Candidly Reading #5: Three Women, Lisa Taddeo

Candidly Reading #5: Three Women, Lisa Taddeo

Lisa Taddeo’s Three Women cannot be summarized. I refuse to do it. In just over three hundred pages and through the narratives of three women’s stories, it explores the entrapment of female sexuality in an America dominated by its male counterpart. There’s Maggie, who comes forward to claim her truth in her highly-sexual romance with her high school English teacher. There’s Lina, who simply wants to find that partnership — emotionally and deeply physically loving — that is lacking in her eleven year marriage, so she reignites an old flame in a torrid affair. And there’s Sloane who sleeps with other men and women in front of or recorded for her husband’s viewing pleasure, pushing boundaries as a submissive in ways that not even Fifty Shades could have predicted. I don’t want to give away their stories because I honestly think you should read their lives as Taddeo beautiful scribed them. It was chilling, evocative, and hard to distance yourself from in the heat of the moment (whether sexual, emotional, or even legal).

So today I don’t write about Taddeo’s work in depth because my efforts will not do justice. What I can do, however, is describe my own journey with the male gaze and female sexuality.

All my love x


I can imagine being inside this man’s head and seeing my mother’s legs and following them. One inheritance of living under the male gaze for centuries is that heterosexual women often look at other women the way a man would.

Three Women, Lisa Taddeo

I remember the first time I felt myself capable of the male gaze. Not the subject of it, but the perpetrator; the very one inflicting it on what should have been my female allies. I was eleven years old, on my way back from fifth grade, and confused about what I had been drawn to observe. Breasts budding on my classmates. The ways in which my well-past maturation female teachers dressed. And while some of it was comparison to my own progress, most of it was admiration and curiosity. With a religious upbringing bearing down my throat, I finally coughed up the words in the car one day on the way home from sixth grade, “Mom, do you think I’m a lesbian?”

Now, this could easily be the opener to an LGBTQ+ “coming out” story, but the reality was that I had experienced several all-encompassing, youthful, and not-so-discreet crushes on male neighbors and classmates alike, so instead of taking my question to heart and having an open discussion my mother laughed in my face. “No, sweetie,” she said, reaching over and patting my hand as we pulled into the driveway, “you’re not a lesbian, trust me.”

I would continue through puberty to track the bodily development of my classmates in almost sick displays of masochistic jealousy. But the reality was that I was viewing them not as “too fat” or “too skinny” but as “What size bra cup do they have? Are mine bigger or smaller?” and “Do I need to do more squats to firm my ass?” I would take up running to shed the baby fat that I felt held me back from that young woman’s body I so desired to wield on the world, being told that if I was beautiful in addition to smart and kind, my ambition would have the chance to materialize much more tangibly. In essence, I was taught that being attractive to the rest (i.e. male) population — more attractive than the general (i.e. female) population — was going to get me further in life if I clocked it, manipulated it, fostered it.

It wasn’t until seven and a half years after that car ride with my mother that I was introduced to the rhetoric for exactly what had been ingrained in me: “the male gaze,” the patriarchy, benevolent (and blatant) misogyny. It appeared, strangely enough, in discussion of my first English Literature course of my undergraduate career: “Medieval Romances: Knights, Ladies, Etc.” Some upperclassmen brought in the language to discuss point-of-view for the narratives we were studying and, since it was all new information, I had little to digest the newfound topics with. It was like sitting down to Thanksgiving feast without any cutlery or plates.

That same semester, I made a friend who flaunted her attractiveness to men and women alike. She famously said she was the hottest girl in her high school bowling team — to which I always teased her that it “wasn’t really a stretch with the bowling team.” But she introduced me to the idea that women were often placed in pairs. “You see,” she said one night, turning to me with the CampCo pizza in her right hand, mouth full, “you and me? We’re the virgin and the whore. The two Marys of the Bible. You’re the virgin. You get the picture.” And I believed her, so I brutalized her when she hooked up with someone new or wore barely-there shorts. Instead of building her up, I was more aggressive in the tactics I had been inheriting from years of ingrained misogyny. Because with every guy that hit on her, with every flirtation that confirmed she was “the hot one,” I was being implicitly told through my own short-sightedness that I was “the opposite,” “the unattractive.” And my jealousy built.

I think about the fact that I come from a mother who let a man masturbate to her daily, and I think about all the things I have allowed to be done to me, not so egregious, perhaps, but not so different in the grand scheme. Then I think about how much I have wanted from men. How much of that wanting was what I wanted from myself, from other women even; how much of what I thought I wanted from a lover came from what I needed from my own mother. Because it’s women, in many of the stories I’ve heard, who have greater hold over other women than men have. We can make each other feel dowdy, whorish, unclean, unloved, not beautiful. In the end, it all comes down to fear. Men can frighten us, other women can frighten us, and sometimes we worry so much about what frightens us that we wait to have an orgasm until we are alone. We pretend to want things we don’t want so nobody can see us not getting what we need.

Three Women, Lisa Taddeo

Today, I like to think I am not that woman; I am that woman evolved. The woman I am knows how these things work, is acutely aware of the inner-workings of the patriarchy, and stands for it no longer when it comes to what inhibits not only her sexuality’s expression — her own mind be damned — but also the liberation of her friends’ and female compatriots. As we all heard in Candidly Dating #2, I have ended it with men for misogynistic comments. I have yelled at men in bars for grabbing my friends’ butts. I have used my male gaze eye to tell my friends (and the girls in the bar bathrooms) they are beautiful, and gorgeous, and stunning in no uncertain terms — even on the days when their makeup is running because some part of the universe has aligned against them. I have famously argued with relatives over the issues our current President represents in the treatment of women in America in 2019 (and prior). As for the friends, “the hot one” and I no longer talk after — you probably could have guessed — a fight over a boy who — you probably could not have guessed — chose me and upset the careful balance of mutual disdain we had built over the years. But the crippling grief that accompanied the loss of her and then him and then her in retrospect was enough to teach me that acknowledging the male gaze is good but to wield it in negative action is a dangerous, toxic thing to behold.

While I try to imagine a world without these elements of misogyny (blatant or benevolent), I know there’s not a chance in hell of it coming to fruition in my lifetime. So for now, I acknowledge my inherited gaze and push past it, admitting concession but also admitting power in holding it on our side. We all have it; we just need it to be put towards the better rather than the negative.

Women shouldn’t judge one another’s lives, if we haven’t been through one another’s fires.

Three Women, Lisa Taddeo

Living Candidly #8: Be Friends With…

Living Candidly #8: Be Friends With…

Be friends with the people who promise to deliver you digital AND print copies of British Vogue’s September 2019 interview by Meghan Markle of Michelle Obama when you fangirl so hard that it physically hurts your chest upon hearing the announcement.

Be friends with the people who sit and drink wine with you while you wait for multiple furniture deliveries in your new apartment without complaint, instead encouraging that extra pour while the Netflix loads.

Be friends with the people who run errands with you, and who you run errands with, for the pure sake that together is better than alone and each other’s company is preferred to anyone else’s. Even if that errand run includes waiting in a cellular store for an hour plus.

Be friends with the people who send you “love texts” — reminders that your worth is inherent and your value to them is esteemed. The ones that range from the “Hey! Just checking in <3” to the “Hope you have a great day” to the outright “I love you.”

Be friends with the people you can distance from for a time and then pick up with that same spark and joy in each other’s presence (physical or digital).

Be friends with the people who cry with you, who rage with you, who laugh with you. Be friends with the people who feel with you, not for you. There’s a difference. One is empathy, one is sensory sharing.

Be friends with the people who make you feel whole, whose very tether to your life makes you feel more grounded and vulnerable and fulfilled all at the same time. Be friends with the people who build you up, push you to be better while never discrediting where you’ve been, and celebrate your achievements while you reach for the next rung. Those people are the ones you want by your side when you falter, when you drop, when you sink. Because they know that you can pick right back up there again, and they will do everything in their power to remind you of that strength you lose sight of.

But in order to be friends with these people, you must be their friend too. Work on their resumes and job applications with them, celebrate their latest promotion. Vow to poop on doorsteps of exes, and say you “ship” their latest boo. Make time for their calls, even when you would rather be watching Hulu. Call them when something good happens in either of your lives, or when something is amiss in theirs. Be their cheerleader, their champion, their confidante. Make them feel their inherent worth, their value in your eyes; make them see their beauty — inside and out — by feeling your love. Be their rock when things get hard and promise to stick with them until the sun shines again.

Because friends — even the most fleeting of them — are more valuable than words can express. And when you have them as golden as the sunset, you have to sit on the waterfront and drink in the glow.

Candidly Careering #3: Writing *THAT* Résumé

Candidly Careering #3: Writing *THAT* Résumé

I was haphazardly lucky enough to land into the recruitment career track for a brief five months thanks to — and I’m not making this up — a Bumble BFF match. I had zero experience but what I did have was gumption and the gall to call myself a “people-first person.” While the position was ultimately what opened my eyes to the fact that publishing is without a doubt, 100% what I want to devote my life to, it did provide me with some valuable insight to what makes a résumé click when it comes through the Applicant Tracking System (ATS) to the 9-times-out-of-10 lazy recruiter.

And those tips are exactly what I am going to share with you.

  1. Always include a “Profile” or “Summary.” I cannot, cannot, cannot emphasize this enough. At least in my industry, your cover letter isn’t getting read until it lands on the hiring manager’s desk — that’s the second reader. In order to get there, you have to first impress the recruiter or HR manager. They’re there to quickly glance and determine qualifications. Three or four short, purposeful sentences at the top of your resume are great to sell to them who you are, what you’re good at, and why you are the best candidate for this job.
  2. Tailor, Tailor, Tailor. Every résumé should be tailored to the job you are applying for. I know, that sounds exhausting. But it shows when it comes through the ATS that you actually want this job more than just a throw-away submission. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve received résumés with “expected graduation” dates that have already passed. All that shows is laziness. Going the extra mile in not only keeping your résumé up to date, but tailored to the specific application shows interest.
  3. Tell a story, but make sure it’s your story. This shows specifically in the action verbs that should without a doubt start every bullet point under every position you’ve held. Always start with an attention grabbing action verb. Show exactly how you benefitted the team you were working with, how you were a key component of their success.
  4. Don’t worry about gaps. If anything, worry about putting irrelevant material on there that will turn a recruiter away by saying you’re “unqualified.” Simply list your relevant experience under a title stating exactly that — “Relevant Experience.” It’ll make you seem like you tailored it for them (which you should have) while still leaving an air of ~ m y s t e r y ~.
  5. Use design sparingly. We all love those beautiful résumés on Etsy and Pinterest, but honestly what’s more important is getting your qualifications across. Don’t make it bulky but also don’t waste time with white space. Make sure to fit the entire résumé on one page and have it look cohesive.

Now go out there and get that job!!!

All my love x

Candidly Reading #4: How Could She, Lauren Mechling

Candidly Reading #4: How Could She, Lauren Mechling

What makes a friendship? And to further that question: what makes a friendship last? What gives it that stickiness, that emotional glue to keep two (or three) people invested in each other’s welfare beyond the tit-for-tat of initial contact? Is there an inevitable and inherent expiration date to these bonds? Or do we have the free will to stand up and choose that relationship again, much like we are expected to do in our romantic ties? What is to say that our friendships aren’t our great love affairs?

Of course, none of these questions are novel. In fact, they are wildly, exquisitely clichéd. I, for one, have faulted to posting quotes celebrating female friendship from Sex and The City, Bride Wars, and — ever on brand — The Bold Type under Instagram posts about the closest in my “tribe.” And rarely will you meet a woman in her twenties who hasn’t endured the brutal reality of losing a girlfriend over unfortunate circumstances, minor or major causes aside. But to take these lingering questions on in an engaging way that does not shy away from that fourth question (i.e. is there an inevitable and inherent expiration) is what Lauren Mechling’s How Could She sets out to explore.

I won’t lie and say it was the most thought provoking book I’ve ever read. Following Orringer’s The Flight Portfolio and battling my desire to reread Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch before the September 13th launch of the film, I found myself frustrated with the characters’ continually selfish behavior. The story alternates third person focused omniscient narration chapters on friends Geraldine, Sunny, and Rachel as they all navigate their late thirties and their respective career, social, and romantic arenas. Geraldine at the start is floundering with no real roots and pining after a life that has passed her by, but by the end has a successful career in podcasts and has left behind her good-for-nothing ex-fiancé. Sunny transforms from the top of her career and from having a stable (yet loveless) marriage to…well, not. And Rachel, well, Rachel just kind of floats. As for the prose, it was purposeful but not striking. I saved maybe four sentences from it, a shockingly low amount for me as a typically overly complimentary reader.

Perhaps it was the way that these women eviscerated each other at a dinner, years of betrayals and alienations being brought to the forefront of conversation, but it make me starkly aware of how my relationships now could transform into those relationships by the mid-to-late thirties without proper care and precaution.

I hope I never reach the point of disdain for those I hold dearest that Geraldine, Sunny, and Rachel reached. That paradox of holding onto someone with white knuckles while also holding that person at arms’ length so they can’t inflict any damage on you. Walking that tightrope sounds — quite frankly — exhausting.

If not a lyrical masterpiece or a philosophical wonder, How Could She serves as a cautionary tale to keep your friends closest. Without a doubt, they are the ones who will love you but you must act out of love towards them too.

Candidly Careering #2: Returning To My Passion

Candidly Careering #2: Returning To My Passion

I began to realize how important it was to be an enthusiast in life. If you are interested in something, no matter what it is, go at it full speed. Embrace it with both arms, hug it, love it, and above all become passionate about it. Lukewarm is no good.

Roald Dahl

In recent weeks, I have been incredibly vocal to those in my life about my distaste for my current career. And while I could list the various aspects that drive me to pull the magnifying mirror to the center of my desk and stress pluck errant hairs from my face with my thumb and forefinger, that ultimately serves no purpose. The end result is the same: I feel the lack of upward mobility and what is available in the longer term is lackluster to me.

Before accepting my job, I sobbed. I bent over my knees on my small available floorspace and actively grieved the fact that I was putting my dreams and aspirations of the greater part of a decade on hold. All that work, all that fantasy, evaporated before my very eyes. And yet I still accepted to role, mostly at the pure want of my bank account.

I truly do enjoy aspects of recruitment — but what I enjoy is precisely what I would have done within the literary agency arena: screen resumes (review manuscripts), contact candidates (interact with authors), negotiate terms of contracts (negotiate terms of contracts). I find myself incredibly lucky to have the overlap of skills so vibrantly apparent.

But it isn’t enough.

Interacting with the literary community was an essential part of my identity construction; it lent an opportunity for belonging, something psychologists widely agree is a human social need. And with barely the energy to read after work, I was stripped of even the opportunity to attend book clubs.

So when the opportunity appeared to apply to a well-established literary agency for an assistant/support role, I jumped. I took a leap of faith and I sprung from that cliff into the foggy below without the faintest clue of whether I would find myself at the bottom or not.

Reader: I landed not only alive but on two feet.

In the weeks of interviewing, I delved back into the contemporary literary marketplace to have recent reads to discuss, lighting my mind once more with words and phrases and thoughts that had once run quiet. I performed a sample manuscript review and reader report, typing up two comprehensive pages on marketability and textual strengths and weaknesses to consider before making a decision on whether to sign the author. And finally, I was able to accept a role that promises to not only take me back into the community that I withdrew from in the interim since London but to launch me on an upward trajectory that is anything but lackluster.

The change in anticipation of the career switch is palpable. I carry a novel with me wherever I go again, and I’m attending a book club next Wednesday. I took a pleasure trip to the Strand bookstore — my first of what will be many. I bought two — two! — bookshelves for my apartment. Roald Dahl was absolutely, unequivocally correct: it is far better to be an enthusiast. It lights a fire under you and within you, and that fire will sustain you as long as you feed it. The good news is, pages burn.

All my love x

Candidly Reading #3: The Flight Portfolio, Julie Orringer

Candidly Reading #3: The Flight Portfolio, Julie Orringer

“Why do you persist, then? Why do you care so very much about the fate of your organization, and so little about your own welfare, when the people you’re assisting — Jews, anti-Nazis, degenerate Negroid artists like Wifredo Lam, sexual inverts like Konstantinov — are the basest forms of human kind? Look at you. You’re a thinking man, a Christian man, educated at the best American institutions. Why are you imperiling yourself for the sake of that filth? How do you justify it?”

“Is this official business, Captain?”

“I’m asking merely from personal curiosity. Tell me why.”

“Those people are my people,” Varian said. “If I don’t help them, no one will.”

The Flight Portfolio, Julie Orringer

In an interview on CNN just the other day, Stephen Miller made the assertion that — as a Jew — he was outraged by the accusations by left-wing politicians like AOC that the detainment centers on the border were comparable to those desolate and fatal camps of the Holocaust. And yet, stories emerge every day of the lack of care given not just to children, but to men and women alike in their wait for sentencing, of freedom or — more likely — deportation.

Around the world, the issue of gay marriage and the rights that come along with its recognition is one that is still widely debated. You don’t have to dig into Google News far to find stories of brutalization of homosexual individuals, or the long-awaited and damn-near-time legalization of same-sex marriage. In Northern Ireland, it wasn’t until this past January that lesbian couples were both allowed to assert parentage on the birth certificate of their children — something that previously would have separated families upon the death of the listed mother.

And, of course, still we face racism in its most potent form in the United States, particularly with the rise of White Supremacist marches and the vibrancy of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Enter The Flight Portfolio by Julie Orringer, a plot placed so clearly and factually in the turn of the 1940s but with the bite of the present at the heels of the reader’s every page. Loosely based on the life of Varian Fry, an activist in Nazi-occupied France who smuggled thousands of refugees out of the annexed territory who also happened to be a discreetly practicing homosexual, the story follows his work as leader of the Emergency Rescue Committee, the lives of the team he assembles, the rescues of the refugees, and — in a progressive shift — his passionate love affair with Grant, a passing half-black academic from his college days. The scene set, Orringer is able to write parallelisms to contemporary debates on refugee acceptance, homosexuality, and race in one swift read that pulls at the heartstrings while also provoking the synapses to work at all cylinders.

While I found it a slow and prodding read, I did thoroughly enjoy The Flight Portfolio (the first of my Book of the Month Club subscription deliveries) as it prompted many thorough trips down the rabbit hole on The New York Times, The Washington Post, The New Yorker, and Medium alike. I became actively curious not only of the past but also about our current domestic and global climate and the future that was most likely to result from our present choices. The Flight Portfolio may not have pushed into the most scandalous and heart-pounding depths of my library, but it did prove to be one of the most educating and engaging reads — a read that made me a more determined citizen.

I will say that the one disappointment at the end was the revelation in the Author’s Note that most of the characters, interactions, and plot were fictionalized for the purpose of creating a world that could prove parallel. And though I admire Orringer’s originality and ability to build from bare bones of history, I did wish that Grant was real and that he and Varian had lived their lives in coupled bliss after the four-hundred pages of will-they-won’t-they.


Of course, I am always susceptible to a love story. And so, I have to end this post with what I think has to be one of the most impressionable quotes about love — true love, regardless of its form — that I have ever come across. I would save it for a post for my Candidly Dating column, but who knows when I will finally meet someone who makes me feel this way. It’s better to share than to withhold, for maybe you need this in your life, dear Reader.

But that was how we recognized love, he thought: It made the exception. It was the case that broke the paradigm, the burning anomaly. In its light we failed at first to recognize ourselves, then saw ourselves clearly for the first time. It revealed our boundaries to be mutable; it forced us to shout yes when we’d spent our lives say no

The Flight Portfolio, Julie Orringer

All my love x

Candidly Dating #2: Recognizing the Red Flags

Candidly Dating #2: Recognizing the Red Flags

According to Greek mythology, humans were originally created with four arms, four legs and a head with two faces. Fearing their power, Zeus split them into two separate parts, condemning them to spend their lives in search of their other halves.

The Symposium, Plato

A running joke among my friends — and, admittedly, in my own head — is that the more red flags a guy has the more deeply attracted to him I inevitably end up being. I have bent over backwards for guys who have displayed anger issues, who have blatantly declared themselves non-monogamous , and who have even shown complete disinterest in me. This last one more than once.

Last week, Rebecca came over to christen my new apartment with a wine and Chinese take-out night, and as we sat on the hardwood floor of my unfurnished living room the conversation turned to the men we were currently talking to. I mentioned the one who had currently been pursuing me — and I mean this non-conceitedly — quite aggressively. My reaction to this interest was complete disinterest in him, to which Rebecca stared me down and said pointedly, “Rose. Let’s be real. You like the chase.” As always, Rebecca knows me better than I do. I do love to be the pursuer. She urged me to this once let myself enjoy being courted.

I let the conversation continue for over a week, and despite my best efforts — or perhaps on behalf of them — I started to see distinct red flags. First it was the question of “Would you date a Muslim?” He was not Muslim so there was no reason that this would be asked unless he had a distinct impression one way or another on whether this was a test of character.* Then there was the assertion of Trump being a better president than Obama when it came to foreign diplomacy. Third, he was adamant than “non-obedient” dogs retained more personality, and therefore were more likable, than their docile counterparts. Finally, the straw that broke the camel’s back, was the staunch opinion that female comedians did not become as successful as males because they relied too heavily on sexual content, something that is apparently “not funny.” **

I should note that during all of this I would have been fine with differing opinions, if he hadn’t talked down to me as if I was distinctly wrong and baseless in my own opinion. The condescension was stifling.

I have been in this place before. Previously, I had limited my voice and adopted new viewpoints to appease my partner in the hopes of that fairy-tale ending. This time, however, I found myself growing disgusted rather than repentant. I didn’t want to back down. I didn’t want to fight — it was too soon to be worth the effort — but I didn’t want to invest in something that was doomed to make me question my own intelligence.

That was the red flag, waving loud and proud from the tail-end of a blimp in Times Square. There was no avoiding it. It wasn’t just one red flag, but a million little red flags from years of dating unsuccessfully — and without a voice — that had been sewn together to make me distinctly capable of seeing this one when it was so visibly affronting.

For the first time in my adult life, I broke it off.

He was very receptive to it, something I can’t say I have always been. I think we both knew we were too opposite, especially since I held my ground in the conversations. But it felt good to say, “No, this isn’t what I want and I deserve to find my complement.” Holding out hope feels good.

I’m not signing off my chance at love for a while, but I am going to hold onto the hope that there is a shared half that belongs to me. A pairing, a complement. And while it’s nice to be pursued, and fun to be the pursuer (some habits never die), it’s even more rewarding to stick to your convictions and believe in your worth.

All my love x


*I said that I would, of course, date a Muslim just like I would date a Christian, a Jew, a Buddhist, a Hindu, an Atheist, an Agnostic. A human is a human. Their faith is just a facet in the whole composition of who they are. (This he said was “Interesting…”)

**I told him that while sexual humor is definitely touted by the comedienne population, it is not something exclusively heard from female mouths and to condemn women for exercising humor that men have been experimenting with and celebrated for for decades is completely sexist. Women, also, deserve the chance to tell stories in a setting that inverts the taboo — essentially what comedy does — and these stories liberate and resonate with female audiences in ways that have previously been unavailable. Thank you for coming to my TED Talk.