Women We Read This Week

“It’s Always Spilling Over the Edges”: Jamie Green interviews Leslie Jamison on BuzzFeed

I’ve been loving Leslie Jamison’s essays from her new collection, The Empathy Exams, that have come out recently in The Believer and Harper’s. They’re narratives that plunge into the frustrating world of doctor-patient communication and the vulnerability of a patient’s narrative. She asks questions that remind me of Susan Sontag–questions that examine the validity of pain and suffering and how we communicate it. The content of her essays is intriguing–but I especially love these essays for their form, and in fact I’ve used them as structural inspiration for my own work (which examines completely different subject material). In this interview with Jamie Green, Jamison explains her reasoning behind mixing journalism with personal narrative, what she calls “looking inward and outward at once.” She says:

Sometimes it feels like the more violent choice — I don’t know if I want to say “violent,” but certainly more intentional or aggressive — is to keep journalism and memoir separate. Every time a journalist reports a piece, she’s having a really intense experience; every time you have a conversation with another person — whether you’re doing it as a journalist or a friend — all these moments of your own past are rising up to haunt you. So I offer that confession: When I’m talking to these people, this is what’s coming up for me.

She discusses the criticism writers often receive if their first novel is a “thinly veiled” memoir, and the “shame of the confessional,” which is why she seeks to balance her personal experience with research, reporting, and social commentary. “[O]ur personal lives are already tangled up in the rest of the world. So I’ve wondered: Can we find a form that acknowledges that?” This interview is a great read on craft, especially if you’re working on an essay collection or if you weave the personal with the non-personal. — Amanda

Amanda Hess’ “Just Cheer, Baby” in ESPN: The Magazine

In January, an Oakland Raiders cheerleader – a “Raiderette,” as the women are officially called – filed a class action lawsuit against her NFL team. It alleged an array of violations of the California Labor Code, including failure to pay minimum wage, withholding of pay until the end of the season, and requirements that cheerleaders cover their own uniform and other expenses and subject themselves to fines for minor infractions. Between the fines and the mandatory manicures, the Raiderettes’ official handbook warned that some cheerleaders might find themselves “with no salary at all.”

Amanda Hess takes a fascinating look at the lawsuit, the woman behind it, and how a league that pays its players tens of millions of dollars wound up paying its female talent in pennies. Here’s Hess:

The team presented Lacy with a photograph of herself next to a shot of actress Rachel McAdams, who would serve as Lacy’s “celebrity hairstyle look-alike.” Lacy was mandated to expertly mimic McAdams’ light reddish-brown shade and 1 1/2-inch-diameter curls, starting with a $150 dye job at a squad-approved salon. Her fingers and toes were to be french-manicured at all times. Her skin was to maintain an artificial sun-kissed hue into the winter months. Her thighs would always be covered in dancing tights, and false lashes would be perpetually glued to her eyelids. Periodically, she’d have to step on a scale to prove that her weight had not inched more than 4 pounds above her 103-pound baseline.

Long before Lacy’s boots ever hit the gridiron grass, “I was just hustling,” she says. “Very early on, I was spending money like crazy.” The salon visits, the makeup, the eyelashes, the tights were almost exclusively paid out of her own pocket. The finishing touch of the Raiderettes’ onboarding process was a contract requiring Lacy to attend thrice-weekly practices, dozens of public appearances, photo shoots, fittings and nine-hour shifts at Raiders home games, all in return for a lump sum of $1,250 at the conclusion of the season.

Koa Beck’s “The Legend of Vera Nabokov: Why Writers Pine for a Do-It-All Spouse” in The Atlantic

Vera Nabokov’s devotion to her famous husband’s professional and personal life is the stuff of legends, as the title of Koa Beck’s piece attests. Vera “not only performed all the duties expected of a wife of her era—that is, being a free live-in cook, babysitter, laundress, and maid…—but also acted as her husband’s round-the-clock editor, assistant, and secretary.” Beck interviews a number of contemporary women writers about their “Veras” or, more commonly, their lack of a male partner who takes on this role. For some, this means producing less voluminously (like Lorrie Moore); others hire a Vera (like Jennifer Weiner). Some are uncomfortable with the very idea of having a Vera, of engaging in a dynamic where another person’s ambitions are wholly subsumed by theirs.

Any writer who has struggled to balance their domestic, familial, romantic, and professional lives (and if you haven’t I beg you to send me your secret) has no doubt fantasized about life freed up from all tasks minus communing with the Muse. Though within my own small circle, women will torture themselves more frequently and thoroughly than men regarding the consequences of not attending to each of these spheres, regardless of whether or not we have a Vera-in-crime.


Janet Kinosian’s “Joshua Oppenheimer on ‘The Act of Killing,’ reconciliation” in Los Angeles Times

A pot-bellied cross-dressing gangster in a fitted pink sequin gown and headdress sits on the edge of a lake yelling “more hot, more hot” at dancing ladies. A lean old man in a flowing yellow suit and printed silk shirt who has killed over 1,000 people admits, “Our souls have become like soap opera actors.” In a genocide in which over one million Indonesians were killed, one of the murderers explains, “War crimes are defined by the winner. I am a winner.” The Act of Killing is a surreal documentary about the 1965 mass murder of Indonesians accused of being communists. In this interview, Janet Kinosian gets the director to talk about the evolution of the project and how, to his surprise, the perpetrators of the crimes were filled with glee at the prospect of discussing and reenacting their part in the genocide. Oppenheimer explains,

But I found to my horror that every single one of them was open, describing boastfully the grisly details of the killings, often with smiles on their faces, in front of their wives, children, even their little grandchildren. I then spent two years filming every perpetrator I could find, working my way from death squad to death squad up the chain of command to the city of Medan, when I met with [Anwar Congo, one of the central figures in the film].

At the end of the documentary, Anwar Congo returns to a scene where he murdered so many people that he had to create a system to deal with the excess of blood from the bodies. As he is talking, he turns around and begins to dry heave and retch, producing a series of guttural noises. Nothing comes out, but he can’t stop retching and it is as if he wanted to vomit up his soul. — Alice


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *