2018 has been a year of surpassingly difficult truths. We watched again as an accomplished, dignified woman made a credible sexual assault accusation against a well-networked Supreme Court nominee and was not believed. We live in a country that separates migrant children from their parents and holds them in cages. Political assassination is apparently a thing again. Acknowledged perpetrators of sexual assault are back to work.
But all of that would be much more difficult if there weren’t people committed to telling those stories and many other ones — some lighter, some equally difficult — as well as anyone ever has. In the process, they remind us that there are some things you just can’t crush — truth, most importantly, but also art, curiosity, suspense, fun.
Below we’ve laid out what we consider to be the best stories of 2018 written by people who don’t identify as men.
Any such list is subjective, of course, and there are surely great pieces of writing out there that we’ll kick ourselves for not celebrating here. As it was, our list was getting SO long that we had to set some parameters: Only pieces that most of Bustle’s audience would consider important, enjoyable, or both. Absolutely only one piece per writer, even though we really, really also loved Anne Helen Petersen’s feature on the women who escaped a polygamist sect and that guide to the royal wedding that Caity Weaver and Anya Strzemien co-wrote (see what we did there?). No stories published by Bustle Digital Group — you can find our lists here, here, here, and here — and as many other publications represented as possible, even though a few published so many outstanding stories this year that they definitely take up some room. We wanted to list the editor of each story to give credit to our colleagues across the industry, but then we worried about leaving out so many others who help take a story from good to sublime — top editors, copy editors, photo editors, art directors, that brilliant social media editor who notices a hole in the piece moments before it goes live. Finally, we promised ourselves we would not be swayed by some truly brilliant headlines (props to editors again).
Each and every piece below cinched its inclusion by taking narrative, language, our public discourse, or all three to their absolute upper limits and then some. We leave this exercise, as we did last year, floored by the talent across our industry and inspired by the fact that not just good but great writing is happening all around us all the time.
Happy holiday reading!
The question at the heart of any profile is who is actually controlling the narrative. Is it the writer or the subject? To what degree? And who is the real subject — the person the story is "about"? Or is it something larger?
"Lena Dunham Comes To Terms With Herself" — Allison P. Davis, The Cut
Lena Dunham is a polarizing figure, and this detailed, evocative profile of her does not shy from holding her accountable for that. Allison P. Davis’ portrait unflinchingly calls out Dunham out on the “meta-version” of herself she projects on the world and how it contradicts the message of authenticity Dunham pushes with her work. Davis has a real commitment to keeping her distance from her subject (even as Dunham tries to pull her closer). The piece lets Dunham speak for herself, in all her problematic and selfish glory, highlighting both Dunham's privilege and how many chances the public has given her to be the feminist icon she promised to be. What Davis makes clear without needing to say it is that Dunham will never, ever be this hero, and in fact, Davis discovers, that’s not Dunham’s goal at all. “As she texts me increasingly intimate details that she knows I’ll put in this article, as if she were trying to be the director of her own candid, sympathy-generating magazine story, I begin to wonder if Lena Dunham, the performance artist daring us to hate her, is the work.” Read it here.
"Cardi B’s Money Moves" — Caity Weaver, GQ
Cardi B surged into the public consciousness in 2017 with her song “Bodak Yellow,” which, having topped the Hot 100 for three weeks in a row, made her the second female rapper ever to have a number-one single. This beautifully crafted profile by the incomparable Caity Weaver drips with the kind of metaphors you could only dream of conceiving and translates Cardi’s voice masterfully: “Her staccato flow is a minefield strewn with terrifyingly forceful plosive consonants, but her vowels are languid to the point of taunting. It's not that she doesn't f*ck with you; it's that she doesn't fuuuuuck with youuuuu. The verses are quick as GIFs.” In a crowded sea of celebrity profiles, Cardi’s stands out because of its realness. It makes you feel as if you’re sitting in front of her, sharing her ribs, and talking about FDR’s New Deal. This is Weaver at her most Weaver, and that’s a compliment even Caity Weaver has to earn. Read it here.
"Heidi Cruz Didn’t Plan For This" — Elaina Plott, The Atlantic
Heidi Cruz thought she had found her prince charming. They met while campaigning for George W. Bush in 2001 and were engaged within the year. Over the course of the next 17 years, Heidi would become his dutiful wife, the mother of their two children, and the breadwinner of the family. Despite her professional success (she left her position as the managing director of Goldman Sachs to help him campaign), Heidi has long lived in the shadow of Ted’s political career. Elaina Plott’s in-depth profile of Heidi, which details the trials and tribulations of being the wife of one of the most controversial figures in politics, is as much about what it doesn’t say as it is about what it does. Plott accomplishes a rare feat: skewering a man while barely mentioning him (while also making it feel like Heidi is in on the joke). Read it here.
"Everyone Believed Larry Nassar" — Kerry Howley, The Cut
So much of the Nassar story was about the hundreds of victims and USA Gymnastics, the institution that should have protected them and over and over again opted not to. And that’s as it should be. But in this deftly reported feature, Howley posits that the coverage left a major question unanswered: who is Larry Nassar, really, and what made him capable — morally, emotionally, logistically, professionally — of abusing young girls in plain sight, many in their parents’ presence, for so long? No one wants to glorify Nassar, but in Howley’s hands, understanding how he did it and how he very nearly didn’t get caught — always look in the trash! — becomes the unfinished business of the story. And by the end, we do come to understand. Read it here.
"How Goop's Haters Made Gwyneth Paltrow's Company Worth $250 Million" — Taffy Brodesser-Akner, The New York Times
When Gwyneth Paltrow started Goop, she wasn’t going for attainable: “Why mass-market a lifestyle that lives in the definitional opposition to the mass market?” Brodesser-Akner phrases the question that Goop has answered. The company began as a curation of Paltrow’s expensive tastes, but quickly took on a life on its own beyond being a “portal of health-and-healing information.” And Paltrow, at the helm, has made a lot of enemies for her brand of very expensive “pseudoscience,” which, according to its detractors, is no longer ludicrous, but actually dangerous: “The hatred used to feel personal to her, but it doesn’t anymore. Now it feels as if she’s watching a soap opera. She remembers the week that Star Magazine called her the most hated celebrity in the world. ‘I remember being like: Really? More than, like, Chris Brown? Me?’” Brodesser-Akner artfully takes us through an evening with the Goop mogul, who’s reckoning with her reputation, detailing life through Paltrow’s rose-quartz colored glasses, to show us the very real differences between the life we have and the one we’ll never attain (and perhaps, after reading this, no longer want to). Read it here.
"Beto O’Rourke Could Be The Democrat Texas Has Been Waiting For" — Anne Helen Petersen, Buzzfeed News
“Beto O’Rourke is a prolific, prodigious sweater,” begins one of the best ledes of the year, from Anne Helen Petersen’s very closely observed profile of The Man Who Almost Beat Ted Cruz. Sure, Beto O’Rourke is pretty, and thus easier to describe. And yes, ‘twas the year of the hagiographic Beto O’Rourke profile. But few were this ambitious. For one thing, no one researches like Peterson — did you know that writer A.C. Greene once summed up the challenge of winning over voters in Abilene, “I still haven’t figured out how you score a win on a town that belongs to God”? Now you do. And few of those other Beto O’Rourke profiles have anywhere close to this scope. Over four days, Petersen shadows the “Lincoln-lanky” congressman through more than five cities, and the story she ends up telling is as much a portrait of contemporary Texas, particularly its politically engaged women, as it is of a politician. Plus, there are observations like this: “A politician’s stump speech has the same effect as a good sermon. For those who already believe, it reenergizes the faithful. But a truly great stump speech also appeals to the skeptic — and provides moments of near-spiritual conversion.” Read it here.
"India Mahdavi, Virtuoso Of Color" — Lauren Collins, The New Yorker
Lauren Collins’ writing gets overlooked, partly because she covers England and France, whose cultural influence has arguably waned, and partly because she writes about women artists, who are more influential than ever but get barely any credit for it. Collins’ curiosity, erudition, and her commitment to chronicling women’s creative lives are at their height in this intricately described portrait of the Iranian-born, German-raised, Paris-based interior designer India Mahdavi, the woman who, via the design of London’s Sketch tea room and other restaurants, turned “Rose Quartz 13-520” — a color “pink as peonies, as pink as fibreglass insulation, as pink as the inside of a baby bird’s mouth,” Collins writes — into Millennial Pink. Mahdavi has many imitators (see: The Wing); the difference between them and Mahdavi is that for her, color is information, it’s story. Besides, by the time Mahdavi is copied, she’s moved on to a whole other hue. Read it here.
It’s almost 2019, and misrepresentation, underrepresentation, and stereotypes are still rampant in writing, reporting, and general conversation about certain individuals, groups, places, and customs. Here are our favorite attempts to correct those narratives and speak about the unspoken.
"The Female Price Of Male Pleasure" — Lili Loofbourow, The Week
Lili Loofbourow is here to talk about bad sex… but not just bad sex as men see it (“a passive partner or a boring experience”), but as women see it (“coercion, or emotional discomfort, or even more commonly, physical pain). The differences between how women and men view sex are startling and speak to a larger cultural phenomenon: Women live in a constant state of discomfort. Despite this truth, society — and the medical industry in particular — still prioritizes male pleasure over (and sometimes at the expense of) female pain. As Loofbourow rightly points out: “Women are supposed to perform comfort and pleasure they do not feel under conditions that make genuine comfort almost impossible.” And in the #MeToo era, women are done performing. Read it here.
"The Queer Art Of Failing Better" — Laurie Penny, The Baffler
When the original Queer Eye — a reality show in which five fabulous gay men make over a hapless straight man’s life — premiered in 2003, it pioneered acceptance for the gay community on television. Now, 15 years later, we have a new iteration of the same show, but its message, like its cultural context, is very different: “The gimmick is that heterosexuality is a disaster, toxic masculinity is killing the world, and there are ways out of it aside from fascism or festering away in a lonely bedroom until you are eaten by your starving pitbull or your own insecurities.” Laurie Penny’s incisive analysis scratches much deeper into the male American psyche — particularly that of dejected white men who believe they are owed the world — than any piece on a reality TV vehicle should, and will have you chanting “yaaaaas” more times than even Jonathan Van Ness could muster. Read it here.
"Native American Lives Are Tragic, But Probably Not In The Way That You Think" — Terese Mailhot, Mother Jones
You’ve undoubtedly read stories about the problems that plague some Native American communities, but the relentless coverage of the badness of life there doesn’t seem to take into account the effects of reading such stories about yourself day in, day out. This is a story about that story and the impossible position it puts Native Americans in. Terese Mailhot, who is Native American, describes the double-bind, which is especially difficult for artists: “If we depict ourselves as educated and self-sufficient, they might advance the narrative that our tragedies are long past, that we should dust ourselves off and move on. If we are portrayed as poor or dysfunctional or prone to alcoholism, they can use that to take away services or argue that we game the system. No matter what we do, we’re still Indian, and often we don’t get to speak for ourselves.” This piece is Mailhot’s call for external communities to recognize Native Americans as individuals, to not treat every negative news story as an indictment of a culture. She wants Native Americans’ tragedies to be their own. Read it here.
"Everywhere and Nowhere: What it’s really like to be black and work in fashion" — Lindsay Peoples Wagner, The Cut
When she received a message from an HR manager questioning her framed print of the words “Every Nigga Is A Star” in her profile picture, Lindsay Peoples Wagner wasn’t surprised, but she was p*ssed. She turned it into a rallying cry to finally tackle the virtual invisibility of black people in the fashion industry and their almost complete exclusion from positions of power. She designed a survey of 100-plus black individuals who work in fashion — including assistants, executives, stylists, celebrities, and models — about their experiences in the industry. The striking answers she received form a composite of what it’s like to be a black person working in fashion and the many challenges that come with it. As one of the anonymous respondents of her survey phrases it, “People don’t want to admit it, but there’s still a contingency that you have to be the ‘right’ kind of black for fashion to fully accept you … Some black women in our spaces find it frustrating that they’ve been afforded the platforms they have while darker-skinned women with a different hair-curl pattern are being ignored. It’s about the optics.” The piece provides much-needed perspective and is full of incredible quotes (it’s hard to choose). Read it here.
"An Asian-American Teen Idol Onscreen, Finally" — Jenny Han, The New York Times
For so many Asian American woman, the release of the film based on Jenny Han’s young adult novel, To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before, was a transformative moment. It was the first time — the first time — a teen drama featured a young woman who looked like them in a leading role. Previously, right up to when Han sold her book to the only production company that would promise to cast an Asian actress, the only film role available to Asian American women that didn’t exoticize them was “Asian friend.” In this op-ed, Han recalls Nicole Bilderback — of Clueless, Buffy, Dawson’s Creek, and Can’t Hardly Wait non-fame — as an actor who always played the sidekick, never the kick itself. “If Nicole was a teenage actress today, I’d like to think she’d be more than just a minor character. She’d be the star of a teen movie, because I would make it my mission to write one for her.” Read it here.
#ThisIs18 — Edited by Jessica Bennett and Anya Strzemien, The New York Times
Men’s coming-of-age stories have been deemed valuable and informative since there has been narrative. Women’s, far less so. This package asked 21 girls around the world what they listen to, what slang they use, how they feel about their mothers, when they felt grown up, what they want for themselves, what scares them, and more. It charged their peers with photographing them, so even visually, young women retained control of the storytelling. The result is a striking interactive collage of stories — some startlingly innocent, others sobering — that encapsulates what it’s like to become a grown woman now. Read it here.
"On Aziz Ansari And Sex That Feels Violating Even When It’s Not Criminal" — Emma Gray, The Huffington Post
In January, Babe.com published a young woman’s account of a date with comedian Aziz Ansari, describing a sexual encounter that couldn’t be classified as assault but definitely described sex that was a) bad and b) involved one party proceeding as if it were either not bad, or its badness for her didn’t matter.
The essay went viral, the left fear-sharing it in anticipation of it undermining the more serious claims of #MeToo, the right posting it in smug agreement that indeed it did. Grays published her piece three days after the Babe essay, an eternity in a 24-hour news cycle, and as a result, her take is level-headed, informed, and processes her own experiences into meaningful examples of why it’s so hard to communicate about consent. What woman won’t relate to this account of one of her own encounters: “I felt frozen. I didn’t want to make a scene or embarrass him or end up looking ‘crazy.’ It felt easier to just say ‘yeah,’ so I did.”
Gray argues that, rather than using the accusations against Ansari to dismantle the whole movement, this is an occasion to create a more nuanced but universal script for intimate encounters, so everyone recognizes both verbal and non-verbal cues, and no one can use ambiguity to justify their actions. “Rather than rushing to denounce the excesses of #MeToo and the imaginary band of millennial feminists eager to lock Aziz Ansari in prison,” Gray suggests, “perhaps this is a moment for listening.” Read it here.
Lots of us write to heal. Sometimes you write an essay good enough to heal other people in the process.
"Mary Higgins Clark Warned Me To Fear Men, But I Didn't Listen" — Becca Schuh, Crime Reads
In Mary Higgins Clark novels, “every man was a suspect … bestowed with enough incriminating details that any one of them could be the killer or an accessory.” That’s why Becca Schuh grew up “terrified of men,” a fear she told herself to forget, but one of her experiences would later validate. Clark’s murder mysteries tapped into something much deeper than her male contemporaries’ whodunit versions. She observed the small, subtle machinations and manipulations that male perpetrators used to groom victims instead of focusing on the tremendous brutality of the crime. With the 2018 release of Clark’s newest novel, Schuh reflects on the truths she’s learned in the 14 years since she picked up her first Clark novel: “It doesn’t take much guessing to wonder why I cried at this novel at the age of 27. In the fourteen years since I started reading Mary Higgins Clark novels, I went to college and was physically assaulted twice, targeted while drunk countless times, and watched nearly all of my friends encounter similar or worse traumas.” Like so many published in the last year, this essay breaks the silence around traumatic personal events, and does so in the service of paying tribute to Clark, the writer who faithfully tried to warn us. Read it here.
"Marooned On Love Island" — Sophie Mackintosh, The New York Times
In this "Modern Love" piece, Sophie Mackintosh speaks about her obsession with British reality TV series Love Island and how she used the show as a coping mechanism when her partner was diagnosed with bowel cancer at 33. Although she finds the show silly, it provides a form of escape during one of the most emotional and unsettling moments of her life, and that’s pretty powerful: “It gave me comfort to see these love stories taking place outside of the dirty context of reality. May you never see the person you love with tubes running out of their body, I wished for them, these beautiful couples who were all years younger than me, though I considered myself young, and too young for what was happening.” Mackintosh recognizes the superficiality of the experience, but also notes that reality TV can be like a numbing salve for the soul. Instead of leaning into reality, she leaned into a world constructed to be too beautiful, too distracting, and too unreal as a form of self-care. It’s a lesson in understanding there is no one right way to grieve — and that a show with really hot people falling in and out of lust masquerading as love can sometimes be the best medicine. Read it here.
"What Fullness Is" — Roxane Gay, Medium
An estimated 228,000 Americans got weight loss surgery in 2017, but it’s still Not Talked About — at least not by the likes of a preeminent cultural critic and intellectual powerhouse. Fortunately, Roxane Gay is in the business of Talking About Things, and those things now include the weight loss surgery she had in January 2018, the 15-year-long mental struggle leading up to it, and how she feels in the aftermath. “The truth is that my desire for weight loss has long been about satisfying other people more than myself, finding a way to fit more peacefully into a world that is not at all interested in accommodating a body like mine.” The piece is a stream of consciousness that attempts to reconcile the surgery with the strong, fat-positive person Gay is… the person who views her hunger as a source of power and also knows what it’s like to feel full. Spoiler alert: She hates it. Read it here.
"I’m Broke And Mostly Friendless, And I’ve Wasted My Whole Life" — Heather Havrilesky, The Cut
In this “Ask Polly” column, a woman who goes by “Haunted” laments the course of her 35 years of life — the geographical moves for relationships that failed, the friends she’s left behind, the career she doesn’t like — and wonders how she can “make a future for [herself] that [she] can get excited about out of these wasted years.” Heather Havrilesky is kind, but firm, and her message is clear: When you look at anything through a lens of shame, you turn “every casual choice into a giant mistake, every small blunder into a moral failure.” Havrilesky implores Haunted to spend time with that shame, get to know it in and out, so she can stop projecting it at all times onto innocuous things. Although the essay is a response to one woman’s plight, it really is a call to action for all of us, full of advice on how to stop hating the things that make us unique, how to stop comparing ourselves to others, and how to exist in our own bodies comfortably: “All you have to be is a human being, Haunted. That’s success. When you’re a human being, life feels satisfying. Everything adds up. Every little thing matters. Look at what you have.” Read it here.
"Teaching My Children Healthy Love Is Helping Me Practice The Same" — Dominique Matti, Medium
Dominique Matti didn’t grow up with a father; he left so early that she doesn’t remember the details of his abandonment. She does remember the feeling of being unchosen: “A home can be made of not being somebody’s sacred thing. You can get comfortable in the chasm where a bond should be.”
In this poetic, melancholic essay, Matti explores how being left impacts every subsequent relationship, especially a marriage, and how motherhood can finally undermine the elaborate defenses you erect to keep it from happening again. At the same time, having children introduces a new fear, “the panic that I will fail at teaching them to securely love and be loved. It’s panic that I am a broken person who will make them like me, that they will inherit the same evasive love that I did.” Read it here.
"I'm a Great Cook. Now That I'm Divorced, I'm Never Making Dinner for a Man Again" — Lyz Lenz, Glamour
“It's hard for me to understand when cooking became more repression than liberation, more act of obligation than act of creation,” Lyz Lenz reflects in this essay that is about both breaking up with her husband and cooking for him. “...This thing that had sustained me now felt like a prison.” She spent their early years whipping up pies and stews, perfecting a from-scratch pizza crust — activities she truly enjoyed — and then prostrating it all at the altar of his approval, hoping he would at least say thank you. (He didn’t.)
A woman rebelling against the relentlessness of domestic labor isn’t new, but Lenz’s hindsight understanding of why she kept at it for so long is like a knife through the heart of anyone who has ever gone unappreciated by someone who purports to love them: “I laughed because when I was in my 20s, I believed that you were supposed to laugh when someone hurt your feelings. I thought you were constantly supposed to be trying harder.” The pieces is both a subtly triumphant feminist manifesto and a really eloquent Seamless ad. By the time you finish reading, you’ll be ordering chicken fingers for dinner, “unencumbered as man.” Read it here.
"Did Drinking Give Me Breast Cancer?" — Stephanie Mencimer, Mother Jones
Stephanie Mencimer thought she’d done everything right to avoid this moment — “breastfeeding my children, a careful diet, plenty of exercise” — but there she was in the radiology department, discovering at 47 that she had stage 2 breast cancer. She was a decade and a half younger than the median age for diagnosis in the United States, so the journalist in her asked, “Why me?” What she would determine, despite no warnings from doctors ever in her life, was that “[t]he research linking alcohol to breast cancer is deadly solid. There’s no controversy here. Alcohol, regardless of whether it’s in Everclear or a vintage Bordeaux, is carcinogenic.”
Why haven’t we heard about this? According to Mencimer, the alcohol industry spent $2 billion on advertising last year, and an additional $30.5 million on lobbying Congress, lauding the health benefits of alcohol and downplaying the risks: “[T]he fact is, people want to believe that drinking is good for them, and the science in this field is easy to manipulate to convince them.” Mencimer pulls no punches in calling out the alcohol industry and takes us on one educational, gasp-filled ride. Read it here.
"I Walked From Selma To Montgomery" — Rahawa Haile, Buzzfeed News
“My arrival in Selma, Alabama, on April 4, 2017, was less a choice than a matter of self-preservation,” Rahawa Haile begins her story of her post-2016 election pilgrimage from Selma to Montgomery, following the route Civil Rights marchers took in 1965. “Following years of unarmed shootings, bombings, hate crimes, gentrification, voter suppression tactics, pay gaps, school segregation, dwindling reproductive freedoms, refugee bans, jeopardized health care access, and all of the indignities of life in America as a visible Other, I traveled to Selma because the fury in me had nowhere left to grow.” In this powerful essay, Haile contemplates the journey so many brave people have taken before her as she walks the same path. It is not a particular scenic journey; in fact, much of it takes place alongside a highway. But Haile imbues each step with a rich sense of history; she considers the landmarks as they were and as they are, and speaks about walking as a form of protest. It’s a shame that Haile needs to do this walk 52 years later, but it’s also a powerful reminder of those who walked before and the work that still needs to be done. Read it here.
"You Owe Me An Apology" — Brittany Packnett, Elle
When Serena Williams stood up to an official who accused her of cheating during the Women’s Final of the US Open, detractors cast her as simultaneously brutish and whiny. It was all too familiar for black women. In this essay, inspired by Serena’s words to the umpire — “You owe me an apology” — Brittany Packnett realizes that she has never demanded an apology in her life, despite the many injustices she has endured living at the intersection of her race and gender. There are so many reasons for that, she writes: “As a Black woman, speaking up about the needs of others would win me applause; speaking up for myself would earn me punishment. I'd be vilified for even thinking I deserve dignity, and as I try to pursue justice for the rest of the world, I simply don't have that kind of time.” This is an account of Packnett’s experiences but also the burden all Strong Black Women are not just asked but conditioned to carry — and ask for little in return. For this, they are owed an apology, and Packnett is ready to ask for it. Read it here.
In feature writing, it was undeniably the year of the grifter, but also of making sure unthinkable tragedies and crimes are not forgotten.
"How Anna Delvey Tricked New York's Party People" — Jessica Pressler, The Cut
“It started with money, as it so often does in New York,” Jessica Pressler begins her wildly engrossing tale of German heiress Anna Delvey — who is neither German nor an heiress — who conned her way into New York City’s wealthiest inner circles with an intricate web of lies and a crisp wad of $100 bills. Delvey was known for her spending habits: “it was like she couldn’t get rid of it fast enough.” Her apartment was covered in shopping bags, she’d treat herself to frequent pampering, and she would spend months at a time living in the city’s hottest, hippest, and most expensive hotels. That is, until it came time to foot the bill… then the excuses began. The subsequent unraveling of this social climber extraordinaire filled with anxiety-inducing details and Pressler walks us through the full litany of her crimes — as well as the sheer hubris that gets her caught. Schadenfreude has a name, and it’s Anna Delvey. Read it here.
"How A Young Woman Lost Her Identity" — Rachel Aviv, The New Yorker
Hannah Upp had disappeared before. First, she was missing for two weeks when the captain of the Staten Island ferry found her body facedown, bobbing in the water, but still alive. The second time it only took 24 hours for Hannah to call her mother groggily from a dirty creek in Maryland. Each time, she remembered nothing. According to Rachel Aviv’s chilling reported piece, Upp would enter fugue states that in most sufferers are “triggered by trauma — often sexual or physical abuse, a combat experience, or exposure to a natural disaster” — but Upp, to the best of anyone’s knowledge, had not experienced any of those things. The first time, her family wrote it off as a freak experience. The second occurrence was harder to ignore. A year after her second incident, Upp moved to St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands for a teaching job. In September 2017, two Category 5 hurricanes hit the island in rapid succession and Upp disappeared. She still hasn’t been found. Aviv tells her story through the eyes of those closest to Upp, reaching out to her family and friends. She pieces together Upp’s life, the last moments she was ever seen, with facts over speculation, which helps to ground an otherwise out-of-this-world piece. Read it here.
"The Final, Terrible Voyage Of The Nautilus" — May Jeong, Wired
Journalist Kim Wall was preparing for her goodbye party — she and her boyfriend were moving from Copenhagen to Beijing — when she got the text from Peter Madsen asking her to join him for tea. Wall had been working on a story about Madsen, the Danish mastermind behind the Nautilus, a 40-ton “personal submarine” he built from donated iron, “part art project, part engineering feat.” That afternoon, she skipped her goodbye party to board the submarine. She would never reemerge, and Madsen’s version of events would keep changing — even after dismembered parts of her body started washing ashore. This powerful article, written by a close friend of Wall’s, May Jeong, explores the last day of Kim Wall’s life, the shocking secrets that led to her death, and the emotional toll the murder took on her family and friends: “Building something out of nothing was central to Madsen’s philosophy, as was the belief that he should be able to play by his own rules and control his own destiny.” Jeong pays tribute to her fallen friend the best way she knows how: telling the story Wall couldn’t and keeping her memory alive. Read it here.
"Hairstylists Can Tell When Someone’s Being Abused" — Elizabeth Kiefer, InStyle
It isn’t surprising that many women develop close relationships with their hairstylists. As Elizabeth Kiefer explains in this eye-opening article, the fact that many women view salons as “safe spaces” coupled with stylists’ close-up access to their clientele, is the reason the topic of domestic violence comes up more than you think. That’s why Kiefer interviews the salon owners, nonprofits, and politicians who are looking to instate a mandatory course on domestic violence for licensed cosmetologists. The aim is simple: provide as much awareness and as many tools as possible for stylists to speak to and help their clients. The law has been met with some pushback, which Kiefer is careful to cover in the piece, but the law would also represent an important stride in prioritizing the lives and safety of women… including some on the staff, too: “[T]raining had opened their eyes to what domestic violence and abuse actually looks like — that it’s not always what you would think.” Read it here.
"Weddings Of The 0.01 Percent" — Julia Rubin, Vox
When Prince Charles wed Diana Spencer in 1981, 750 million people tuned in. The spectacle had an explosive effect on the wedding industry, as Julia Rubin writes, “igniting the imaginations of brides across the world.” It suddenly seemed that a fairy-tale wedding was entirely possible… if you have the funds. In this piece, Rubin gives us a glimpse into the lives and weddings of the uber-wealthy (not just the regular-wealthy) and their wedding planners (they prefer being called “producers,” it’s apparently less reductive). She discusses lavish weddings equipped with bowls of caviar and reception performances by John Legend, but also the real implications of throwing offensively expensive events when so much of the world lives in poverty. It’s equal parts voyeurism and social commentary — and unless you’re one of the 2,257 billionaires in the word, it will also make you feel poor (but in a fun way!). Read it here.
"The Great CNN Baby Boom" — Patti Greco, Cosmopolitan
The most striking thing about the fact that “at least eight of [CNN’s] most high-profile anchors, correspondents, and reporters are expecting or have given birth in the past year and a half,” is that so few people noticed or were talking about it as a phenomenon that it was worth Patti Greco writing this trend piece. Whenever it feels like we’re sliding backwards, consider that as recently as a year ago, pregnant anchors were being shamed for wearing bodycon dresses on air. Now the most obvious possible signal of a woman’s physicality and sexual life goes mostly unremarked.
Rather than a tiresome, surface-level exploration of whether these women are “having it all,” Greco focuses on the tangible: the community that developed between the women as they prepared for and weathered maternity leave; how tuned into the news they chose to be while on maternity leave; whether their opportunities diminished between the time they revealed their pregnancies and the time they returned from leave; how Poppy Harlow managed to interview the most beloved Supreme Court Justice in history on stage five days after giving birth. Harlow recalls, “‘I’m sitting on the stage, interviewing Ruth Bader Ginsburg — and wearing a diaper.’" She remembers people telling her she was "superwoman" after the interview. "‘I’m like, If you only knew. I tell you this at the risk of grossing people out. That is what it’s really like to try to ‘do it all.’” And that’s just it: As Harlow shares the "gross" truth about doing her job postpartum, Greco’s larger point becomes clear: Women’s personal lives, including their bodily experiences, are compatible with their professional identities, especially when those experiences are shared. Read it here.
"The Perfect Man Who Wasn’t" — Rachel Monroe, The Atlantic
As Rachel Monroe notes, America’s obsession with the con man is long documented — we admire his swagger, pity his victims, remain absolutely convinced that we could never be one of them. But, as she discovers first hand, real con men, or Derek Alldred, at least, don’t fill out the Hollywood archetype. His victims aren’t helpless, desperate women who “should have known better.” Alldred — or Richie Peterson or Derek Allarad depending on when you knew him — preyed on women (generally in their 40s, recently divorced, with kids) while posing as a medical student, or a decorated military veteran, or a college professor and systematically stole from them. Whenever he was discovered, he skipped town, and started his grift in a new place. Tired of being told they were just bitter exes, the victims of his crimes banded together to take him down and help each other piece their lives back together. Monroe interviews these women and captures their mixture of anger and embarrassment perfectly, discussing the larger subtext that domestic crimes against women are not taken as seriously. This one is an emotional roller coaster. Read it here.
"Why Two Chefs In Small-Town Utah Are Battling President Trump" — Kathryn Shulz, The New Yorker
In 2000, when chefs Jennifer Castle and Blake Spalding, decided to open an all-organic restaurant in the remote ranching community of Boulder, Utah (population 250), abutting the now-contested Grand Staircase-Excalante National Monument, locals were suspicious. According to Shulz, consummate chronicler of America’s physical and emotional topography, the restaurant slowly became an anchor in the community and employed many of its people. When newly inaugurated President Trump cut the size of the protected land in half and proposed opening it up for mining, the chefs, who are passionate about keeping the land a historical monument, and who know no one wants to make reservations for a restaurant in a mining town, got angry, partnered with activist and nonprofit groups, and decided to sue the president. You know, like you do. Baked into this ambitious piece are descriptions of the West as beautiful and expansive as the landscape itself. Read it here.
"A Betrayal" — Hannah Dreier, ProPublica
Shortly after Henry was born, his parents immigrated from El Salvador to America, leaving him behind with his grandparents. It didn’t take long before he was recruited by the violent gang MS-13 who, in exchange for his loyalty, paid for his clothes, food, and protection. When Henry’s life was threatened by a rival gang, he traveled the long road to the U.S. border to seek asylum and eventually reunited with his mother in Long Island. Unfortunately, the gang has a significant presence there, too. After it murdered five teens from his high school, Henry approached the police with information (a death sentence if it were ever discovered). Then the ICE agents came for him: “The same unit that Henry had helped to arrest members of MS-13 was now pursuing a deportation case against him, using the information he had provided as evidence.” Read it here.
The piece leaves you desperate to know what happened to Henry. In an email, Dreier provided an update:
After this story ran, the Department of Homeland Security opened a still-ongoing civil rights investigation into Henry's case. ICE said it would stop creating detailed gang memos, which jeopardize informants, and offered to move Henry into protective custody. Hundreds of readers reached out to Henry, offering him jobs and a home, and donating to a GoFundMe page that quickly exceeded its goal of raising $20,000 to help him find a safe place to live once he is released or deported. His asylum hearing stretched out for months — many times longer than these hearings usually last — as more witnesses came forward to testify. He remains in detention in New Jersey. If his asylum plea is denied, he is planning to use the money readers donated to go into hiding in a third country.
Anyone can write a hot take. In-depth investigation and informed analysis are increasingly rare, beautiful things.
"Pregnancy Discrimination Is Rampant Inside America’s Biggest Companies" — Natalie Kitroeff and Jessica Silver-Greenberg
Natalie Kitroeff and Jessica Silver-Greenberg combed through thousands of court documents and public records and interviewed dozens of women for this powerful interactive piece investigating the fate of professional women when they become pregnant. Their findings are troubling: “Whether women work at Walmart or on Wall Street, getting pregnant is often the moment they are knocked off the professional ladder.” The number of pregnancy discrimination complaints is climbing, and women, on average, lose 4 percent of their hourly rage with each new child they have. Through the stories of women who were failed by their companies, Kitroeff and Silver-Greenberg weave together a bleak portrait of working motherhood that will hopefully motivate politicians do something about it. Read it here.
"Is There A Smarter Way To Think About Sexual Assault On Campus?" — Jia Tolentino, The New Yorker
Four years ago, two Columbia professors came up with a different solution to combating sexual assault on college campus. Instead of focusing on the assaults themselves, or the punitive measures taken, the two women created a program called SHIFT to address the motivations and situations that lead to assault. The premise is that the people who commit these assaults would be far less likely to do so if they received the right amount of support and education beforehand. Their methods include “startlingly intimate” peer-administered surveys that delve into students’ sex lives (which some of the SHIFT workers later said they needed therapy after administering) in order to gain a more accurate picture of how Columbia students viewed and understood sex. The idea was that capturing the nuance in students' beliefs would help form a more holistic solution to the problem.
The concept of protecting “potential victims and potential perpetrators simultaneously” is a controversial one and has led many to protest SHIFT’s work. In this thought-provoking and well-researched piece, Jia Tolentino discusses the way sexual assault on campuses are currently addressed (or, more problematically, how they’re not) and the strides these professors have taken toward ending a culture of non-consent. There is still no definitive solution, but the piece opens up new perspectives on how to deal with a complex and insidious problem. Read it here.
"Bad TV" — Angela Long Chu, N + 1
The classical definition of the critic is someone who knows and loves their subject so much that they get extremely pissed off when someone weighs it down with mediocrity. A good critic is also willing to consider how their genre might contribute to larger Mediocrity, or forces even more nefarious. Angela Long Chu is that kind of critic.
What to do about so-called “Bad TV” in the #MeToo era is not a new question, but no one has answered it, or attempted to, as eloquently and incisively as she does here. Taking on the charade that watching more inclusive, realistic television is somehow a political act, she writes, “In the very act of delivering on its promise to make people feel political, woke TV accidentally proved that political was something you could be made to feel.” But she also understands that the lie of that proposition is a response to the fact that we’re not going to give it up TV, even when bad people make it. “What hurts isn’t when the people we love do unlovable things. What hurts is when, afterward, we still love them… all of us will be caught wriggling on the flypaper of apologism before this thing is over. Lines in the sand blow away eventually.” Now that is criticism. Read it here.
"Betsy DeVos’s summer home deserves a special place in McMansion Hell" — Kate Wagner, Vox
In this critique, syndicated from her hilarious architectural humor blog “McMansion Hell,” Kate Wagner turns her unforgiving eye to Betsy DeVos’ 22,000-square-foot nautical-themed summer mansion in Holland, Michigan. Wagner uses annotated photos for her blow-by-blow account of how absolutely gaudy and ridiculous the secretary of education’s home is, decorating the pictures with accusing red arrows and laugh-out-loud quips — whether it’s referring to one window as a “hell portal” or pointing to another table in the fifth living room as “a perfect setting for discussing why poor people deserve to be poor and how teachers are a parasite on this nation." Wagner, who is one of millions of Americans in student loan debt, has a lot of fun ripping apart Devos’ home (and you will too!): “As someone who owes tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt, getting paid to make fun of DeVos’ tacky seaside decor is one of few ways to both feed myself and make myself feel better. With that, I’d like to dedicate this essay to all of the public school teachers who taught me how to write.” Read it here.
"I Made The Pizza Cinnamon Rolls From Mario Batali’s Sexual Misconduct Apology Letter" — Geraldine DeRuiter, Medium
Geraldine DeRuiter made cinnamon rolls; she doesn’t particularly like cinnamon rolls, but she was compelled to when Mario Batali, a chef accused of sexual misconduct, decided to tack the food instructions onto his apology letter: “Batali is not the first powerful man to request forgiveness for ‘inappropriate actions’ towards his coworkers and employees. He is not the most high profile, and he is ostensibly not even the worst offender. But he is the only one who included a recipe.” Of course, the first question we should all ask is, “Why?” The answer, DeRuiter decides, must be in the recipe, and so she starts baking. In this brilliant and hilarious reflection on men and apologies (and how bad they are at them), DeRuiter takes us through every step of her baking process with a healthy dollop of social commentary on the way, detailing the harassment she’s received from men throughout her career. This is angry baking at its best, and DeRuiter is rightfully unapologetic in every criticism. Read it here.
"Rachael Denhollander & ‘The Indy Star’s Marisa Kwiatkowski Take To Each Other About Bringing Down Larry Nassar" — Rachael Denhollander & Marisa Kwiatkowski, Bustle
True, this is one of our own, but we didn’t write it. Part of our Rule Breakers issue, it’s a transcribed conversation between Rachael Denhollander, the former USA gymnast who blew the whistle on Larry Nassar’s decades sexually abusing girls in his care, and Marisa Kwiatkowski, the investigative reporter from the Indy Star who helped break her story. They speak candidly about everything that went through their heads before publishing, of the pushback and responses they received once it was out there, and how Denhollander’s life, in particular, changed after the reporting — for better and worse. The conversation is honest, inspiring, and occasionally sad — just as the experience of building out the story had been for them. “The problem is — and you know this — sexual abuse is not a gymnastics problem. It's not a university problem. It's a problem that is in every facet of communities, [and] you can't control that, but you can control how you respond to these questions and concerns when they come up. When the next allegation comes in, how are these organizations and individuals responding to those allegations?” Read it here.
"Abortion Is Not Murder" — Jennifer Wright, Harpers Bazaar
In Jennifer Wright’s powerful meditation on abortion, she turns the popular conservative aphorism “facts don’t care about your feelings” on its head. She kicks things off by challenging each pro-life claim that abortion is murder using #factsonly. Then, having incinerated conservative feelings with hard science, she moves on to the dangerous implications of criminalizing abortion for women. The truth is the legality of abortions has very little effect on whether women choose to get them, but it does affect their safety: “Criminalization of abortion doesn’t lead to fewer abortions. It leads to more women dying in unsafe procedures,” she writes. Wright’s ultimate point, which she makes in searing terms, is that “a fetus’s right to life is debatable. A woman’s is not.” In America, it’s acceptable to use deadly force when there is an intruder in your home. And yet some of the same people who uphold that law believe women’s bodies are not their own. And that’s one of Wright’s most poignant moments in the piece: No one is allowed to live in your body without your consent. Read it here.
"Why Can’t The Democrats Get Angry?" — Jess Zimmerman, Slate
It sounds reductive, but our two political parties are gendered, Jess Zimmerman argues compellingly in this essay. “Democrats’ concerns are those that are cast as feminine: justice, feelings, women’s bodily autonomy, children, the ability to keep a family provided for and alive. Republicans’ concerns are those considered masculine: money, business, repelling those seen as intruders, the wielding of physical and economic brutality.” And that’s where the conversation of anger comes in and, more importantly, who is allowed to be angry, and who is allowed to show emotion and still be considered strong. When Republicans get angry, it’s passion; when Democrats get angry, they’re too emotional or they’ve lost the plot. Being feminized goes hand in hand with being held to a different standard. That’s why Zimmerman encourages us to break free from these limiting definitions, to dilute the gender binary, to challenge political expectations, to expand the two-party system, and to, essentially, learn to count to three. Read it here.
"Victoria’s Secret Is Trying To Change With The Times. Or Is It?" — Vanessa Friedman, The New York Times
The take down of Victoria’s Secret’s feeble gesture toward “empowerment” that we all desperately needed. Perhaps it wasn’t a big deal to say everything Friedman says here — she has her own formidable reputation to stand on and that of the Times, and for multiple reasons, including those outlined here, Victoria’s Secret is a failing enterprise. It’s never been safer to criticize. Still, this feels good: “Show me the viewer who sees Shanina Shaik in shell-pink lace bra and panties with a silver brocade corset and silver ankle cuffs with her neck tied up in a big bow and thinks: ‘Damn, that woman is dressing to please herself.’” Read it here.
After a year-plus of self-serving mea culpas from powerful men, here are four apologies that don’t grandstand and do the actual work of righting past wrongs.
"For Decades, Our Coverage Was Racist. To Rise Above Our Past, We Must Acknowledge It" — Susan Goldberg, National Geographic
It’s not easy to admit when you’re wrong, especially when the thing you’ve done wrong has been the basis of your publication for 130 years. In April, National Geographic released an issue on the concept of race — along with a meditation from Susan Goldberg, the editor-in-chief, on the publication’s long history of exoticizing and exploiting non-Western cultures. While illuminating that troubling coverage, Goldberg also demonstrates the publication’s evolution on these issues over time. It will never be perfect, but as the first woman and first Jewish editor at the helm, she vows to create editorial coverage that is both representative and inclusive: “[L]et’s talk about what’s working when it comes to race, and what isn’t. Let’s examine why we continue to segregate along racial lines and how we can build inclusive communities. Let’s confront today’s shameful use of racism as a political strategy and prove we are better than this.” Read it here.
"How I Broke, And Botched, The Brandon Teena Story" — Donna Minkowitz, The Village Voice
Twenty-five years after she first published the Village Voice story that inspired Boys Don’t Cry, Donna Minkowitz revisits her story of Brandon Teena, a 21-year-old trans man was murdered in Nebraska in 2003. In the intervening 25 years, conversations around trans people have evolved significantly, and given we are in “a time of enormous cruelty in the body politic, a time when rebuilding solidarity is the most precious task we have,” Minkowitz wants to put some of the things she wrote to rights.
This is her chance to tell Teena’s story far more accurately — and acknowledge her own reporting errors and assumptions — to free Brandon and his story from the stigma that even she helped perpetuate: “Even in New York City, someone like me, a journalist who considered myself very involved in queer radical politics, could be massively ignorant about what it meant to be transgender. In particular, I conjectured that Brandon’s long-term sexual abuse by an uncle and a rape in high school had led him to abjure his ‘female’ genitals and breasts. It’s the aspect of my article that makes me cringe the most today.” Minkowitz’s apology feels like a little bit of justice for Teena, and for once, a non-trans person takes on the responsibility of educating other cisgender folks on how not to misgender or otherwise misrepresent trans people. Read it here.
"What Do We Owe Her Now?" — Elizabeth Bruenig, The Washington Post
In Arlington, Texas, in the year 2006, Amber Wyatt reported her rape. It happened after a party; Wyatt who had been drinking, was supposed to get a ride home. Except the two boys driving her — popular athletes — allegedly took her to a shed and assaulted her. Despite the evidence mounting against the young men (bruising, DNA), the town immediately turned against her. She was insulted regularly in the halls of her high school; dozens of teens wrote lurid messages about it on their cars; they graffitied the wall with insults until Wyatt was forced to leave the school. Elizabeth Bruenig, who shares a hometown with Wyatt, re-examines her case 12 years later, through the fresh lens of #MeToo. She interviews Wyatt and also other townspeople on how their opinions have or have not changed. It’s both frightening and sad to see what can happen to a young woman in this circumstance, but Bruenig tackles the difficult subject with empathy and skill: “This is my imperfect offering toward that end: a record of what happened, and the willingness to have been troubled by it all these years. It still troubles me now — it will always be unresolved — and I hope that it troubles you, because the moral conscience at ease accomplishes nothing.” Read it here.
"The Movie Assassin" — Sarah Miller, Popula
In 1996, Sarah Miller was “a freelance film reviewer at Philadelphia’s second best (of two) alt-weeklies.” The majority of her reviews then were negative, but that’s because “most movies are not good.” In a bid to land a staff job for the paper, Miller took on a review of The English Patient, a film she thought was garbage and her editor assured her was Art. Forced to choose between her paycheck and her pride, Miller re-wrote her previous panning of the film, turning it into a “lying review of that racist, boring, laughable, pseudo-intellectual movie.” That moment proved pivotal for Miller, who feels her subsequent success hinged on the cognitive dissonance she allowed between what she believed in and what her editor wanted. This piece is Miller — one of the best prose stylists working today, period — making amends for all things she has ever written that she didn’t actually believe: “That one decision ... ended up as an agreement with myself to spend over 10 years of my life being a different person than the one I had planned on being.” She describes her descent into amorality as “feeling smug about being good at writing crap and then even actually starting to think the crap was good because of the money I was given to produce it.” And if you think that’s good, wait for the kicker. Read it here.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article mis-attributed "Abortion Is Not Murder." The author is Jennifer Wright.