Women We Read This Week

A gathering of some of the best pieces by women we’ve read this week.

Mac McClelland’s “Is PTSD Contagious?” in Mother Jones

Mac McClelland first came on my radar with her searing personal essay “I’m Gonna Need You to Fight Me On This: How Violent Sex Helped Ease My PTSD.” Now, in the latest issue of Mother Jones, she tackles similar themes through her reporting: How the return of military veterans with PTSD is impacting their relationships, and how the disorder is actually spreading to their family members. It’s a chilling story. Here’s McClelland’s description of hypervigilance, a common symptom of PTSD:

Hypervigilance sounds innocuous, but it is in fact exhaustingly distressing, a conditioned response to life-threatening situations. Imagine there’s a murderer in your house. And it is dark outside, and the electricity is out. Imagine your nervous system spiking, readying you as you feel your way along the walls, the sensitivity of your hearing, the tautness in your muscles, the alertness shooting around inside your skull. And then imagine feeling like that all the time.

Also worth your time: McClelland’s appearance on the Longform Podcast awhile back. She discusses the reporting for this story, her own experiences with PTSD, and more. -Eva

Marisa Crawford’s “‘Let’s Keep Goin’’: On Horror, Magic, Female Friendship & Power in Thelma & Louise

An old college buddy posted this on FB; I think it’s by his girlfriend. It’s a solidly written exploration of Thelma & Louise that places the film in both an historical context (yeah, it was two decades ago now), as well as a feminist one. Crawford skillfully weaves in these potent little anecdotes from her own life that manage to flesh out and make more relevant her take on the film, and she does it in a sentence or two; it’s pretty powerful. And by doing such, she made the piece about more than Thelma & Louise without feeling like she was forcing it. I love the idea of revisiting pop culture from our youth with an older perspective, and it was always really nice to read something so quality and well-thought-on on somewhere other than my usual go-to websites. -Lauren

Rachel Aviv’s “The Science of Sex Abuse” in The New Yorker

I read Rachel Aviv’s story “God Knows Where I Am” last year in The New Yorker and was astounded by the marriage of concept and technique. Aviv tells the story of a woman named Linda Bishop, who was in and out of institutions for years and who ultimately refused psychiatric treatment for bipolar disorder because she believed she’d been misdiagnosed. The ethical question at the heart of the story – should mentally ill patients be allowed to refuse treatment? – is powerful enough in and of itself, and Aviv sets it up with all of the necessary research, context and perspective. But what makes the story so jarring and memorable is the way Aviv writes about Bishop’s last days starving in a farmhouse in Connecticut. The writing here seems to lift off, ethereal, from the rest of the piece. It brings the story’s larger concept to life in a way that is deeply uncomfortable, vivid, and possibly controversial.

This latest piece doesn’t take the same risks, but shows the same determination to consider uncomfortable ethical questions and make us feel squeamish about our knee-jerk reactions. In it Aviv follows a man named John, who was convicted of possessing child pornography, sent to prison, released, convicted again after relapsing, labeled a pedophile, and then kept in prison indefinitely under ethically and medically questionable “civil commitment” laws. Such laws are ostensibly meant to prevent sex offenders from committing crimes they would not be able to stop themselves from committing if released; they are backed by what Aviv shows to be dubious scientific and psychiatric studies that have come to reinforce what we think is common sense. In practice, these laws can keep people like John in prison indefinitely for crimes they have yet to commit.

Aviv is singularly talented at navigating ethical labyrinths. John is an unsavory character, and the crimes he could potentially commit are those our society most reviles. The brilliance of Aviv’s piece lies in the way it twists the knife of “yes, but…” into our consciences. -Sarah


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