Tag Archives: The Cut

Ellen Pao Is Ready to Name Names

(Marla Aufmuth/Getty Images for Massachusetts Conference for Women)

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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Body Positivity Nudges Plus-Size Fashion Forward

Photo by Jessie Obialor, via Flickr Commons (CC BY-ND 2.0)

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 Jazz Singer Baby Esther Jones Became Betty Boop

Photo by Ed Schipul (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The comic character Betty Boop is enjoying a renaissance, with new cartoons, a new trademark red lipstick, and women’s fashions on offer. At New York, Gabrielle Bellot explores the original inspiration for Betty Boop—a black jazz singer named Baby Esther Jones, whose signature voice and scat-inspired patter inspired not only Betty’s look, but her signature phrase, “Boop-oop-a-doop.” As Bellot writes, Boop was far more than just a cartoon character—she was the first feminist depicted in animated film.

Betty Boop, it seems, continues to dance across the stages of media, makeup, and memories alike. Yet behind her there’s a ghost, a figure who follows her everywhere, but who’s hardly ever seen: The all-too-often-forgotten African-American cabaret singer named “Baby” Esther who, arguably, truly gave birth to the cartoon character, yet rarely receives credit for it, and whose story, in many ways, tells a larger tale about America itself.

On the one hand, Betty Boop was a creation of the heterosexual male gaze, with an endless parade of lecherous male characters trying to see under her skirt, yet on the other hand she wore power like a light shawl, her image an in-your-face depiction of unashamed sexuality.

She was a stereotype, yet she also defied stereotypes of what female cartoon characters could do onscreen. An early promotional ad describes her as “the first and only feminine cartoon star.” In two 1932 shorts, Betty Boop, long depicted as a virgin, even has to try to fend off grotesque male characters who try to rape her, which she is saved from by screaming for help; these were among the earliest cartoons to depict sexual harassment so explicitly. And she could be subversive in other ways, too: In one episode, she changes clothes onstage from a dress to a man’s suit, a transformation all the more striking because it subtly suggests a possible queer context for the character.

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Rachel Cusk on Eschewing her ‘Cuskness’ For Her Alter-Ego in ‘Outline’ and ‘Transit’

Heidi Julavits profiles memoirist and novelist Rachel Cusk for New York Magazine’s The Cut. Julavits focuses on various aspects of Cusk’s writing, including the ways in which her approach to “autofiction” is somewhat different from that of some compatriots in the land of blurred lines between memoir and fiction. Those include Sheila Heti, Ben Learner and Karl Ove Knausgaard, all of whom tend to infuse their protagonists with recognizable strains of their personalities.

Both Outline, which came out in the U.S. in 2015, and Transit are narrated by a woman named Faye, who, like Cusk, is divorced, has two children, and is a writer. Faye describes, or really more accurately transcribes, her encounters with other people. In Outline, she travels to Greece and meets a man on a plane; she goes to a restaurant with a friend; she teaches a writing workshop. She is less an interlocutor than a recording device or a processing machine. She receives. Faye, in literary terms, is a cipher. She is a zero, a naught, a nothing.

In Transit, Faye becomes slightly more “visible” (and audible) via her involvement in a home-renovation project; she converses with contractors and pacifies angry neighbors. Nothing happens, really, but these books are nonetheless gripping self-portraits of multiple humans. They are like eavesdropping on strangers, or watching a secret video feed of strangers, if those strangers were also casual philosophers. The conversations vacillate between the mundane and the lofty, as if the characters — enabled by Faye’s ­presence — are always grasping at bigger life questions. Outline and Transit both are welcome breaches of privacy that emphasize the intensely shapeless loneliness of people. They are books about middles.

Faye, while she shares biographical data with Cusk and appears to present and process events from Cusk’s actual life, is quite different from the characters devised by other autofiction writers of late — Sheila Heti, Ben Lerner, Karl Ove Knausgaard — with whom Cusk is frequently grouped. The books of these writers, though distinct from one another, more centrally feature an authorial self; about Heti, for example, Cusk says, “She uses herself, her Sheila-ness, much, much, much more than I do.” Cusk does not, in these novels, use her Cuskness. And yet she’s filtering through a narrator that does not by accident resemble her.

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My Mother’s Murder: ‘I am good at keeping secrets. I am good at telling lies.’

Leah Carroll’s mother mysteriously disappeared when she was four years old. In this excerpt of her book, DOWN CITY, Carroll reveals it took her years to determine that her mother was murdered by an organized crime syndicate as a suspected drug informant.

Most of the time my mom and I are a secret team, keeping secrets from my dad. She tells me we’re going to take the city bus because her car is getting fixed and this sounds like a great adventure. We take the bus to her friend’s house in Providence and she leaves me there in the living room, where I watch television until the room begins to darken.

I am good at keeping secrets. I am good at telling lies. I’m so good that years later, when I’m an adult trying to find out more about my mother’s life and death, I’ll have trouble with my own memories: Did I know we were on the bus buying drugs? Did I understand the danger we were in? Did I really believe we were in this together?

Another time, Mom drives me in Grandma’s car to a small house with long steps leading up to the front door from the street. She takes the keys from the ignition and tells me to wait in the car. She leans over and pats the space beneath the dashboard, telling me to get down there and stay until she comes back. “I’ll lock the doors,” she says.

In the real world, my mom’s body will remain off the side of the highway, undiscovered for five months.

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A Reading List Inspired by the Seven Deadly Sins

Photo: Chris

I used the seven deadly sins–lust, gluttony, envy, greed, sloth, pride, and anger — as the springboard for choosing these stories.

1. LUST: “Eileen Myles on the Excruciating Pain of Waiting for Love.” (Eileen Myles, The Cut, February 2016)

Poet and novelist Eileen Myles muses on a summer fling that should’ve lasted forever.

2. GLUTTONY: “Hunger Makes Me.” (Jess Zimmerman, Hazlitt, July 2016)

Jess Zimmerman writes eloquently on the subject of emotional labor, and “Hunger Makes Me” connects the twin suppressions of women’s physical and emotional appetites.

3. ENVY: “Tan Lines.” (Durga Chew-Bose, Matter, August 2015)

Lucky for us, Durga Chew-Bose’s essay collection, Too Much and Not the Mood (not “not IN the mood,” as many 2017 book previews have miswritten), debuts in April. Here, Chew-Bose meditates on her heritage and the double standard of the white obsession with tanning.

4. PRIDE: “Southern Fried Pride: What Hattiesburg’s First Pride Means in the Deep South.” (Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, Medium, August 2016)

In the parlance of sinning, pride is associated with selfishness, narcissism, and vanity (i.e., our current presidential administration). Instead, I wanted to feature self-love and self-confidence, a kind of pride that isn’t evil in the slightest, as well as a reminder that it’s 2017 and bigots still protest against LGBTQ people (and not just in the American South).

5. GREED: “A Tyrannosaur of One’s Own.” (Laurie Gwen Shapiro, Aeon, January 2016)

Are private fossil collections a disservice to the scientific community?

6. ANGER: “She Mad and She Magic.” (Muna Mire, The New Inquiry, August 2015)

An insightful review of Michele Wallace’s groundbreaking text, Black Macho and the Myth of the Superwomanrecently reissued by Verso Books. Muna Mire examines the book’s controversial reception in 1979 and its contemporary resonance, concluding, “Black Macho may have been inconvenient; it may not have been careful. But it was a necessary push forward. Getting angry works for Black women — it gets results and keeps us alive.”

7. SLOTH: “Fuck Work.” (James Livingston, Aeon, November 2016)

“Fuck Work” sounds blunt, until you learn James Livingston is the author of a book called No More Work: Why Full Employment is a Bad Idea. Livingston critiques our capitalist obsession with productivity and defining our self-worth via our work ethic, because full employment doesn’t insure quality of life. He asks,

“How do you make a living without a job – can you receive income without working for it? Is it possible, to begin with and then, the hard part, is it ethical? If you were raised to believe that work is the index of your value to society – as most of us were – would it feel like cheating to get something for nothing?”

Cat Marnell’s Rehab Writing Retreat

At New York Magazine’s The Cut, Emily Gould profiles Cat Marnell, the famously self-destructive former beauty editor who miraculously managed to complete a compelling, well-written memoir, How to Murder Your Life — despite first blowing her entire advance on drugs.

Marnell missed her first book deadline, overdosed on heroin, and spent her whole advance before writing a word. She more than justified the concerns of everyone who thought that book would never be written.

But then Marnell managed to get herself to rehab, at a facility in Thailand helmed by a guru who also treats Pete Doherty. There, she finally started writing without her usual helpers. “Rehab is basically a memoir-writing workshop,” she told me. “You have to reiterate your story so many times, you storyboard it out. You basically leave with an outline that you can send to a publisher.” Now, despite a recent “drug vacation” (more on that below), she says that she’s healthier than ever before. “My survival is not a fluke. I have definitely chosen the better path.” The mere fact of the book’s existence means that she is capable of putting her ambition ahead of her addiction, at least temporarily. The book is also far from messy — her control of style and tone is impressive, as is her wry self-awareness.

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Elizabeth Gilbert on Putting Her Privilege to Work

At The Cut, Jessica Pressler interviews Elizabeth Gilbert, best known as the author of self-discovery travelogue Eat, Pray, Love, who more recently produced the creativity self-help “manifesto” Big Magic. Among other things, the two discuss how privilege factors into Gilbert’s story and success—an angle she’s often challenged on. She offers what strikes me as a pretty valid response:

“Privilege” still comes up in the Q&A session of almost every talk Gilbert gives. “I want to talk about privilege,” one audience member says at the BRIC, although this is the entirety of her question, and it doesn’t lead to a super-interesting discussion. Still, it’s something Gilbert has definitely thought about and formulated a response to: “I think there’s huge validity in acknowledging differences in privilege,” she said in Central Park. “If that conversation is being had in a serious way, then it’s absolutely a valid conversation. But if that conversation is being had as a way of dismissing somebody’s work, it’s a ridiculous conversation. I mean, the most extreme privilege that I inhabit is that I was born as a woman in this moment in history, in this culture,” she went on, in a voice that suggested she was about to go into a sermon. “I’m the first woman in the entire history of my family who had a public voice. I’m the first woman who had autonomy over her body. I’m the first woman who had autonomy over money. My mom was trying to open a checking account in 1974 in Connecticut, when I was 5 years old, and she was told that she couldn’t do it without her husband’s signature. But I guess my question would be ‘What do you want me to do instead? Do you want me to not become a writer? Or do you want me to use my privilege to create the most interesting body of work that I possibly can, to live the broadest possible number of experiences that I can, to reach out to the most number of women who I could reach?’ ”

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Full Disclosure: A Reading List About Confessions

I’m entranced by the moment our secrets become our confessions. Over the past three years, I’ve confessed my fair share: Coming out as queer. Coming out as non-binary. Sharing crushes, deep-seated fears and ridiculous hopes with my friends, my partner and my boss. In these six stories, a drunk driver confesses via viral video; an ex-Catholic returns to confession; and a high-school cheater reveals her indiscretions. Elisa Albert writes about her training as a doula, and I respond with my own doubts. Finally, acclaimed essayist Leslie Jamison reviews two collections of deeply personal writing from Sarah Manguso, David Shields and Caleb Powell.

1. “‘I Killed a Man’: What Happens When a Homicide Confession Goes Viral.” (Joel Oliphant, BuzzFeed News, March 2014)

After a night of heavy drinking, Matthew Cordle killed Vincent Canzoni in a drunk-driving accident. Overcome with guilt and on the brink of suicide, Cordle made an earnest video through the organization because I said I would, confessing what he’d done. Alex Sheen, the creator of because I said I would, thought Cordle’s confession might get 100,000 views and provide some solace for Cordle. He underestimated a bit—2.6 million people watched Cordle’s video. His viral confession impacted the victim’s family, Cordle’s family and Cordle’s trial. Read more…

A Reading List for the Start of Summer

Photo: Matt Knott

It’s unofficial: Summer is here. Here are the clues: The temperature exceeded 90 degrees in my Maryland hometown. Locals have fled for Memorial Day weekend. My partner installed our window air conditioning units. The cat willingly places himself near the two fans in our living room and avoids his favorite sun patches. My new Star Wars t-shirt was drenched equally in flume ride water and human sweat during my trip to Hershey Park last week. Finally, people enter the bookstore where I work anxious for my summer reading recommendations. I am all too happy to hand them my recent favorites. Time for flip-flops, sunscreen, and, of course, summer reading.

1. “5 Great Beach Reads, Wherever You Are.”(Bethanne Patrick, LitHub, May 2016))

This isn’t longform, but it is going to be a recurring column. You may know Bethanne Patrick from her delightful essay “I Am Jessa Crispin’s Problem With Publishing,” and her latest endeavor is summer reading recommendations that are actually fun. Her introduction is feminist literary criticism that’ll make you fist-pump. Read more…