Category Archives: Unapologetic Women

Ellen Pao Is Ready to Name Names

Ellen Pao, who sued her Silicon Valley employer Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers for discrimination, was saving the names for her upcoming book Reset: Ajit Nazre, a partner who became hostile after she rejected his advances. Ted Schlein, a managing partner who explained he liked white, Eastern European sex workers — during a private flight in which a tech CEO in attendance bragged about meeting Jenna Jameson. In her six years at Kleiner Perkins, Pao was passed over for promotion, her clients were stolen, her performance maligned, and eventually she was fired after complaining about harassment to an independent investigator, who asked “Well, if they look down on women so much, if they block you from opportunities, they don’t include you at their events, why do they even keep you around in the first place?”

The competitive world of venture capital was familiar to Pao, and she played the game as best she could. But the game was stacked against her, she explains in an excerpt from her book featured at The Cut.

Predicting who will succeed is an imperfect art, but also, sometimes, a self-fulfilling prophecy. When venture capitalists say — and they do say — “We think it’s young white men, ideally Ivy League dropouts, who are the safest bets,” then invest only in young white men with Ivy League backgrounds, of course young white men with Ivy League backgrounds are the only ones who make money for them. They’re also the only ones who lose money for them.

Sometimes the whole world felt like a nerdy frat house. People in the venture world spoke fondly about the early shenanigans at big companies. A friend told me how he sublet office space to Facebook, only to find people having sex there on the floor of the main public area. They wanted to see if the Reactrix — an interactive floor display hooked up to light sensors — would enhance their experience. At VC meetings, male partners frequently spoke over female colleagues or repeated what the women said and took the credit. Women were admonished when they “raised their voices” yet chastised when they couldn’t “own the room.” When I was still relatively new, a male partner made a big show of passing a plate of cookies around the table — but curiously ignored me and the woman next to him. Part of me thought, They’re just cookies. But after everyone left, my co-worker turned to me and shrugged. “It’s like we don’t exist,” she said.

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Serena Williams on Returning to Tennis and Embracing ‘Power’

Serena Williams is planning on returning to the Australian Open next year to defend her grand slam title a mere three months after she gives birth. “It’s the most outrageous plan,” she told Vogue’s Rob Haskell from her home in Florida.

Williams has also learned to embrace what it means to be a powerful player on the tennis court:

Power—it’s a word that has clung with a sometimes unsavory vigor to Williams over the years, perhaps as a dismissal of her prodigious technical skill or, worse, as a proxy for her race. And it’s a word she has only recently come to embrace. “I think I’ve had a love-hate relationship with the idea of power,” she says. “In the beginning I didn’t like it when they said that my sister and I were power players. I thought, I don’t hit as hard as a Monica Seles. In Australia last year, I read that Maria Sharapova’s backhand and forehand are as good or better than mine, and that the only reason I win is that my serve is bigger. I was like, wait a minute, please. I place my serve. And what about my volleys? My speed? I’m the player who’s hitting angles. I’m the player who moves you. I use my brain, and that’s really why I win. Not only me, but women in general sometimes feel that power is a bad word. As I’ve gotten older I’ve started to feel differently about it. Power is beauty. Strength is beauty. So now on the court I want people to think that I’m powerful. But I also want them to be shocked at how I play. I want people to expect something, then get something different.”

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Pregnant, then Ruptured

Joanna Petrone | Longreads | August 2017 | 28 minutes (7,729 words)


It comes on suddenly as a gas main explosion, the feeling of being grabbed tightly from within and twisted. I am standing at the front of my classroom, at one, almost, with its beige institutional carpeting and faint but pervasive smell of damp paper. I’m instructing sixth-graders — sleepy and vaguely conspiratorial-looking, the way they often are on Fridays in January just after lunch — when that blue flash of pain rips through me. I stop talking. I freeze, hand on belly, and wait to find out if I’ll vomit.

Inside me everything is lightening bolts and banshee wails and chaos. Outside, obedient, slightly bored students print in marble composition notebooks. Not one of my charges says anything — no one has noticed — so I steady my breathing and shuffle next door to find another teacher to cover for me.

On the toilet, I check my underpants. There is no new red blood — only ­ the same smear of tacky rust-colored discharge that’s been soiling my pads for weeks. The bathroom light, set to a motion-sensitive timer, blinks out into darkness while I sit stock still, afraid and in pain, replaying the highlights of the last two weeks: positive pee sticks, phone calls and doctor’s offices, a sequence of blood tests, an ultrasound confirming a mass in my right adnexa (a uterine appendage), and, last night, a duo of cheerful ER nurses sheathed in full-body, bright orange hazmat suits injecting an abortifacient into my backside.

To turn the light back on, I need to move, but I am immobilized by pain so intense I can no longer tell where in my body it is coming from. After a time, the pain quiets enough for me to think over it and will my body into action. I flail my hands to trigger the light, stand up, wash. Maybe this is cramps from the methotrexate working, I think, just very bad cramps, signaling the welcome end of a doomed, rogue pregnancy.

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Body Positivity Nudges Plus-Size Fashion Forward

For New York Magazine‘s The Cut, Ashley C. Ford writes about the burgeoning plus-size fashion business, and how much of a surprise missed opportunity it’s consistently been for major manufacturers and retailers. When you consider that some 67 percent of women reportedly wear size 14 or larger, it’s remarkable how hard it is for them — Ford included — to find a selection of “fun and quality” clothes designed specifically with larger bodies in mind.

Ford comes at the story from a personal angle, not only as a plus-size customer, but also as someone who was discouraged away from her dream of designing plus-size clothes.

I began my freshman year of college double-majoring in fashion merchandising and apparel design. At the end of my first semester, a professor told me I would be better off changing my major. I had earned an A in her course — for the first time in my life, I was a perfect student. But I was already a size 12, inching closer and closer to 14 each day. My professor was also big, and she told me there was no place for a body like mine in the fashion world unless I was a man or a genius, so I was wasting my money and my time. I don’t believe she meant me harm. I believe she meant to save me: Her experience working in fashion as a fat woman had been abysmal. I wasn’t even comfortable enough to go into some stores at my size, so how was I going to design for them? I changed my major to psychology.

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How to Stop Apologizing for My Stutter, and Other Important Lessons

Rachel Hoge | Longreads | August 2017 | 17 minutes (4,315 words)


Róisín would do all the talking. She’s the chapter leader of the support group in Brooklyn, and accustomed to the microphone. She’d wear jeans and a tunic, glasses, her hair twisted in a clip. The only odd thing, to me, would be her mouth. It would be loose, relaxed—an intentional muscle movement, perhaps a symbol of acceptance after years in the self-help community that my strained jaw wouldn’t recognize.

There are 100 people in the conference room, 100 people waiting for her to begin. Half are in their 20s, from places like Boston or New York. Some have never been farther south than Illinois. Some are from Iceland, Serbia, and beyond. All convene in a hotel on Peachtree Street in Atlanta, Georgia—the blistering peach pit of the South.

They are all connected by the way they speak.

“Welcome to Take it to the Ssssssstreets,” Róisín would say into the microphone. Everyone would clap. “Thank you for p-p-participating in one of our most p-p-p-popular workshops. I’ll give a brief explan-explan-explanation, then we’ll bbbbbreak into small groups and head outside.”

Outside. Julia and I are already there and having our own unofficial panel. We call it Pool Time. We call it Necessary. We’ve spent three days in big groups, small groups, chatty groups, quiet groups. There are 800 people at the National Stuttering Association Conference. Most of them stutter, like us, but there’s also speech language pathologists, researchers, scientists, family members, significant others. More people than we could ever interact with, more names than we can remember. The conference has been held for over three decades, but Julia and I are both first timers.

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The Gossip Columnist Who Became the News

“If you were a woman and wrote about politics and D.C., you were a Washington gossip. If you were a man, you were a columnist,” explained Rona Barrett, the television presenter and celebrity gossip queen of the 1970s and ’80s, in an interview with BuzzFeed’s Anne Helen Petersen last year. Gossip—he said, she said, who was there, who was he with, what did they talk about—is the official currency of the Trump Administration, and any reporter who thinks they are above it is going to lose the newspaper war.

The women who became the great gossip columnists of the late twentieth century knew they weren’t above it—a reporter merely reported what their sources told them, a gossip columnist psychoanalyzed them.

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Yearning for My Emo Days in Nostalgia-Inducing Asbury Park

Mabel Rosenheck | Longreads | July 2017 | 20 minutes (4,918 words)


On April 27, 2003, I sat with two friends in arena seats in Convention Hall in Asbury Park, New Jersey. Inside, the building looks like a generic mid-size concert venue, but its lobby is a fantastic, mammoth arcade and exhibition space with polished floors, square arches trimmed by Corinthian columns, and wrought-iron windows that sunlight pours through in spades. It is industrial, yet elegant. It is American, yet with unmistakable allusions to European modernity, to beaux arts style. Overwhelming the boardwalk and the beach, it is urban architecture that rises dramatically from the ocean, jutting out into the breakers, bearing the brunt of Atlantic hurricanes. It is a hard place to describe, but it is also a hard place to forget and an easy place to romanticize.

I’d met my friends the year before on an internet message board for a shitty pop punk band from Chicago named Mest. The internet was still figuring out what it was; we were still figuring out who we were. We were lonely and isolated in the suburbs of Connecticut, Long Island, and New Jersey. We found something we needed in this music. We found something we needed in each other.

It was a Sunday, and some of our friends had to leave to catch buses and trains to finish term papers and make classes on Monday morning. I was there with Dena and Deirdre, but we felt deeply the absence of Jillian, the last of our essential quartet. Jillian’s leaving that morning made the moment more melancholy than a Sunday hangover or an emo song alone, because something was missing.

Inside, we were about halfway up the stands on the left side of the stage, or at least that’s how I remember it. The seats were blue. The room was kind of a hazy gray with sunshine struggling to find its way through windows nestled into the top row, or maybe that was just the hangover, or maybe that is just the nostalgia.

I’d met my friends the year before on an internet message board for a pop punk band. The internet was still figuring out what it was; we were still figuring out who we were.

The band on stage was Brand New. Before they were playing Madison Square Garden and headlining Coachella, before Deja Entendu came out, when it was only Your Favorite Weapon’s particular brand of angsty emo with songs about breaking up with girlfriends and best friends, Brand New was on stage on day three of Skate and Surf 2003, a music festival in Asbury Park. They promised us there that tonight would go on forever while we walked around this town like we owned the streets.

We’d been down the shore since Friday afternoon. Jillian came down from Boston and met me in New Haven, and though she wasn’t there for that Sunday moment, Asbury Park was nothing without her, and the trip down was nothing without her. I had left college in Massachusetts and moved back in with my parents in Connecticut a month before. Jillian was in college in Boston, but not happy. Dena was in Philadelphia, finding her way well enough, but not quite enough. Deirdre was always the most well-adjusted of all of us, but I guess even she was looking for something. We bonded over 18-year-old existential loneliness on an internet message board, and that weekend we, along with a few thousand other existential teenagers like us, drove down I-95 and the Garden State Parkway to the parking lot of the Berkeley Carteret Hotel.

The Used performing in Asbury Park in 2003 (Photo by David Pomponio/FilmMagic)

With Jillian and Dena and Deirdre and everyone else, I had sugary teenage drinks with the back of my car open before the hotel room was ready. I had more drinks in our hotel room that day and that night and the next day. We watched a parade of punk rock lineage including post-hardcore bands like Thrice, screamo bands like The Used, and indie performers like Onelinedrawing. We shared a bottle of tequila with a guy with a straight edge tattoo. Then I made out with him. It was a frenetic good time, but as much as I remember the red angel wings I paired with a wifebeater and black vinyl pants, as much as I remember the Home Grown drum head that I used as a cocktail tray, as much as I remember the Kiwis that crashed on our floor, I remember Sunday afternoon sitting about halfway up on the left side of those blue seats in that hazy gray room that the sunshine didn’t quite reach. Listening to that song, at that time, and in that place, I felt closer to the people who were there and the one who wasn’t than I maybe ever have to anyone. We were a few girls in a sea of teenagers, in a beachside town where we didn’t live, but as much as it was a moment shared with the thousands of people who were there, I remember this as a small moment between us; I remember this as a place that belonged to us.

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Who I Became at the Running of the Bulls

Ella Alexander | Longreads | July 2017 | 16 minutes (3,919 words)


I wanted danger. My identity as a liberated woman, or at least an adventurous girl, was inextricably linked to placing myself in the way of unnecessary bodily harm and, though I’d never have admitted to it, my blue U.S. passport seemed like a strong enough shield to stop anything truly bad from happening. So, although I was a demographic outlier — a 19-year-old American girl travelling alone —
my presence in Pamplona made sense, at least in my mind. The running of the bulls presented itself to me as the ideal prepackaged brush with death, with the bonus of a possible existential realization. Knowledge of life and death, the value of every breath, etcetera.

Pamplona was just one in a series of strange places I’d found myself after neglecting to map out my trip any more definitively than a plane ticket from Jerusalem, where I had family, to Rome and another one home from Berlin two months later. I had been making strategically bad decisions all summer, using money my grandfather set aside for education to bankroll a solo-backpacking trip through Europe. Before I left, all my friends were gearing up for art gallery internships or ice cream shop jobs, and a flutter of joy ran through me every time somebody heard my summer plans and asked, “Isn’t that dangerous?” or, “Haven’t you seen Taken?”

I’d reply, “I can’t spend my life worrying about things like that,” or sometimes, “If I die then you’ll have a great story for parties. You can say, ‘I knew this girl who got murdered in Europe.’”

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Conservative Values, Meet Drag Values

After dominating in a lip-sync battle last month that quickly became the stuff of legend, Brooklyn-based drag queen Sasha Velour took home the crown on the most-watched and highest-rated season in the history of RuPaul’s Drag Race.

In a heartfelt conversation with Joey Nolfi at Entertainment Weekly, Velour — an unapologetic intellectual — discusses the theory behind her unique sense of beauty and drama, and how she uses both to champion a historical, political form of drag.

VELOUR: I believe drag is a form of activism. It centers queer people and queer ways of being beautiful, especially in a political context where beauty is narrowly defined or what’s considered important or valuable is narrowly defined, and drag always offers a different option, or a variety of different options… I took for granted how much drag is still about play, and how playing and being light about your identity and yourself is actually a form of resistance, too.

EW: You said at Nightgowns earlier this year that every person who puts on drag is heroic. Why is it important to remind people of that?

VELOUR: There are lots of ways we can resist conservatism. It’s important queer people do that, especially, but also all of our allies because, in conservative systems, non-binary people, trans people, people of color, and even women are never going to be valued and safe. Drag resists conservatism in the most basic way possible, and also in the most effective way possible because it’s improper when it comes to looks, which is everything in conservative systems. Conservatism is all about surfaces and labels and presentation, and drag says, no, we refuse to follow any rules about that. It’s also fun and freeing, and that, in itself, is oppositional to cultures of fear and hate.

EW: Do you hope that’s what your Drag Race legacy will be?

VELOUR: People before have been eliminated for being over-thinkers, and I’ve succeeded because of it. I’m an over-thinker with a fighter’s spirit. I hope my legacy is that sometimes that level of thought is an asset, especially now in this political moment, because this political moment is very anti-intellectual, anti-information, and anti-historical.

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My Parents Said I Bruised Easily

Jessica Berger Gross | Estranged: Leaving Family and Finding Home | Scribner | July 2017 | 13 minutes (3,194 words)

For a good 20 years now, I’ve been working on various versions of a memoir. Some of what’s been taking me so long is that I’m conflicted about sharing certain parts of my family’s story, and my own.

Last year I managed to write and perform a fairly vague monologue about my home life in my teen years, during six of which my mother was married to her second husband, an angry, miserable human being. In the monologue, I rattled off some behavior of his that would easily be categorized as domestic violence, but which we, in our suburban middle class Jewish home, filed under under the more tidy, less shameful euphemism, “He has a temper.”

That’s what we called it when he threw a glass serving bowl filled with spaghetti at his son’s head, leaving him with a concussion; when he threw a wine glass at my mother and it shattered on the floor after bouncing off the side of her face. That’s what we called it when he dragged my thirteen-year-old sister down the stairs by her hair, when he gripped his hands around her throat and violently shook her, leaving marks. That’s what we called it when we sought refuge at my mother’s friend’s house; when my mother went back, begging his forgiveness for having left; when someone — probably my mother’s friend — anonymously called Child Protective Services, and a social worker showed up at our house.

“He has a temper.” That’s what we called it when he threw my ceramic piggy bank at me one evening while I was sitting on my bed, doing my homework. He burst into my room waving a legal pad with numbers scratched in pencil, fuming that I wasn’t willing to call my father and ask him to pay more in child support. I ducked just in time. The piggy bank hit the wall, smashing to pieces.

I told the story aloud at a Domestic Violence Awareness Month event, in the context of a 2014 TMI Project writing workshop I had co-led for women living in a domestic violence shelter in Poughkeepsie. Hearing the women share their stories struck a nerve in me. It unearthed truths and shame I’d forgotten I’d long ago buried — my shame, my mother’s, my family’s. It was almost unbearable, and I nearly quit the workshop. Somehow, though, I found the fortitude to not only stick with it, but to also tell my story to the participants. And not just the story about my step-father, but also the one about the occasionally violent boyfriend I once had a bad habit of going back to, again and again.

Letting them know that I had witnessed and experienced some degree of what they had was an instant ground-leveler. I stopped being the nice, middle-class-writing-instructor-lady with no problems coming to help them, and became one of them. They comforted me as I had been comforting them, and I was reminded of why it’s so important to overcome shame and tell the hard truth — how telling the hard truth is an important antidote to our own shame, and more broadly to the stigma associated with the things we attach shame to. It occurred to me that it’s unfair to tuck these kinds of secrets behind facades of exceptionalism and superiority, and that maybe we have an obligation to others to be more forthcoming. It starts with the painful task of being honest with ourselves, when no one around us really wants us to be.

In certain communities, we’re raised to believe we’re immune to particular experiences and behaviors, that we’re above them. That domestic violence, for instance, is low-class. That it’s just not something us middle class suburban Jews on Long Island engage in. That he’s not an abuser — he has a temper.

But it’s not true, and author Jessica Berger Gross is here to back me up on that. In her moving, fearless memoir, Estranged: Leaving Family and Finding Home, she tells the story of growing up in a middle class suburban Jewish home on Long Island just about a 10-minute drive from my own — one where her father was violent, and her mother was his silent enabler. And she tells the story of bravely deciding, at 28, to preserve her wellbeing and sanity by cutting her parents and her brothers out of her life.

I so admire her courage in revealing all the ugly truth of her upbringing, while being fair, and not casting her parents as monsters. And I appreciate her standing up and dispelling the insidious myth that domestic violence doesn’t occur in the nice houses in the nice neighborhoods.

What follows is an excerpt. — Sari Botton, Longreads Essays Editor

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