A gathering of some of the best pieces by women we’ve read this week.
Paige Williams’ “Bones of Contention” in The New Yorker
In the latest issue of The New Yorker, Paige Williams unravels the strange, complicated, fascinating story of a Mongolian dinosaur skeleton up for auction in New York. It turns out there’s a whole world of black-market fossil smuggling and selling out there – who knew? Here’s a quick taste:
United States of America v. One Tyrannosaurus Bataar Skeleton went to court in early September, in lower Manhattan, with U.S. District Judge Kevin Castel presiding. Castel has adjudicated cases involving accused mobsters (John Gotti, Jr.) and cases involving rappers (Kanye West) but never one with a party from the late Cretaceous. “I stand to be educated,” he said. “I’m not going to claim that I have dinosaur arrests presented to me with any frequency.”
Ann Neumann’s “The Longest Hunger Strike” in Guernica
This piece is a riveting reported narrative that focuses on prisoner William Coleman, who is being force-fed via a tube in a Connecticut prison. At the beginning of the piece Neuman writes: “The only way for him to protest his conviction [Coleman claims he’s been wrongfully convicted], to exercise his first amendment rights, he says, is to stop eating solid food.” From there, Neumann spirals out into various ethical dilemmas, touching on the history of hunger strikes, cases like the Terry Schiavo case, various states’ passing of the Death with Dignity Act, and the fraught relationship between the Catholic Church and hospitals. Neumann incorporates the views of various bioethicists, presents her own views, and gracefully grapples with all the caveats such debates entail. A disturbing and compelling piece. — Amanda
Jina Moore’s “The White Correspondent’s Burden” in The Boston Review
Jina Moore’s essay goes beyond what could have been a predictable lament of the war-and-exoticism coverage of Africa to examine the rise of “the sentimental narrative,” which, while generating compassion for the plights of impoverished people, also objectifies these people and reinforces the reader’s sense of righteousness and power. The sentimental narratives written about Africa, which focus largely on suffering, influence the dispension of aid and force Africans to shape their stories to fit foreigners’ preconceived notions. These narratives also appeal to what Moore calls “the narrow American imagination,” whose narrowness is perhaps not the fault of Americans as much as of journalists and editors who find violence and poverty an easier sell than say, education.
What I love most about this piece is the way Moore addresses an ongoing debate about whether or not one way to address this narrow representation is simply to “tak[e] the mic away from foreigners.” This seems like an obvious solution, but she debunks it. Her assertion that this response is “the embodiment of colonialism” may be a stretch, but her point that the responsibility for reshaping both narrative and imagination lies with readers, editors and writers alike is a fantastic one, crucial not only for reporting about Africa but also about many foreign countries in which stories of suffering always seem to supersede more complicated ones about daily life, success, and progress. — Sarah
Jennifer Senior’s “Why You Never Truly Leave High School” in New York Magazine
Jennifer Senior’s piece on the long-term psychological and interpersonal affects of high school was so skillfully presented, it felt effortless. There’s actually a ton of research and threads drawn upon, everything from the results of sociological studies to quotes from TV producers and, hey, Kurt Vonnegut. The implications the piece present are somewhat terrifying (especially to those of us who spent most of high school in a blackout), but also strangely validating: we weren’t just being dramatic and we aren’t just “stuck in the past.” High school experiences have a profoundly lasting effect on identity and our place in society. Again, it’s one of those science-confirming-what-artists-have-long-known deals. But Senior does a damn good job of helping us stomach the reality. — Lauren