For my grandmother, on her 101st birthday

For my grandmother, on her 101st birthday

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Today Belle Littenberg, née Bella Wisnowitz, who then became Belle Wisner, then Belle Bloom, then Belle Littenberg, turned 101. She’s survived two world wars, a flu pandemic, a Depression, and the deaths of three husbands. She’s watched as the Civil Rights movement, the women’s rights movement, and the gay rights movement unfolded, as the Soviet Union rose and the Cold War ended. She voted for our first Black President and plans to vote for our first woman President, too. She is a mother, a grandmother, and a Scrabble champion with a filthy fucking mouth. She is generous, and open-minded, and whipsmart, and empathetic. belle2She took my mother and aunt to the ballet their whole childhoods, when she was a single mother and cheap seats at Lincoln Center cost $1.50. She’s a lifelong balletomane and opera-goer, but she hasn’t been to a live ballet in years. Her surprise birthday present was tickets to American Ballet Theater’s 75th anniversary gala tonight, and she loved it.

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Grandma Belle explains why she loves the rom com Pretty Woman so much.
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Happy birthday, Grandma Belle. You are a role model, and an inspiration, and one of these days, I am going to beat you at Scrabble. I really fucking am.

The New Republic: The trauma of writing about trauma

The New Republic: The trauma of writing about trauma

My piece at The New Republic this week is about how reporting on trauma – on rape, on war, on anti-Black violence – can affect the journalists who write about it:

Hours after submitting to my editor my draft of a long, reported magazine feature about my alma mater’s campus rape problem, I woke up screaming from a horrifying dream about being drugged and raped. I’m not a survivor of sexual assault, but I write about it often, and this article was more than six months in the making. The accounts I’d heard had lodged themselves into my subconscious. Now, they were making their presence known, and brutally so. I barely slept for the next three nights, afraid that if I did, I’d return to that terrible nightmare.

Many journalists experience similar symptoms after witnessing horrific trauma, becoming traumatized themselves. In her new book Irritable Hearts: A PTSD Love Story, human rights reporter Mac McClelland wrote about how her reporting on sexual violence in the aftermath of the 2010 Haiti earthquake left her emotionally and psychologically shattered. The trauma of finding and telling stories about the worst things that can happen to human beings was cumulative; though witnessing sexual violence in Haiti was what triggered her PTSD, she had spent months reporting on human suffering, and often, doing that work put her in harm’s way. Before Haiti, she had reported on the human impact of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, writing about the misery of fishermen and their families as their livelihoods evaporated; before that, she wrote about vigilante justice on an Indian reservation in Oklahoma, where a group of her sources joked openly about raping her. After a while, doing her job left her unable to do her job.

You can read the whole thing here.

The Slice: Why do we still love Pretty Woman so much?

The Slice: Why do we still love Pretty Woman so much?

My first piece at The Slice was about Pretty Woman, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year:

This month marks the 25th anniversary of one of the best-loved romantic comedies of all time, a modern-day Pygmalion about a romance between a heart-of-gold sex worker and the soulless corporate executive who turns her into a lady. At 25, Pretty Woman—directed by Garry Marshall and produced by the late Laura Ziskin—has left its mark on contemporary popular culture, and on the rom-com genre. Rom-coms are riddled with Pretty Woman references, and this week, the Today Show aired a cast reunion special to celebrate its iconic status. Somewhere along the way, the movie became a classic.

The question is: Why?

It’s not surprising that modern rom-coms still look to Pretty Woman as inspiration; they’re not exactly know for their progressive gender politics. But these days, the movie also appears in some of the most feminist pop culture we have. A few years ago, on Parks & Recreation, Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler) discovers that her best friend Ann (Rashida Jones) owns a replica of the iconic dress that Julia Roberts wears at the start of the film. (“Ann,” says Leslie Knope, who is trying to find an outfit that will repel a man, “everything you have is too sexy. This is actually the dress Julia Roberts wore as a prostitute in Pretty Woman.” Ann replies, “I know. I look really good in it.”) And just a few weeks ago, the movie got a shoutout from one of the most feminist shows on television, Broad City. Overseas, it remains a quintessential symbol of romance, of Hollywood, of America—even in North Korea, where it’s smuggled in illegally.

You can read the whole thing here.

The New Republic: Throw pillows do not make for good therapists

The New Republic: Throw pillows do not make for good therapists

This week at TNR, I wrote about my recent visit home to Sydney, and about the challenges of living (and working, and loving) far from home:

And then it was time to go. Time to leave home, yet again.

The pain of separation, of leaving the place I love—even though it’s for another place I love—hasn’t faded after ten years. I always cry when I leave Sydney. This time, as the plane took off from Kingsford Smith, I wept. We soared into the sky and I couldn’t stop the tears, or stop looking out the window to see the last of my hometown, the green of the parks and the red of the terracotta roofs and the blinding flashes of gold as the sun hit the harbor. We flew east over the beach where Zach and I had sat at a café working the previous day, the beach where I wrote long stretches of my doctoral dissertation and had my first real kiss.

“We’ll be back,” he said, squeezing my hand. 

We doubtlessly will be, though in what capacity, I can’t say. Sydney is where I’m from. New York City is where I live. Home, the cliché goes, is where the heart is, but cross-stitched throw pillows don’t offer advice on where to go when the things dearest to your heart—your given family, your chosen family, your work—are all in different places. For now, my answer to those who ask if I’ll come back is: “I don’t know.”

You can read the whole thing here.

The New Republic: UN Women has dumped Uber, and you should too

The New Republic: UN Women has dumped Uber, and you should too

This week at TNR, I wrote about why I’m glad that UN Women has backed out of their partnership with ridesharing service Uber, which was designed to create a million new driving jobs for women by 2020:

The creation of a separate system of women drivers designed to make women passengers feel safer will carry unintended side effects. As a woman who frequently travels alone, I am grateful for the option of car services that only hire women drivers. I used one in India when I traveled there alone several years ago. And having been groped in the New York City subway, nearly groped on the Paris Métro, and having heard countless stories of harassment, flashing, groping, and, of course, rape, on public transport, I can certainly see the appeal of creating a way for women passengers to get around without having to worry so much about those risks. Egypt, Taiwan, and Brazil—among other countries—offer women-only public transport services. In the United States, only 2 percent of taxi drivers are women, and only 170 of New York’s 46,000 taxi drivers—or 1.1 percent—are women.

Being a realist and a feminist are not mutually exclusive. Like many women, I am deeply saddened that these options are necessary while also being deeply grateful that they exist. And yet, it’s easy to see how the creation of these women-only spaces lets society at large off the hook. Rather than holding male Uber drivers accountable and creating a work culture—a culture, period—in which sexual harassment and assault are unacceptable, we instead create a parallel system for women drivers and passengers, accepting the inevitability and intractability of widespread sexual violence committed by men. For a company that claims to be visionary and paradigm-shifting, this is a surprisingly short-sighted and paradigm-enforcing approach to “empowering” women.

You can read the whole thing here.

The New Republic: Being white means never have to say you’re sorry

The New Republic: Being white means never have to say you’re sorry

My first piece for The New Republic is about the double standards applied to bad behaviour by white people and by African Americans in the US. Where white people are treated as individuals, their actions considered isolated incidents, African Americans are denied the chance to speak only for themselves. Their actions are taken as signs of collective pathology:

When black people break the law or flout social norms in the United States, the public conversation immediately turns to the broader concept of blackness itself. What does this one person’s behavior tell us, we ask, about the supposedly corroded and corrosive state of black America? What is wrong, we ask, with African Americans?

When white people misbehave, however, they rarely represent more than themselves, even when they’re members of an organization like, say, SAE. But just the responsibility of being held accountable for how one’s individual behavior and thoughts is still too great for so many of the white people who have been caught out engaging in racist behavior. They are routinely defended with excuses of inebriation, misspeaking, and unintentional bigotry. Even then, being white often means doing wrong without the perception of bringing your entire race into enough disrepute that it has consequences for you. This is what privilege is: to speak and act only for yourself, and even then only when you feel like it.

You can read the whole thing here.

The Boston Globe: Andy Murray’s ‘77’ ignores women’s sports

The Boston Globe: Andy Murray’s ‘77’ ignores women’s sports

My first piece in The Boston Globe is about Andy Murray, his new brand, and sexism in sports:

This week, just as the Australian Open began, British tennis ace Andy Murray unveiled his new logo. Murray, who won the men’s singles title at Wimbledon in 2013, hired the “brand storytelling” agency Aesop to design an icon that will be branded on his on-court bag and training shirts at the Open, and will soon appear on a full line of “Andy Murray” clothing and accessories. Dan Calderwood, Aesop’s design director, said that the aim was “to create a modern mark that captures Andy’s energy and spirit whilst subtly referencing his affinity with the number ‘77.’ ”

The reference isn’t exactly subtle, though. In the video revealing the new logo, the 77 appears first, followed by the initials “AM.” In bold, slanted black numbers that recall a digital clock, the design reminds us of Murray’s historic, now literally iconic achievement: He was the first British man to win the Wimbledon singles title in 77 years, and he won the cup on July 7.

In reporting Murray’s victory, numerous commentators and media outlets stated that he was the “first Brit” to win Wimbledon in 77 years. As I noted at the time, that statement is true — unless you think women are people. In the years between Fred Perry’s 1936 win and Murray’s 2013 triumph, four British women took home the Venus Rosewater Dish — Dorothy Round Little, in fact, won the title in 1937, just a year after Perry’s victory.

You can read the whole thing here.