Women We Read This Week

Lizzy Goodman’s “Kendrick Lamar, Hip-Hop’s Newest Old-School Star” in The New York Times Magazine

On the surface, this is a well-done profile of unexpected It hip-hop star Kendrick Lamar. Goodman depicts Lamar’s struggles to balance the demands of fame and life on the road, with need for personal space in which to write highly anticipated new songs–and to stay sane. It’s not such an unusual story, really. But what sets this profile apart are the subtle glimpses into the person inside:

As arrangements were being made to leave, he quietly told me, “As a kid, I used to stutter.” It felt like an oddly personal line of conversation to begin amid the chaos, but because so many people were talking at him, no one else heard him.

Who was it that said that it’s lonely on the top? Reading this piece, you get a whiff of that particular loneliness. The piece ends up being a bit like Lamar’s lyricism: agile and adept, yes, but also anchored in flashes of deep insight that truly set it apart.   —Lauren

Kathleen Hale’s “Prey” on Hazlitt

In this story of her rape at age 18, Hale manages to recount the disturbing details (the most disturbing being that her accuser was a bald, veiny man named Duncan Purdy who was later accused of running a prostitution ring), while being lyrical and funny at the same time. At the core of this narrative is the insecurity surrounding a victim’s testimony–how she waited to report Purdy to officials, how she suffered from the realization that it wasn’t “the worst” rape case out there, how her friends grew weary of constantly hearing about the case, and how they felt she always used it as a “trump card.”

Beneath the straight narrative of the events of her court case is the story of Hale’s growing obsession with animals that year. Interspersed throughout her narrative are factoids that she’d written into her notebook from various sources, such as: “Tests of animal bones [at Chernobyl], where radioactivity gathers, reveal levels so high that the carcasses shouldn’t be touched with bare hands.” It’s as though the trauma of her assault has been subverted into this obsession with predators and prey:

I found myself in the bowels of the library researching wild beasts instead of studying. Most afternoons, when I should have been talking to professors about stuff I failed to understand in class because I wasn’t listening, I would aimlessly prowl the halls of Harvard’s Natural History Museum, where I read every single plaque five times, circling the space for hours, sometimes, before standing dazed under the whale skeleton—its baleen still intact and sprouting from its skull like a mustache. I preferred the clammy frenzy of my pointless research to class. In lecture, each professor’s sonorous voice triggered instant claustrophobia. As I fantasized about life-or-death scenarios with various non-human species, the professor’s head became an unthreatening speck across the room, his voice a harmless, fanlike drone.

The most unnerving aspect of Hale’s essay, however, are the actual documents she pastes into the narrative. After her court case, she learned that several jury members had to be dismissed from the case because they or someone close to them had “either been accused of or the victim of a sexual offense.” She ends with one transcript in particular, where after being asked the question, the potential jury member responds with:

The Juror: My mother was raped twice. I was a victim of sexual assault in high school.

The Court: All right.

The Juror: Can anyone say no to this?


Louisa Thomas’ “Ladies and Gentleman” in Grantland

British tennis star Andy Murray peaked when he won Wimbledon last year. He has struggled ever since. With Wimbledon looming again, he’s done something pretty well unheard of in men’s tennis: He hired a woman, former Wimbledon champ Amelie Mauresmo, to be his coach.

Thomas’ short take on the tennis world’s reaction to the move packs in a jarring amount of examples of, and insights into, casual sexism in sports and beyond. For instance, on Mauresmo:

When Mauresmo was 19 years old, just before playing in the Australian Open final, she told the press that she was gay. The announcement was casual; her girlfriend was simply part of her life, as tennis was and winning was becoming. Later, she would think that the way she had said it had been naive. Lindsay Davenport, whom she had just beaten, said that playing her was like “playing a guy.” Martina Hingis called her “half a man.” The other players didn’t line up to support her.

And on Andy Murray and his mother, also his former coach:

At the All England Club, women are called “ladies.” For women, a certain kind of look is privileged, on the court and off. Murray’s girlfriend fits the bill; Murray’s mother does not. “I am not the floral dress type,” Judy Murray once wrote. Newspapers have published debates about whether Judy is too “pushy.” Boris Becker once said Andy Murray would never win a title until she was gone.

I’ve often thought of tennis as, probably, the pro sport where women have made the most progress – many of them becoming genuine superstars alongside the men. Thomas’ piece is a reminder that there’s a long way to go.  — Eva

Jessica Pishko’s “The Price of Freedom” in Guernica

It is easy to forget about people in prison, to assume that they are there because they deserve it in some way or another. Pishko reminds us of the economic violence that forms part of the industrial prison complex in the United States. Her subjects scrape by, sell plasma, and try to find employment after prison. Simultaneously, private probation companies charge them hundreds of dollars a month in monitoring fees. And when the down-and-out fall behind on their payments, they face jail time again. It is a vicious cycle that grinds itself down on the poor and one that keeps them from caring for families and holding down jobs. Pishko writes,

The worse problem behind these exorbitant fees and unfair tactics are the people they target–those who are poor and owe a relatively small amount. In America, people who are wealthy and owe a great deal—think those with million-dollar mortgages or failed start-ups—fare much better than people who are living paycheck-to-paycheck. It seems counterintuitive to expect people to put their lives back together when they are threatened with loss of their physical freedom, effectively ending their ability to hold down a job, take care of their family, or engage in meaningful recovery from addiction. And yet, when viewed in terms of coercive mortgage tactics—where people are locked into payment plans they cannot possibly afford—this seems to be yet another sign of the ever-widening chasm of class division.

There is a vindictiveness to it all, as if the capitalist ethos had made poverty a crime.



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