—a story that, had I not just been re-converted to the awesome power of the Church of Pop, I would likely have scrolled right past. McCabe writes about Kathryn Ferguson’s new Sinéad documentary Nothing Compares, now in theaters and streaming on Showtime—and puts Sinéad (whose antics in recent years have classified her less as a rebel than a kook) in historical perspective. Turns out the Pope-photo-ripping stance against Catholicism was hardly the only fight of her early career: At barely 21, as a young mother and a talent poised to claim music’s biggest throne, Sinéad was railing against racism in the industry and taking a stand in solidarity with rap artists who were being overlooked by the establishment. In hindsight we discover she was 25 years ahead of a reckoning that, even now, struggles to make actual change. Rachel, I often tell you that Nothing Compares to you: Should we have a remote screening party?—Maggie
Maggie, Beam me into that Sinéad party pronto! And though I’ve decided in my old age (38) that I don’t like concerts—the crowds and the standing are one thing but the waiting around?? No can do!—you really know how to sell a Lizzo show. Know who else recently lived it up at a Lizzo extravaganza? The fictional Grace Garvey Williams, played by Anne-Marie Duff in Sharon Horgan’s new-ish Apple TV+ series Bad Sisters, a show I’ve been meaning to recommend here since I watched it on maternity leave and—ding-dong—here you are opening the door. The series, in which Horgan also stars, is part reverse-murder mystery, party family dramedy, all worth your time.—Rachel
Read “When America Met Sinéad O’Connor” here.
Watch Nothing Compares here.
Watch Bad Sisters here.
The truth hurts.
In between print issues, New York has published a doozy of a family crime story in Lauren Smiley’s “Collision Course.” The yarn centers on patriarch William Mize, who sucked his entire family (and plenty of non-relatives, too) into a crash-fraud ring for which they’d literally beat themselves/one another up and stage gnarly car accidents in order to score insurance payouts that would ultimately rake in more than $6 million. The story went up online yesterday and has probably already been optioned to be a big screen tragicomedy, so, sure, I’ll bite: I’d like to cast Daniel Craig as Mize (need his Knives Out side!) with Sandra Bullock as his wife, Sandi, reuniting for the first time since Hope Floats with my beloved Mae Whitman as daughter Angela. Finally, let’s give cousin Ryan a glow-up in Zac Efron. —Rachel
Read the article here.
Back in June, the Spread reluctantly alerted y’all to the new hot-girl disease: IBS. Now, the condition is wearing a bikini on prime-time TV and calling itself Hunter. Yes, it’s the most wonderful time of the year: Bachelor in Paradise season.
Speaking of hot girls, Vogue has reminded me that not only am I one, I come from a long line of them. I’m talking about tinned fish—which has been called “the ultimate hot girl food” and which my mom, grandmother, and I have all had a thing for—a trend that fortunately seems to have a, um, tail. Read “What Is the Next Chapter of the Unstoppable Tinned Fish Trend?”
Also: Hot girls love their grandma: We’re gaga for the New York Times’s “trend” story on “Grand-mates”: grandparents and grandchildren who end up living with each other. Awwwww.
Also also: Sometimes hot girls just like a product, OK? After being tipped off by the New York Times’s Style section, I’m test-driving Partiful—a Gen Z-approved Paperless Post alternative—for my soon-to-be-two-year-old’s birthday soiree (theme: “pink airplane party” per the toddler’s request) and am here to tell you it’s going great: Texting the party info makes email invites feel like a lot of red tape and the guest list tracker is a piece of cake for all involved. Also enjoying the app’s low-production ’90s look.—Rachel
Both of your Spreaditors have Southern roots and, therefore, serious soft spots for both the oeuvre and the hairstyles of Ms. Loretta Lynn, who died this morning. Thank you, Loretta, for 90 years of straight shootin’.
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Now that you have said Indigo Girls profile ...
I NEED IT
I’ve always wanted Annette Bening to play me in the movie.