Happy Monday, gentle readers! Today we’re thinking about romance — and affairs — but it’s not all sweetness and light. We’re also reading about rape culture and child soldiers, and we’re rounding it all out with Ken’s new look. What are you reading this week?
‘China’s Mistress Dispellers‘ (Jiayang Fan for the New Yorker)
This is an absolutely fascinating read on a changing social climate in China and sometimes unexpected consequences. It’s also a rich insight into the lives of the people who work as ‘mistress dispellers,’ hired specifically to break up extramarital relationships — sometimes at any cost.
A volatile mixture of rapid social change, legal reforms, and traditional attitudes has created something approaching a crisis in Chinese marriage. In the past decade, the divorce rate has doubled. Adultery is the most prevalent cause, accounting for about a third of the cases, and men are more than thirteen times as likely to stray as women are. These trends are seen as troubling in a country that places a high social value on matrimony.
‘How Accusing A Powerful Man of Rape Drove A College Student To Suicide‘ (Katie J.M. Baker for Buzzfeed)
Buzzfeed’s longform journalism is consistently pushing the limits, and this is another fantastic piece. In the midst of rape culture and constant social messaging targeting victims, what happens when someone accuses a person in power of sexual assault? We just watched Bill Cosby skate by without a conviction, but in this case, the cost was even higher.
There’s no official guide to reporting rape. It’s the most underreported crime, according to the National Crime Victimization Survey, which means many victims don’t tell anyone at all. But women are generally expected to do two things if they believe they’ve been sexually assaulted: Go to the emergency room and call the police. “Was it consensual?” Megan’s friend asked her when she picked her up that night, the friend told investigators. “Like, did you want to?” No, Megan told her. She didn’t.
‘Trained to Kill: How Four Boy Soldiers Survived Boko Haram‘ (Sarah Topol for the New York Times Magazine)
This deftly crafted piece takes the voices of four child soldiers and centres them in a chilling narrative about how Boko Haram abducts and compels children to fight its wars for them. Along the way, it provides a rich contextual look at the world they’re living in, and the stakes of resistance.
A week later, the insurgents opened the doors and told the boys they should get moving. Weapons training was starting. They were taken in trucks through Malam Fatori — a commercial town on the border with Niger ringed by smaller villages, some 50 miles from Baga. They noticed that houses here were separated by farmland and trees, not packed together like back home. When the boys looked out, they could make out villages even half a mile away. At a primary school, the insurgents divided them into three groups and distributed turbans and guns.
‘The Ken Doll Reboot: Beefy, Cornrowed, and Pan-Racial‘ (Caity Weaver for GQ)
The Ken doll reboot has the internet in quite a kerfuffle. Just a doll? Try a complex icon of US culture, updated for a changing world, and shifting in a way that some people vehemently dislike. Being ‘All-American’ isn’t as simple as many people think it is. Will the real Ken please stand up?
Ken is the carefully calibrated ideal complement to Barbie—a blank, smiling man who does not threaten the stardom of the most intelligent, talented, rappin’ rockin’ princess astronaut in all of Malibu. Ken is “nice,” the members of the Barbie team will tell me over and over when I ask them to describe a doll’s personality: “a nice guy”; “a solid dude”; and, most damningly: “I picture him kind of Ryan Seacrest-y.”
‘Crushes, Flings, and Exes: On Writing About the Men Who Don’t Stay‘ (Morgan Jenkins for Catapult)
To write, or not to write? It’s a question some essayists struggle with when they decide whether they want to bring their affairs of the heart to the page — because they’re telling someone else’s story in addition to their own. This piece is an interesting exploration not of romance, but of how we make room for it in our lives.
The choice of whether or not to write about the crushes I’ve had or the men I’ve dated seems to be an exercise in control. Because writing is my vehicle through which I channel my thoughts, not detailing these experiences, even in the privacy of my own journals, not only feels like an injustice, but also a chastisement to my own self. I would never write about a man in my life for the internet without his permission. But I do wonder if the man is not in my life anymore, could he still be made a subject? Could I still engage with his influence in some way?
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Photo: Tiocfaidh ár lá 1916/Creative Commons