Photo: Robert Couse-Baker

Women We Read This Week

1. Rachel Aviv’s “The Trauma of Facing Deportation” for The New Yorker

A deeply disturbing, fascinating account of uppgivenhetssyndrom, or “resignation syndrome,” an illness striking refugee children in Sweden. If you haven’t read Aviv’s work, start now. Her writing explores the intersection of mental illness, psychology, poverty, law, and ethics; it is incredibly complex and so powerful it leaves you feeling winded.

A taste:

The Canadian philosopher Ian Hacking writes that diagnoses can become “a way to be a person, to experience oneself, to live in society.” Psychological illnesses often adapt to a culture’s preoccupations and fears. In late-nineteenth-century Europe, as women were resisting their social and sexual powerlessness, a new type of madwoman emerged: diagnosed as a hysteric, she was sexually erratic and outrageous, unleashing qualities that a lady was supposed to suppress. In the nineteen-eighties, in the United States, a new illness took root as doctors became increasingly aware of the prevalence of childhood sexual abuse. Thousands of women were given a diagnosis of multiple-personality disorder; they discovered that they had two or more distinct personalities, at least one of which had been abused as a child. Hacking argues that it is irrelevant to ask, “Is it real?” The better question is: “What makes it possible, in such and such a civilization, for this to be a way to be mad?”

2. Barbara Ehrenreich’s “Mind Your Own Business” on The Baffler

Barbara Ehrenreich offers a blistering takedown of mindfulness and Silicon Valley. Though this made me feel like a very guilty sucker because I am a believer in mindfulness, it’s a necessary critical perspective.

A taste:

This is Buddhism sliced up and commodified, and, in case the connection to the tech industry is unclear, a Silicon Valley venture capitalist blurbed a seminal mindfulness manual by calling it “the instruction manual that should come with our iPhones and BlackBerries.” It’s enough to make you think that the actual Buddha devoted all his time under the Bodhi Tree to product testing. In the mindfulness lexicon, the word “enlightenment” doesn’t have a place.

3. Lyz Lenz’s “The Secret Lobotomy of Rosemary Kennedy” in Marie Claire

Lyz Lenz uses the disturbing story of Rosemary Kennedy’s disastrous lobotomy to consider the history and potential future of disability rights.

A taste:

Over a decade after her death, examining Rosemary’s legacy is more necessary than ever. Donald Trump, a man who mocked a disabled reporter on the campaign trail and whose properties have faced numerous lawsuits over ADA compliance, is the President. His Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch, ruled in a case about the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) in 2009 that was recently overturned by the Supreme Court, which concluded unanimously that Gorsuch’s decision prevented the Autistic child in the case from access to adequate education. Trump’s Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, is pushing a voucher’s program; such programs are proven to disadvantage children with disabilities. In sum, “the Trump administration’s policies are disastrous for people with disabilities and their families,” explains disabilities advocate David M. Perry.


Vela writers across the web

In this section, in keeping with our mission to do all we can to support our writers, we highlight their recent work.

1. Eva Holland’s “How to Cure Fear of Heights” on Esquire

A fascinating account of using exposure therapy to cure the fear of heights, with super-fun graphics. Also very helpful for anyone with phobias (ahem. Will be trying these techniques).

A taste:

In previous years, I would have pushed myself until my panic was unbearable, hoping that I could pop it like a soap bubble if only I tried hard enough. But now my strategy was to go only as far up as I could without paralysis setting in. The goal was to build up the alternate structure in my brain that said “This is okay. You are safe,” then come down before the old structure could assert itself, and hope to get a foot or two farther next time around.

Also: “The Wildest Party on Earth” in Outside, another from Eva, who, if you haven’t figured it out yet, is prolific and adventurous and an all-around badass to follow if you don’t already. Here she goes to a raucous climbing event in Arkansas.

A taste:

Today, like his partner, he’s climbing in SpongeBob boxer briefs and a bow tie. Around him, there are nearly 300 rock climbers in costumed pairs: spandex stars-and-stripes wrestling singlets here, Kiss-­inspired makeup and wigs there. A sweaty, oddly matched duo stands nearby, one in a Big Bird outfit and the other in a plush shark costume. The man in the pickup starts calling out the name that each team has chosen for itself. Dirty climbing puns predominate: Lichen Those Jugs So I Slab That Ass, Wham Bam Hand Jam, Tell Your Sister Thanks for the Loose Belay.


On Vela

A shoutout to work published this week on Vela

Do not miss Melenie Freedom Flynn’s “Message from Your Inmate,” selected by Claire Vaye Watkins as the winner of our second annual nonfiction contest.

A taste:

Pay, “your home for corrections services” is an online system where state prison inmates can send and receive emails, listen to music, and receive money for their commissary, all for a fee. Send money to your loved one in state prison, the website exclaims, with an image of an attractive young woman grinning and holding a credit card in one hand and brightly colored shopping bags in the other. Inmate email lets you stay connected to your loved one—a grandmother and a young woman beam at the screen of a smartphone. Video visitation lets you talk face-to-face with your loved one (available only in select locations)—a young mother and daughter gaze lovingly at a computer. Orofino is not included in the “select locations” for video visitation. That’s OK with me—I’m afraid to see your face come to life on my computer screen. So I buy a package of “stamps” for us to send emails back and forth. $2.45 gets us five emails; $4.70 for ten, and $8.60 for twenty.


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