Staunchly, vol. 50: Excellent Women

(Originally posted: 3/28/18)

After Trump was elected, I started hoarding color. I always loved a bright, polychromatic physical space, but now I craved it. Suddenly I was acutely aware of color’s restorative impact on me. I realized how even the littlest hint—the spine of a book; a composed grouping of craggy, elliptic crystals—had the potential to bring me joy. Color seemed a cheap, infinitely accessible luxury in a world that was getting darker everyday.
I recently read a profile of the architect, designer, and hue whisperer India Mahdavi by Lauren Collins in the New Yorker. I nearly drooled at the way Madhavi talks about color: baby pink is “strawberry milkshake,” fuchsia is “crushed raspberry.” Mint green makes her “thirsty.”
Mahdavi believes, as Collins synthesizes it, that “an embrace of color corresponds to a desire for cheer amid anxiety, and for sensuality in algorithmic times.” People want saturation when the world is somber and programmed. In a bleak grayscape, the delightful and the decorative are essential.  

Midcentury novelist Barbara Pym said something different, but kind of the same. In Less Than Angels, she wrote: “the smallest things were often so much bigger than the great things … the trivial pleasures like cooking, one’s home, little poems especially sad ones, solitary walks, funny things seen and overheard.”
I finished my first Pym book (Excellent Women) this winter, noticing that the second year of the Trump administration had whittled my literary tastes down to two threads: 1. Detective thrillers set in Dublin 2. Provincial novels about British spinsters.  
I started Staunchly a couple weeks after the election that broke us all because I needed a space to process. A space to work through my rage but also my joy. Cheer amid anxietySensuality in algorithmic times. A pop of color.
And now we’re at the 50th issue and I’m not quite sure what to say. I’m proud of what I’ve built and excited for things to come but mostly grateful for all of you who have read and supported me along the way. I hope Staunchly has been all the right amounts of interesting and angsty and tacky and fun and real for you—for us: “A couple of women against the whole lot of men,” as Pym would say.
Mostly I hope Staunchly has been a small thing in your inbox that from time to time has felt, indeed, like a big thing. :)

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Exactly a year ago, I published an essay on Medium about workplace sexism on Capitol Hill. I wanted to elucidate the subtle, noxious sexism that pervaded my Senate office and eventually pushed me out of politics.
I was floored by the response this piece got. In a week, it was viewed by over 25,000 people and made Medium’s list of the top 20 recommended pieces. So many of you identified with my story of bro culture, implicit biases, misbehaving men, and good old-fashioned hypocrisy. Thank you to everyone who read the piece and reached out to me to share your experience. The energy of that female solidarity powered me through a tough few months.

The way we as a society think and talk about workplace sexism has changed dramatically over the past year, with the rise of the #MeToo, #BelieveWomen, and #TimesUp movements. A lot of this discussion has focused on the particularly odious (and ubiquitous) crime of sexual harassment, but its worth remembering that men have lots of other ways to create a toxic work environment for women that have nothing to do with sex.
Still, it’s pretty awe-inspiring to reflect on how much progress, at least in terms of exposure, has been made in less than six months. God only knows how long the exiles of shitty men will last (I see James Franco gazing longingly towards home from the shores of Elba), or how quickly and viciously the culture will snap back to its lock position of indiscriminately invalidating women voices, but its hard to deny that big steps have been taken.

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“Benjamin is a phoenix, Harry. Phoenixes burst into flame when it is time for them to die and are reborn from the ashes.” – Dumbledore explaining Ben Affleck’s back tattoo to Harry Potter.

“Benjamin is a phoenix, Harry. Phoenixes burst into flame when it is time for them to die and are reborn from the ashes.” – Dumbledore explaining Ben Affleck’s back tattoo to Harry Potter.

We have to spend a moment on this tattoo. If you need to catch up: Ben Affleck got a giant tattoo (IN FULL GLORIOUS COLOR) of a phoenix that spans the entire width and length of his back. He once claimed it was fake, but recent photographs in Hawaii proved otherwise...


Please enjoy this gallery of a fallen man and his mythic ink at your leisure.
Here’s what I think about this tattoo. I think it is the most meaningful piece of art in the Western canon since the Bayeux Tapestry. It’s also the worst thing I’ve ever seen—and I’ve seen The Snowman. It’s the body stain equivalent of: Jon Gosselin avoiding child support checks in an Ed Hardy t-shirt; True Detective season 2; those syphilis boulevards across LA.
More than anything, it is a profound metaphor on the gracelessness of modern masculinity. The rumors are true. The boys really are broken. Because what is this tattoo if not regeneration porn, a male ego’s yearning for renaissance? The Brentwood dad version of “The South Will Rise Again”?
Still, if being a women on this mortal earth for 28 years has taught me anything, it’s that you can’t keep a good man down. Or even a mediocre man. You know what, men will be fine. 


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Here’s your daily reminder that Hope Hicks is both a product of the sexism that surrounds women in politics and a unique version of evil all her own—corrupt to her (well-tended) roots and complicit in shielding abuses of power and people.

According to RBG, an iconic New Yorker, the best hair scrunchies come from Zurich. This is painful not because I doubt Swiss craftsmanship (would never!), but because it proves Berger was right.


Speaking of iconic New Yorkers, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I am ready for the era of Governor Nixon. On a broader scale, I am supportive of all the first-time female candidates who have been energized by this political moment to stand up to atrocious Republicans and spineless Dems.
I always lived within 10 blocks of Coyote Ugly during my New York Years but, regretfully, never visited. Here’s a look on the institution at its silver jubilee.
The radioactivity of the current political climate has really limned the shady assholes that lurked among us, the totality of their grossness shielded by an NDA culture or a British accent. I feel queasy thinking about how I used to adore Ricky Gervais, who has now, according to Matt Zoller Seitz’s review of his recent “comedy” special, leaned full-weight into his transphobia. Unsubscribe. 
This is a great profile of Donatella Versace by Molly Young for GQ. My favorite line: “Her pants are tighter than the skin on an apple.” Goals! (apples not pants)
More news in platinum blondes plagued by tragedy: When she is not bringing nuns to literal deadly depths of despair, Katy Perry is bankrupting them. Somebody stop her!
But nobody stop me from speaking like a goddamn sailor. “Women need to insist on our right to strong words, strong ideas, and strong feelings.” So says Emma Byrne in Elle. I love swearing, so her piece on the profanity double standard for men and women really spoke to me. Cursing can be awkward and inappropriate (from both genders), but it is also a powerful way to demand your voice be heard—the intensity of your passion, fury, or frustration reckoned with. Anger, or emotions of really any expanse, is a right not often afforded to women. Crassness without consequences is a privilege reserved for (white, obviously) men. Fuck that, ladies. Curse to your heart’s content and dismantle the patriarchy one vulgarity at a time.

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Just an exhortation this week:



Staunchly yours,