Author Archives

Laura Barcella

‘Horror Is a Soothing Genre … It’s Upfront About How Scary It Is To Be a Woman.’

Head of Medusa by Gian Lorenzo Bernini (Photo by Araldo de Luca/Corbis via Getty Images)

Laura Barcella | Longreads | August 2019 | 14 minutes (3,597 words)


In her acclaimed 2016 debut, Trainwreck: The Women We Love to Hate, Mock, and Fear … and Why, feminist author and cultural critic Sady Doyle dissected the ubiquitous American pastime of simultaneously idolizing and vilifying female celebrity. Her new book, Dead Blondes and Bad Mothers: Monstrosity, Patriarchy, and the Fear of Female Power, also looks at how the morass of misogyny poisons everything — including our psyches, our popular culture and our everyday lives. But this book focuses more intently on … horror.

Not the horror genre — though plenty of those examples are included — but about the horror of living as a woman in a violent patriarchal society that fears you, despises you; even wants you dead. Pulling from a broad range of cultural references, from Freud to Aristotle to the second-wave feminist theories of Dorothy Dinnerstein to obscure slasher films like The Mutilator, Doyle examines the myriad ways that the world is monstrous to women — and how the world has made monsters of us. “Women have always been monsters, too, in the minds of great men; in philosophy, medicine, and psychology, the inherest freakishness of women has always been a baseline assumption,” Doyle writes in the introduction. “A monster does not merely inspire anger, or disgust. A monster, by definition, inspires fear.”

The fantastically smart book that follows is broken into sections covering the monstrousness associated with the entire socially-prescribed female life cycle, from the spark of adolescence; to marriage and motherhood (with their attendant domestic indignities); to the solitude of old age. Read more…

Preparing for a Post-Roe America

Ralph Grunewald / Getty

Laura Barcella | Longreads | February 2019 | 13 minutes (3,517 words)

The 46th anniversary of Roe v. Wade just occurred on January 22 — but the days of relatively uncomplicated American abortion access are, most likely, numbered. In fact, author Robin Marty believes it’s not a matter of if Roe will be overturned, it’s a matter of when.

For more than ten years, the Minneapolis-based freelance reporter and author of the new book Handbook for a Post-Roe America has been diligently chronicling the twists and turns of both the pro-choice and anti-abortion movements. Ever since Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his resignation, Marty — like many other pro-choice Americans — has been waiting for the proverbial pro-life shoe to drop. Losing Kennedy, the swing voter on a number of major abortion rulings, and gaining Brett Kavanaugh — a long-time pro-life ally — seems to all but ensure the end of Roe, as well as the downfall of abortion being considered a constitutional right.

Indeed, several weeks after Marty and I spoke in late January, Kavanaugh voted with a minority of Justices to overturn recent Court precedent in favor of a law that sought to impose a new form of undue burden on abortion-seekers in Louisiana. The Cut called Kavanaugh’s dissenting opinion something verging on gaslighting. In it, he postulates that perhaps the undue burden — abortion providers being required to gain admitting privileges at local hospitals — could simply be met, when of course providers have already been trying to gain admitting privileges for years. The Court ultimately blocked the implementation of the law, but only because the conservative Chief Justice, John Roberts, voted with the liberals. The margin of safety has grown vanishingly thin.

Let’s consider what that means. If Roe were overturned, it wouldn’t necessarily make it impossible for a pregnant person to obtain an abortion, but it would potentially make an already challenging process even more daunting. As it stands, obtaining an abortion is already far from affordable or convenient for many women, even in blue states with a plethora of clinics. Despite Roe’s current status, and despite the fact that statistically, most Americans believe in a woman’s right to choose, abortion care is still often portrayed as a privilege instead of a right — or as a miserable “worst-case” scenario rather than a straightforward medical procedure. Read more…

‘I Really Hope a Lot of Men Read It’: Sohaila Abdulali on How We Talk About Rape

Garu Student Union of Bangladesh demanding the arrest of a rapist accused of raping an indigenous girl, April 14, 2014. Photo: Zakir Hossain Chowdhury/NurPhoto/Corbis via Getty Images.

Laura Barcella | Longreads | November 2018 | 12 minutes (3,191 words)


In a 2015 documentary called “India’s Daughter,” one of Jyoti Singh Pandey’s rapists, Mukesh Singh, gave a disturbing jail-cell interview in which he placed the blame for his crime squarely on his dead victim. “A decent girl won’t roam around at 9 o’clock at night. A girl is far more responsible for rape than a boy,” he said.

Singh’s quote is despicable, but it neatly summarizes many of the internalized myths that women all over the world walk around with each day: that women have a say in whether we end up brutalized. That we can twist our own fate by making simple choices like staying home at night, or not wearing skirts, or abstaining from drinking. It helps rapists rationalize their actions, and it makes women feel like we retain a semblance of control over what happens to us. Of course, it’s not true.

What do you think about when you think about rape? If you’re someone who has also been a victim, you might think about power, the nebulous lines of control. You might think about the outfit you wore and the plan you’d made for innocent fun with a guy you met twice before. You might think about drinking wine on the patio, of consent given and later revoked. You might think about ripped underwear; the dirt beneath the nails of his callused, unfeeling fingers; and the massive blue bruises you got in places you don’t remember being bruised before or since. You might think about the shame and humiliation of the morning after, of not knowing who to tell or what hotline to call or what to preserve in a garbage bag as “evidence.” You might think about what your friends will say; whether they’ll support your story or find a way to warp it into your fault (“I’ve seen how you act with men when you’re drunk,” “but what did you expect, inviting him over so late?”). You might think about the walk-in clinic you visited afterward and the painful tests you endured there (yes, there was blood). You might think about filing a police report, or you might remember taking to your bed for a week and trying to avoid thinking about anything at all.

In her powerful but accessibly written new book, What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape, Sohaila Abdulali explores how cultures around the world handle rape. She approaches this intimate, sinister type of violence with a decidedly global viewpoint, delving into how both individuals and governments treat their victims, as well as how they navigate the nuances of sexual consent. Sure, it’s different in America. But is it better? Read more…