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

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 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.

Living Candidly #6: On brighter days and better friends

Living Candidly #6: On brighter days and better friends

Wednesday 3:40 PM: My eyes felt hot as I read the text message from my psychiatrist: “use Xanax liberally today and text me tomorrow morning with how you’re doing.”

It had been twenty hours since my complete decomposition on the sidewalk outside my apartment. In the midst of a disagreement with one of my roommates about a bill payment, the thought of stepping inside my home was the final trigger to a build-up of anxiety. I had immediately called Rebecca — my lifeline in the overcrowded city that somehow makes me feel wildly lonesome — and she had showed up in what might as well had been a winged chariot: swooping me into a hug and then ushering me onto my bed while she cleaned the rubble of my room and bathroom that had fallen into detritus over the preceding weeks. While I had ignored the problem of cleanliness, it became wildly apparent that my lack of housekeeping was a major indicator that this breakdown was an inevitability rather than a freakish whim of my biological nature.

Rebecca sat with me while we chowed down on half-decent microwave meals from a local deli and tried to pin down exactly what had started the downward spiral that had begun this morning. As it turned out, I was still battling demons from years prior that I had thought were long vanquished: friends lost, guilt repented, shame accepted. Instead of letting me sit in that pit of despair, she assured me that I was not solely responsible for those pains that sat with me nearly four years later. In fact, she sat before me as living proof — the epitome of a friend who had seen me in my darkest and most destructive — that true friends stand by you through the thickest black and love you for the person that evolves from those trials. They encourage you to pick yourself back up and to grow, and when you can’t do it alone, they bring down that very winged chariot and scoop you onboard until you can command the reins yourself.


It’s now been about forty-eight hours. My Xanax supply is still within reach but it is not in white-knuckle grip. Instead, it’s the people around me who make me feel like me. It’s the way Rebecca — a social worker by profession — exceeded the bounds of normal friendship to make sure that I was secure before exiting my apartment on Tuesday night. It’s the way Jasmine stayed on the phone last night laughing with me about how tragic our lives are, in sync nearly four thousand miles apart, and how we will support each other as we seek out local clinical and therapeutic help (my trusted psychiatrist — as helpful as he is and regardless of the fact he has legitimately saved my life on two accounts — can only do so much from two states away). It’s the way Justine understands when I request an extra half hour for lunch in order to commute to attend that very therapeutic appointment.

When I was hospitalized, I had the incredibly fortunate encounter of meeting a seventy-eight year old patient committed for suicidal tendencies. And, in our discussion, she told me that what she had learned in her several hospitalizations consistently was that life is always worth fighting for. Feeling more like myself today, I can say that I know she’s right. There is always a light.

Thursday 9:39 AM: “I feel great today.”

All my love x

Living Candidly #3: Getting My Laugh Back

Living Candidly #3: Getting My Laugh Back

In Pre-K 4, my teacher would often hear me laugh in the back reading nook of the classroom with concern. Her concern stemmed from one simple question: was I laughing or crying? At times, it was indecipherable, the laughs shaking my body and tears streaming down my face.

This may seem like an exaggeration, but for the first eighteen years of my life, if I thought something was funny — really funny — I would tear up within seconds of the first chuckle escaping my lips. If it was a discreet laugh, in the back of a classroom or between me and my brother in the backseat of my parents’ cars, I would lose it faster. The waterworks were unintentional and 100% uncontrollable, to the point where I quickly invested in waterproof mascara when I reached a makeup wearing age.

But then, when I was eighteen, something shifted. With the end of my high school career came the end of my tearful laughter. At the time, I chalked it up to a biochemical alteration; I had started taking anti-anxiety medication. I became convinced that I had previously been somewhat uncomfortable in expressing complete joy, and that thought carried me to the conclusion that I was finally free to laugh with emotional abandon.

I did not cry-laugh again — until my twenty fifth birthday. A simple conversation between me and two friends regarding the practices of gynecology drove me to tears over the course of minutes. Since then in the course of two months, I’ve teared up over laughter, gripping my sides, more often than I have in the past seven years. And honestly? I’m so relieved to be tearful again.

Instead of considering it a symptom of discomfort at the display of joy, I’m viewing it more as an uninhibited celebration of joy. It’s a wantonness, a carefree element, a comfort level that maybe I’ve been missing for a while. Maybe, for the first time in a long time, I’m comfortable in my own exaltation.

I hope I continue to laugh like that four year old I once was.