I’m in the process of planning a getaway in December with a few girlfriends, and we are all seriously looking forward to a few days away to relax, recharge, and savor some quiet. Currently we are scouting out some AirBnB locations, trying to decide. Beachy location? Desert oasis? Mountain escape? Regardless of which we choose, I do have some essentials in mind.
Alice Munro’s Dear Life, for short stories to dip in and out of all weekend long.
A hair band in the perfect ochre for easy-yet-cute hair.
I preordered Kim Liggett’s new novel The Grace Year as soon as I could, and was riveted the moment I had it in hand to devour. There is simply no other way to consume this book — heart in hand, fully devouring this tale of girlhood and womanhood. Liggett’s speculative fiction expertly weaves a world where women have no power or agency, save the magic they must be rid of in their sixteenth year, the grace year. It is a survival story, a modern fairy tale, a coming-of-age, a resistance manifesto, and a terrifying horror yarn all at the same time, deftly told and hauntingly realized. I could not put it down.
There are so many ways that women and girls tear each other apart and lift each other up by turns, and this novel explores those dynamics in interesting ways. What does power come to mean when you are entirely deprived of it? How do we define ourselves within the rhythms of family, society, friendships, and love? What does that mean for our self-hood? How can we push for meaningful change? All of these are questions I turned over in my mind as this story unfolded.
Besides a fascinating macro look at a society described by some as The Handmaid’s Tale meets Lord of the Flies, I thoroughly appreciated Liggett’s attention to small details. The language of flowers in particular made for a beautiful leitmotif, further strengthening her world-building. Flowers make for a common language, but they also prove to be a perfect metaphor for the girls themselves. Fragile, beautiful, unique, prized, just as easily crushed as admired — the Grace Year girls and their story will haunt you long after Liggett’s last page.
“Figuring out how to “get better” at being a woman is a ridiculous and often amoral project – a subset of the larger, equally ridiculous, equally amoral project of learning to get better at life under accelerated capitalism. In these pursuits, most pleasures end up being traps, and every public-facing demand escalates in perpetuity. Satisfaction remains, under the terms of the system, necessarily out of reach.”
With the expectations of womanhood becoming more insane at every turn, in this era of Instagram and curated feeds and “lifestyle” branding, have we optimized ourselves out of the possibility for genuine contentment? I myself find it very difficult to feel satisfied and contented, but perhaps it has less to do with any personal failings to “choose happiness” and much more to do with the insidious all-encompassing hamster wheel society has convinced us is necessary. And at the particularly insidious intersection of capitalism and patriarchy, it becomes even harder.
If capitalism didn’t ingrain in us that we always need more, better, pricier things to signify success, or if the patriarchy didn’t force us to gauge our worth by our attractiveness, youthfulness, and willingness to accommodate, aka our “fuckability”… what then? Tolentino is correct, I think, that the ultimate question is to ask what we ourselves really want, whether within or despite the systems we live in. What will make us content? What will let us feel whole and happy? Perhaps that becomes the most difficult thing of all — to find out what our own real desires are, rather than simply wanting to be desired, admired, and optimized.
While on vacation this summer I read Lisa Taddeo’s new book, Three Women. To say it was arresting would be an understatement. It is a striking non-fiction work about women and desire, women and sex, but most of all, women and loneliness.
Taddeo spent eight years researching this book, covering the lives of women across the U.S. in their most intimate spaces. The result is a portrait of three women in very different places in life, but all desirous, lonely, empty and fulfilled by turns. Lina pulls away from a loveless marriage and begins an affair with her high school sweetheart. Maggie endures a statutory rape trial while mentally reliving the relationship she shared with her high school teacher. Sloane is a happily married woman whose husband enjoys choosing other men for her to sleep with. All of their swirls of emotion are painfully familiar despite their varied situations: an ache for acceptance, a reckoning with the past, isolated loneliness and attempts to escape it, lusty desire, self-doubt and self-examination in equal measure. Taddeo does a masterful job of creating something far beyond journalism; she paints the lives of these women in a way that is both personal and universal, and she makes sure to give each agency over her own story in the process.
Three Women is a must-read. Add it to your summer reading list if you haven’t already, and prepare for a book that will affect you profoundly.
The last couple of weeks have left me full of rage and despair as I have watched politicians pass draconian measures to control a woman’s body, with zero concern for health or well-being. Women’s rights are human rights, and by making abortion illegal, those rights are being stripped away at the most basic level.
Making abortion illegal is not “pro-life.” Women have been dying throughout the course of history from unsafe abortions, and many, many more will if we take away this right. Why is it that the life, the health, the autonomy, and the well-being of women are so easily disregarded? And the well-being of families certainly is not being considered either: politicians condemn women for seeking abortions, but they also condemn the same families for seeking government assistance programs. Where will they be when that child needs formula, needs childcare, needs food and shelter?
Making abortion illegal will not stop abortions, it will only serve to legislate who can have access to safe abortions. Rich politicians will always find ways for their mistresses to get rid of unintended pregnancies. POC and the poor are the ones who will suffer the most. They will either die getting an abortion under unsafe circumstances, or be forced to have children they cannot afford. Banning abortions equals an enforced continuation of the poverty cycle, point-blank.
Here are some excellent articles, with food for thought, resources, and things we can do:
A brief primer on Alabama’s abortion ban, plus suggestions on ways help.
A new way to think about men and unwanted pregnancies.
How to help women in states with extreme abortion bans.
On this beautiful sunny Friday, I’d like to take a minute to talk about vulnerability. It is perhaps the bravest act one can take, to be vulnerable with someone else, is it not? To open up, to show someone something real and deep and true, and risk rejection or ridicule when all you desire is to be seen. Seen and loved.
I watched Brené Brown’s Netflix special The Call to Courage the other night, and I am still thinking about it days later. Her research on shame, vulnerability, and courage is amazing, but her humor and compassion make it that much more poignant and powerful a presentation. Brown is witty and insightful, bringing her research together with anecdotes from her own life to show us that we are in it together, we need each other, and we can only forge those connections by being brave. Highly recommend.
With that in mind, I found Melanie Hamlett’s excellent article to be especially timely. Hamlett discusses toxic masculinity and the ways it forces women to take on a hugely unequal amount of emotional labor. This is certainly not news, per se, but in her take, she explores a new wave of men’s groups that are encouraging vulnerability, communication, and mutual support. Our #MeToo era of “wokeness” seems to have more men thinking hard about their own emotional needs. Drinking, trying to “get laid,” ogling women, and playing contact sports have traditionally been the only socially-sanctioned ways for men to connect with each other, all of which reinforce painfully toxic tropes about “being a man.” Furthermore, the idea that men should only be emotionally open with women, and that they should find “their one and only” to connect with, left many female partners shouldering far more emotional work than they could handle. These small, intimate new men’s groups offer the opportunity for healthy emotional connections, and have the side benefit of easing some of the emotional labor burden off of the women they love. Win-win.
Perhaps we’ve been onto something all along with our ladies’ nights and brunches with the girls — and thankfully, many men are starting to catch on. Emotional support networks are necessary for all of us, and outlets for vulnerability — as brave as one must be to go there — can only make us stronger.
Stop the presses, everyone! Anthropologie has finally expanded their size range to include both petites AND larger sizes. Their new A+nthropologie items go up through a size 26W, and I could not be happier. Over 120 new items, including dresses, tees, jeans, blouses… I am thrilled. The only caveat is that their expanded line is only available in select stores and online, but I am hopeful that Anthro will expand availability in the near future. In the meantime, I love that they have a great assortment of pants especially — tops can be easier to find, but a good pair of pants can be hard to track down, as can a well-cut dress.
I have to say, I am so pleased with the styling of this collection. The models look wonderfully confident in their own skin, and they are seamlessly integrated into catalog photographs and ad space. The clothes can easily be found by size, but they have not been shuffled off to a sad corner to exist in a silo — pieces are integrated well into the existing product line-up. Bravo, Anthro. It is encouraging to be seen and included. A few of my favorites, below: