Women We Read This Week

Cornelia Hesse-Honegger’s “Why I Traveled the World Hunting for Mutant Bugs” on Nautilus

In this thought-provoking piece on her role as a scientific illustrator, Hesse-Honegger begins this piece with a beautifully rendered description of her painting process–exacting and scientific in itself, but not without a philosophical bent: “When I look at my insects through the microscope before I paint them, I find myself almost in a togetherness with them.” Her piece raises many questions about the connection between art and science, and seeks to break the myth that science is always objective, and art always subjective. “The world I was creating as an artist gave me a unique perspective into the science, letting me see how scientists were affecting their data and interpretations with their own existing biases,” she writes. She details her somewhat controversial journal publication after examining mutant insects in Sweden after Chernobyl, scientists chastising her for “fear-mongering.” She never held a university position again. But, she writes, “I was just repeating what nature was telling me.”

Sarah Boxer’s “Why Are All the Cartoon Mothers Dead?” in The Atlantic

In this insightful piece of film criticism, Boxer takes on the dead mother/father-turned-superfather motif in kids’ cartoon and Pixar movies. Starting with her own observations of watching movies with her son, she notices how so many of the characters have dead mothers–a trend that has existed in literature since before the Grimm brothers and our oldest fairy tales. But unsatisfied with such psychological explanations that the absent mother “permits anger at this bad ‘stepmother’ without endangering the goodwill of the true mother,” or that a dead mother allows a main character to develop “child’s internal sense of himself,” Boxer suggests her own solution: Dead mothers, at least in contemporary kids’ films, allow for the good father.

In a striking number of animated kids’ movies of the past couple of decades (coincidental with the resurgence of Disney and the rise of Pixar and DreamWorks), the dead mother is replaced not by an evil stepmother but by a good father. He may start out hypercritical (Chicken Little) or reluctant (Ice Age). He may be a tyrant (The Little Mermaid) or a ne’er-do-well (Despicable Me). He may be of the wrong species (Kung Fu Panda). He may even be the killer of the child’s mother (Brother Bear). No matter how bad he starts out, though, he always ends up good.

Hilarious as she is intelligent, Boxer seems aware of coming off as a kill-joy, so she peppers her essay with quips like: “Dad’s magic depends on Mom’s death. Boohoo, and then yay!” and “The road to social repression, in other words, is paved with Mickey Mouse.” But it’s really the statistics Boxer brings in that make her observations so frustrating to realize. With so many two-parented and single-mother households, single-father households are, essentially, fantasy. “In other words, the fantasy of the fabulous single father that’s being served up in a theater near you isn’t just any fantasy; it’s close to the opposite of reality. And so I wonder: Why, when so many real families have mothers and no fathers, do so many children’s movies present fathers as the only parents?”

Three Wonderfully Snarky and Satisfying Responses to Tom Junod’s Recent Sexist and Demeaning Esquire Piece

With a snippet of each:

Jess Burnquist’s “42 Truths & 1 Lie: On Esquire’s Obnoxious Ranking Of Womankind’s Most ‘Alluring’ Age” on The Frisky:

I was fascinated to learn that today’s 42-year-old woman trumps Mrs. Robinson as portrayed by Anne Bancroft who, as noted by Mr. Junod, created an alluring and overall sexy character. He even lauds Mike Nichols and Dustin Hoffman for getting away with the improbable turn—“a hero’s disgust with himself for having an affair with a forty-two-year-old-woman.” Junod notes that, “It is hard to feel sorry for a young man who goes to bed with the woman everybody else in the theater wants to go to bed with.” For the record, Anne Bancroft was only 35 when she made The Graduate. Whatever! I mean she played a 42-year-old woman that Dustin Hoffman and everyone else in the theater wanted to bang. Yay! Even better, if I imagine an actress such as Cameron Diaz or even Amy Poehler playing Mrs. Robinson, I will be able to do magic math and measure 50 years of progress for women in the age range of 42. Don’t get excited you ladies of 43 and over. What, are you tripping?

Tricia Romano’s “In Praise of 42-Year-Old Men” on Dame Magazine:

Josh Charles is 42. Jared Leto and his luscious locks are 42. Justin Theroux is 42. And so if you want to see how our conception of the early middle-aged man has not changed at all, simply imagine Mad Men remade, with Theroux in the part made famous by Jon Hamm. Or Ben Affleck. Or Jude Law, who turns the golden age this year. Or any of the 42-year-old men now gracing our culture. The result might be misguided, in the way of so many remakes. But it would neither outdo the original, in terms of heat, nor upend it entirely. In the right hands, it would be funny; but even in the wrong hands it could still get away with what Matthew Weiner and Jessica Pare got away with: a television show that never dealt with Megan’s total lack of guilt with herself for having hot three-way sex with a 42-year-old man. It is hard to feel sorry for a young woman who goes to bed with the man everybody else in the theater wants to go to bed with.

Sarah Miller’s “42” in The Hairpin:

The next thing I felt was relief: Tom Junod still wanted to have sex with me, and more importantly, laugh over hamburgers afterward, as he admired me in a stunning shift. Because according to Junod, I’m still hot—not like 42-year-old women used to be, back when they were super gross, like Anne Bancroft in The Graduate. And according to Junod what makes me hot isn’t just being hot, it’s that, unlike other women who just haven’t had all this time, I also finally figured out how to be sort of interesting.



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