Episode 128: My Favorite Scammer, Wendi Deng
Published January 18, 2018.
Aminatou: Welcome to Call Your Girlfriend!
Ann: A podcast for long-distance besties everywhere.
Aminatou: I'm Aminatou Sow.
Ann: And I'm Ann Friedman. On this week's agenda an update about one of our favorite scammers Wendi Deng, a nightmare contraception app that is scamming the women of Europe, Kim K had her baby, DJ Khaled is repping Weight Watchers, and CVS is trying to get woke. Plus content warning as we delve into the #MeToo backlash and talk about what the movement's critics are getting completely wrong.
Aminatou: Hey girl!
Ann: Hey, hey, hey. How're you doing?
Aminatou: Oh, I'm like fake upbeat, but yeah, doing great. [Laughs]
Ann: Oh my god, I am also fake upbeat, a.k.a. sick with a cold and day two menstrual and worried about the apocalypse.
Aminatou: Yo, like that sneezing plus bleeding sensation, the worst.
Ann: I mean there's a lot of dripping happening over here. I'm sorry for the graphic depiction but it is -- yeah.
Aminatou: Yeah. You are not even sorry.
Ann: I'm not even sorry. You're correct. Lots of . . . I had a news-free weekend so I'm also coming back to, you know, the news, which is a come-down, not like a come-back.
Aminatou: Nothing happened while you were away. Literally nothing.
Ann: Good to know. Good to know.
Aminatou: Nothing happened except my favorite thing happened.
Ann: What is your favorite thing?
Aminatou: Wendi Deng update! [Music]
Ann: Oh, scammer call-back!
Aminatou: Our favorite scammer. Okay, for the people who don't know who Wendi Deng is really quickly just read her Wikipedia. Wendi Deng is like the bad bitch to end all bad bitches. She got this American couple to adopt her and then she had the wife teach her English, sponsor her visa, pay for college, and then she had the husband marry her and get rid of the wife. [Laughs]
Aminatou: She's an icon. That was like her first husband, then she had many other husbands -- maybe, who knows? -- but then the relevant husband is she married Rupert Murdoch who if you don't know him, you should also Wikipedia him. He is not a bad bitch. But anyway, the Wall Street Journal -- and this is how you know it's true -- when the Wall Street Journal goes after the Cheeto it's always true because you know they're in bed together.
Ann: You wouldn't bite the hand that . . . P.S., I feel compelled to note that she and Rupert Murdoch are now actually divorced, P.S.
Aminatou: Yes. They are divorced. This is part of it.
Ann: Right, right, right. I'm just saying as you did the marital status update I was like, you know . . .
Ann: She's on the market.
Aminatou: Because allegedly, according to the Wall Street Journal, she cheated on Rupert with Tony Blair, erstwhile British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
Ann: Erstwhile Prime Minister Tony Blair. [Laughs]
Aminatou: There's like a really disturbing anecdote about how she said his butt was cute. Anyway, Google it. Do yourself.
Ann: Google Tony Blair's butt or the quote? Guess which one I'm Googling right now?
Aminatou: [Laughs] Yes, do it. The FBI will come for you in two minutes flat. But the other thing that is remarkable about Wendi Deng is she's kind of the reason we have Jivanka at all. She either set them up or got them back together after they broke up or whatever, but they're really good friends. It's like how rich people are friends, like Illuminati level friends. Anyway, according to the Wall Street Journal the deep state warned Jared about . . . [Laughs] I love like the deep state intelligence community. They warned Jared about the fact that Wendi Deng is probably a Chinese spy. And I was like this is racist but also I'm very compelled. Ann, I don't know what to believe or who to believe but it was the best plot twist of my life.
Ann: My jaw is hanging open and it's not from the Google search for Tony Blair's butt, let me just put it that way. [Laughs]
Aminatou: [Laughs] Okay, what did the quote say?
Ann: Oh no, I searched for Tony Blair's butt, like images.
Aminatou: Oh no. Here's the thing I will say about Wendi: She definitely married Rupert Murdoch for money. We know that. But everybody since then she has been with because they have a good body. So if she says . . . [Laughs]
Ann: Her intentions are pure.
Aminatou: Exactly, her intentions are pure. She's had the glow-up of the decade. Just look up old Wendi Deng and then look up new Wendi Deng and you will lose it.
Ann: At one, I think it was our L.A. Live show a few years ago, we had a full slideshow of the Wendi Deng glow-up. So this is like, you know, you can put it together with a Google Image search and the Wikipedia timeline.
Aminatou: Oh my god. But might could be a spy.
Ann: Okay, what's the proof she's a spy? Like tell me what are the receipts?
Aminatou: I mean, Ann, it's the Wall Street Journal and the fact that the deep state -- sorry, the intelligence community . . . [Laughs] Hold on, I'm going to pull up the article because it's too good.
Ann: Is the deep state just racist against Wendi Deng? This is the question.
Aminatou: Ann, here's the thing, all these things can exist and be true.
Ann: True. She could be a spy and the deep state could be racist. Is that what you're saying?
Aminatou: I know, it's what I'm saying. So what happened is Jared was warned about Wendi Deng. So they were like listen, her interests with Beijing are too close. Keep an eye on that. But here's the deal with Jared: Jared is literally not keeping an eye on anything. So if he's not getting bamboozled by a Russian spy and he gets bamboozled by a Chinese spy instead -- can you even say bamboozle? Isn't that like a racist word? I'm not sure.
Ann: Good question.
Aminatou: I've been watching a lot of MASH this weekend so it's cool.
Aminatou: But anyway, it's just like everything is murky and not okay. Here's the deal: do I believe that all rich people use their close friendships to powerful people to further their interests with governments they're in bed with? Of course, at some point.
Ann: This is just what it means to be rich.
Aminatou: Exactly. I'm just like I'm sorry, if you're Wendi Deng and you're not doing counterintelligence for any kind of government what is the point even?
Aminatou: Yeah, and to be fair, when Jared and Ivanka go other places and they cozy up to people their intelligence communities tell them these two are American spies. [Laughs] So you know what? All of it is fine.
Ann: Yeah, but the joke's on them because they're not American spies. They're just like American struggling businesspeople.
Aminatou: I know, struggling. Those two.
Ann: Like it would be a compliment to call Jivanka American spies because that would mean they were doing anything in the interest of this country. It would be a compliment to refer to them as spies.
Aminatou: I know. I'm like as long as they go to jail I don't care if it's for espionage or money laundering. [Laughs] I'm like I don't care. All I know is incompetence will be the reason why. So I just love a good Wendi Deng story so I'm glad that she's back. I am a little worried though that she hasn't changed her name. Like her full name is Wendi Deng Murdoch. And I was like Wendi, just drop the Murdoch. You're a free agent now.
Ann: I can't hold it against her. I remember having a conversation with a friend once who was trying to figure about how she decided what to name her children, and she was like "Yeah, for a while I thought about just giving them the last name Rockefeller so that they would get really great treatment around New York."
Ann: And I feel like it's the same thing. A name is an important thing in certain circles and get what you need to get.
Aminatou: That is so funny, because one, you know there's always like . . . I feel like every year there's a story about a phony Rockefeller.
Ann: Oh my god, completely.
Aminatou: So nobody will believe you. There's always some German guy who's like "I'm a Rockefeller," and stealing people's art. But also this very devious housewife in the Beverly Hills Housewives franchise, she told people she was a Ford, like Henry Ford Ford. And it is not working out for her either. But yeah, maybe I will change my name to Rockefeller.
Ann: Yeah, in the feminist marriage name change debate I'm like in order to access money on your own it's like you know I still probably wouldn't do it but I also respect it as a reason. I see what you're doing.
Ann: There's a strategy there.
Aminatou: Like I'm like no matter who I marry I'm going to change my name to Winfrey.
Ann: Exactly. What's what I'm talking about.
Aminatou: That's what's going to happen. Okay, Ann, thank you for the inspiration.
Ann: You're welcome. And also side note that is apropos of nothing my friend was on a flight with Steadman this week.
Aminatou: No, Steadman?
Ann: Completely. Honeygram was on the flight.
Aminatou: Honeygram. [Laughs] Oh my god, Honeygram when the edible wears off, he is so alive.
Ann: I also felt like a cold chill through my heart when she texted me "Stedman's on my flight," and then made clear Oprah's Stedman as if there's any other Stedman. [Laughs]
Aminatou: I know. It's like which other Stedman? Like I don't even know if Stedman is his first name or last name and frankly I don't care.
Ann: I know. I know.
Aminatou: Yeah, but I'm like Stedman? Future FLOTUS? Done.
Ann: Oh my god, I can't . . .
Aminatou: Oprah makes Stedman fly commercial. I love this. Oh yeah, he definitely goes by Stedman Winfrey. [Laughs]
Ann: Stedman Honeygram Winfrey is not going back to Graham if there is ever a divorce. He's just going to be Stedman Winfrey forever, so this game works both directions gender-wise.
Aminatou: That's amazing. Guess what? If you don't get married you don't have to get divorced. Oprah knows exactly what she's doing.
Ann: Ugh, protect your money. Never file jointly.
Aminatou: [Laughs] That's amazing. I would lose my mind if Stedman was on my flight.
Ann: Okay, oh my god, let's talk about this LOLio contraception app because I am dying.
Aminatou: Ann, okay, so I feel like in the earlier days of CYG we definitely talked about rhythm methods and all sorts of fertility woowoo stuff that people were doing.
Ann: Okay, first of all . . .
Aminatou: Wait, can I finish? [Laughs]
Ann: Yeah, yeah, I just wanted the terminology to be correct.
Aminatou: Okay, what was correct? What was incorrect so far?
Ann: Well, rhythm method is not like every . . . it's not what all of these apps are doing. It's what some of the apps are doing.
Aminatou: I know. I haven't said that yet.
Ann: That's just to be clear.
Ann: Okay, sorry. Rhythm method is just like a red flag. Okay, just start over. Sorry. I won't interrupt you.
Aminatou: No, I was just saying that in the early days of CYG we talked a lot about fertility and different fertility methods -- Ann -- that people were using. Things that were alternatives to hormonal contraceptives. Anyway, I was reading about one such act that is called Natural Cycles. It's a European app that basically it tells you the algorithm will measure all the fertility factors you need to find out when you're fertile. I used to use a period tracker and I completely trust an application not do period tracking for me because literally it's just a calendar. Trusting an application algorithm to tell me about fertility is something that honestly to me is just like a big red flag. I'm like do I really want to trust these greedy public sector people or private sector people to do this for me? Anyway, it turns out that Natural Cycles, the app, is being sued right now because 37 women have gotten pregnant from using it or misusing it rather.
Ann: Because the app said that they were not fertile and they went on to have sex with a person with a penis and got pregnant is what you're saying?
Aminatou: And got pregnant. And it's just, you know, part of it is very LOL like funny. But the other part of it to me is I'm like God, why do we keep trusting Silicon Valley with these really important parts of our body? And I completely understand the inclination to do that. I just feel like the tech people, they don't have the trust level that you should trust them to be your fertility application, you know what I'm saying? It's like don't put your hands in the hands of the iPhone.
Ann: Yeah. I lay much of this at the feet of public officials who certified this Natural Cycles app as a medical device for contraception. So basically they did some clinical studies apparently on women using this app or people using this app and about its effectiveness then gave it this certification that was akin to a medical device like an IUD or a hormone-based drug or something like that. And to me that is, you know, the distinction here of are you using an act in order to record and track info about your bod that you want to use to make choices? Like definitely one thing. Versus are you using an app to tell you definitively it is okay to have unprotected sex right now with a dude? Those to me seem very, very different things.
Aminatou: 100%. I'm like the pedometer on the iPhone barely works. Why would you trust the fertility pedometer? No way.
Ann: Oh my god, can I tell you a sidebar that is related to both Fitbit and CYG which is a friend of the podcast was on a different airplane and saw a person shaking her arm in order to get her steps in every hour with the Fitbit on the plane.
Aminatou: [Laughs] I've seen those cheaters.
Ann: Totally. And was like what's going on with this person? It took her a minute to figure out what this woman was doing. And then peered around the aisle and could see her phone and she was listening to CYG. So shout out. [Laughs]
Aminatou: [Laughs] Oh my god.
Ann: Shout out to all CYG listeners gaming the Fitbit pedometer system.
Aminatou: Oh my god, the Fitbit fraudsters. Hello, that's amazing.
Ann: Right, yeah.
Aminatou: That is amazing for many reasons.
Ann: But with a slightly lower stakes than an app called Natural Cycles telling you it is okay to . . . that you are definitely not fertile at the moment and cannot get pregnant, which is bonkers to me.
Aminatou: I know. This app has 700,000 users worldwide. You know, 37 pregnancies doesn't seem like a lot but actually it is a lot.
Aminatou: And also technology, I want it to be used for good and it can. But I'm like wow, I'm such a Democrat, I'm like where's the regulation?
Ann: For sure though. This is why we have a Food and Drug Administration. This is why regulatory bodies decide what is effective and approve things and tell people to use it, which is why I lay this at the feet of regulatory officials as much or more so as the app makers because it's like you have failed in your duty by telling people this is okay to use.
Aminatou: Ann, if you came to me and you had an app baby I would make you keep it.
Ann: An app baby. Oh my god, wow. Wow.
Aminatou: [Laughs] I'm like this is where I draw the line.
Ann: This is where your politics really get real, if I brought this on myself by having an app baby.
Aminatou: And I would make you call it iPhone. And I'm like I will help you raise this baby.
Ann: Make me call it Natural Cycles.
Ann: I am so annoyed by the title of this app too. It is a particular -- what's that word -- bugaboo to quote Destiny's Child.
Aminatou: I know! About making it seem like natural as opposed to . . . yeah. I hear you.
Ann: Yeah. Coding things as natural is really kind of upsetting to me in an era where it's like okay, how many million choices do we make every day that are not natural on purely biological grounds? Or how many things . . . it is not natural for me to put expensive face oil on my face every day. Shouldn't my body just be creating oil?
Ann: It's not natural to want to curtail when you're getting pregnant at all by some definitions. It's not natural to take hormones for any reason by some definitions. You know, there's something about it that feels like creating a category that doesn't need to exist for a choice that some people might want to make about their bodies. Maybe this is some west coast baggage about things being called natural.
Aminatou: No, it's like women's baggage. Because I think that's true, right? And it's like and trusting as serious as contraception to people who do this kind of marketing is very dangerous.
Ann: Right. The framing of an app like this as something that is -- it should just be called Body Information App or something like that. Something really catchy.
Aminatou: [Laughs] Oh my god. Don't say it on the show. That's my million dollar idea.
Ann: Body Info.
Aminatou: I know.
Ann: Body Info is actually the name of my app baby.
Aminatou: Body Info. But it's really funny too because every time I read about it, it was clearly going around in all the tech news, like tech bro publications or whatever. And I love reading the comments on those because I was like I bet you they all say the same thing, and surprise, surprise, they did. It was all some sort of variation of like "If you can't handle the risks that come with having sex then you shouldn't have sex."
Aminatou: And I was like whoa, spoken by somebody 1) who doesn't have to carry a baby, and 2) I'm like who are these 21st century people that think that all sex is about procreation? I'm like are we really doing this?
Aminatou: Like that was really surprising to me coming from people who you think should have more, I don't know, liberal scientific attitudes towards things. And I was like yeah, this is again how women get caught in this terrible feedback loop of you're responsible for everything. So all of this to say contraception is important. You should talk to your doctor about what the best method of contraception is for you and how to stick to it.
Ann: Right. And also knowing your body is cool too but don't conflate those two things, always. [Laughs]
Aminatou: Oh my god, please. My body is probably trying to get pregnant all the time so no thank you. [Laughs]
Ann: Oh my god. Can I tell you a disturbing thing that happened when I tried to load this article?
Aminatou: Tell me.
Ann: Which is for some reason, you know how sometimes the ads in something load faster or load differently than the actual content?
Ann: This article about the contraceptive app, it loaded a like "Hey, recommended stories up next" video of a woman in a space suit that says "I wore a Mars space suit and it was exhausting."
Ann: And for a split second I thought there was some sort of contraception full-body suit that was being hit with complaints after being blamed for 37 unwanted pregnancies. And I was like wow, if it can get through the suit.
Aminatou: I'm like that's a risk I'm willing to take. Give me the suit.
Ann: Exactly. You know, a totally natural, full-body space suit that you wear to prevent pregnancy.
Aminatou: Full-body condom.
Ann: Full-body condom. Ugh.
Ann: I feel like that's a good segue into Kim had her baby if you want.
Aminatou: What do you think they're going to call it? It's a girl.
Ann: Great game. I mean Natural Cycles is already taken.
Ann: East? South? Like those probably seem popular in the baby name pool. I don't know. I mean . . .
Aminatou: North is such a good game. I'm like I don't know, man. I was convinced that Kylie was Kim's surrogate which was why we hadn't seen Kylie yet but, you know -- because I love drama so I was like oh my god, what would be better than having a surrogate is having your own sister carry the baby. That's genius.
Aminatou: Anyway, I'm pretty sure that's not what happened so we're also still waiting for Kylie's baby.
Ann: You don't sound that excited.
Aminatou: I'm not going to lie to you, I have a little bit of Kardashian fatigue.
Ann: Whoa. Is this because of everything with the multiple pregnancy announcements, like orchestrated reveal . . .
Aminatou: Yeah. I feel like they didn't stagger the pregnancies well enough for me. [Laughs]
Ann: Maybe they were using an app.
Aminatou: Yeah, you know -- no, that's not it. You know like some weeks where you're like oh, the politics are so fucked up, I don't have time for pop culture shit? That's how I feel. I'm like once Assad introduces the baby on his Instagram then I'll be into it again.
Ann: I can't.
Aminatou: [Laughs] Oh my god, did you see that DJ Khaled is a Weight Watchers spokesperson with Oprah?
Ann: Oh my god, I did. I did.
Aminatou: And I am dying. I'm like I have so many thoughts about this but I think DJ Khaled is just right and I don't want him to get sucked into Oprah's body issue problems but also I am fascinated.
Ann: And there is a part of me too that's like for something that has been so gendered as a thing -- I mean, listen, this is not a positive thing right? But it's sort of like one of those when terrible pressures of the patriarchy come home to roost for men too kinds of things where I'm like oh, not happy that this is being extended to everyone when I would rather it just ends but also on a level of this is not something that is just sold as a thing for women to worry about. I don't know. It's complicated.
Aminatou: I know. It's like if it had been any other male celebrity I would legit worry about body dysmorphia. And then with DJ Khaled I'm like wow, you're really in this just for the money. This is amazing.
Ann: Oh, completely.
Aminatou: This is amazing. But also it's like the product is really funny. Weight Watchers is like the perfect scam, right? It's like first you've got to come to all these classes, talk to people, and then every couple of years they rebrand so you buy their shit.
Ann: Oh, it's the WW Freestyle.
Aminatou: Oh yes, I was going to call it remix.
Aminatou: But, you know, first they were like now we do points, right? So it's like you've got to hoard all your points for a glass of wine so you can't eat all this shit. And now they're doing this Freestyle thing which just means you can do whatever you want basically, or whatever the version of that is. And I'm like capitalism is so dirty. It is so dirty. It's also, you know, but on some level I can see why for some people, this kind of diet makes sense. But then when you think about how much stuff they're trying to sell you instead of teaching you how to eat normally, you're just like hmm, I don't believe any of this. But also if DJ Khaled is the owner of your diet I don't know what you want for your life.
Ann: The first thought that I had when I saw this was like how many points is Ciroc?
Ann: The very public aspects of what I know he consumes, which you know, lots of lovingly-photographed fruit salads and things like that too. But I just like the idea that multiple endorsements . . . how does the picture of the dirty capitalist game of all these different types of endorsements fit together for someone like that? I don't know. It's fascinating. I would love to see the balance sheet.
Aminatou: Yeah. You know the other thing, like when you were talking about how gendered this thing is, the thing that I definitely noticed from the announcement when they announced DJ Khaled is he gets to be the social media ambassador. Like I think that that's a little different. But also all of his ads are very different from when they had women do the ads. Like the women are always like "Oh my god, you can eat bread now." Like there's still such a focus on food. And with him there's just a focus on motivation, you know? And it's like oh, I'm doing this so I can be there for my son and I can make new habits. He has not mentioned one item of food. And usually when people become Weight Watchers spokespeople they've already lost a lot of weight.
Aminatou: Like that's how they get you in, like "This is what Jennifer Hudson did to get small" or "Here's what Oprah's been doing." With DJ Khaled he just gets to be himself which I guess is commendable on one level but on the other level I'm like I'm a woke feminist so I see everything that's happening here.
Ann: Yeah. He's like the perfect pivot for a company that is 100% making a profit off of diet culture but also wants to say it's not about diet culture and it's not about external body norms and fat phobia; it's about being your best self. You know, he's the perfect . . . like all of these talking points are exactly aligned with that.
Aminatou: I know. But also, Ann, he says that eggs, chicken, and sashimi are major keys and they're on menus. [Laughs] Like my god. My god. Yeah, this whole thing is just very . . . I'm like if they have a woman who is DJ Khaled's size doing Weight Watchers ads then I will believe that Weight Watchers is not evil.
Ann: Yeah. I mean the other thing too of being like okay, actually part of this contract doesn't mean that your body is not allowed to change. The idea that maybe he can be an ambassador, like in a true context of this is about wellness and maybe actually gain weight. Like some people when they're getting healthy build muscle and end up gaining weight, not losing a ton of weight. Like if there were points . . .
Aminatou: Ann, that's too much nuance for the wellness conversation. What? [Laughs]
Ann: This is what I'm saying. This is what I'm saying though.
Aminatou: I agree. I agree.
Ann: Maybe they can prove me wrong in the long-term but I am skeptical.
Aminatou: Yeah. Or just, you know, it's like CYG, we 100% believe in healthy lifestyles but also our third eyes are wide open.
Ann: Did you just call us a lifestyle brand?
Aminatou: [Laughs] Inshallah, one day.
Ann: One day, third eye lifestyle brand.
[Music and Ads]
Aminatou: Ooh, speaking along the lines of body image, CVS pharmacies -- a beloved pharmacy of some people . . .
Aminatou: Listen, listen, we have friends who are fanatics about CVS beauty products. You know what I'm talking about.
Ann: I mean I'm a fanatic about the CVS eyedrops. That's about it. Maybe there's a separate episode not endorsing . . .
Aminatou: There's a separate episode. We'll talk about lipsticks that you can buy at CVS. That's a different episode.
Ann: Oh my god. Not for free though. [Laughs]
Aminatou: Listen, this is capitalism. Nothing is free. But one kind of remarkable thing is CVS just announced that they are no longer going to digitally alter any of their inhouse beauty ads, so that seems like a small thing but actually is a really big thing because all of these pharmacies make hella money selling beauty products. And if you hadn't noticed they Photoshop the shit out of everybody. So the beauty standards are ludicrous.
Ann: Help me understand what an inhouse beauty ad is. Is it like the stuff at the end of the aisle that's a photo of . . .
Aminatou: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Ann: That's like this is the makeup aisle or whatever, like that? Or on the packages? Or what?
Aminatou: Yes, the beautiful blonde lady that will be like "Here's the makeup aisle" and she looks definitely only three years younger than your mom but she looks beautiful. You know what I'm saying? They always have those ads. And that's for the CVS-branded products. And the thing is those ads are huge. They're just full-blown, all over the store, to the point where most people don't even realize, you know? But the Photoshopping is out of control. I'm not opposed to some retouching every once in a while but when you're literally altering people's faces I'm not into that. You know, it's really easy to be like "Well, I'm a responsible consumer of media," or whatever. But this stuff, actually studies show that in young girls and in young women it really perpetrates unrealistic body images and has a ton of negative health effects.
Ann: Yeah, it's funny because reading this article they say that ads that have not been altered or Photoshopped or retouched will have an ad that they're calling the beauty mark watermark on the top-right corner. But if we had a real Consumer Protection Agency having a similar thing but that indicates it is Photoshopped seems like a better policy to me. Like what if every magazine cover had to contain a label that says this is actually a computer, not a person?
Aminatou: I know.
Ann: This is completely . . . like that's the sort of thing I think would make a difference because part of me is like okay, it's cool to have your internal logic about this but it is . . .
Aminatou: Right. It's like the damage has already been done. People already know what these Photoshopped or unrealistic body images look like. But also I'm always so shocked that we're still having this conversation because I feel like it was a big conversation a couple years ago for sure.
Ann: I mean 2010 Jezebel, yeah.
Aminatou: I know, when Jezebel started buying the untouched photos of magazines. But even before then I feel like there's always been an awareness of this. But at the same time, yeah, it's like capitalism is dirty. There's this . . . I don't know if you saw this maybe recently. There is -- what's her name? Wife of David Beckham. Victoria Beckham, who is like a fashion mogul in her own right. But anyway there's a sunglass ad for her brand where the model is very, very, very thin. Like thin in a way that I had not seen in an ad since like the '90s, you know?
Ann: Since the heroin chic era.
Aminatou: Yes! Since I was like oh, no, these are the ads our moms used to write in about. Who does this anymore? And I was like oh, this is what happens when you don't have forceful standards about this stuff is people will slip back into these very retro ideas of what you're allowed to do. I feel that most fashion people have been chastened into not doing that kind of advertising anymore and in fact that's not true. It's like this is what happens when you don't have a union, but that's a different conversation. [Laughs]
Ann: It's true. And it's also there is a part of me that is like seeing this label on a woman who is very already conventional beauty standards accepting, like blonde, thin, white, whatever, and seeing this like don't worry, it isn't Photoshopped stamp, there is a part of me that's like really? That's bragging at a certain point.
Ann: You look at this woman who is also very beautiful and clearly also wearing a lot of makeup and whatever and is just like . . .
Aminatou: I'm just like bring back pores. What is happening here? [Laughs]
Ann: Oh my god, pores, where have you gone? Yeah.
Aminatou: I know. It's like this kind of stuff I feel like we have a general awareness of but then, you know, it would've been so helpful to know when I was that 15-year-old reading beauty magazines. I think about so many young girls who just get taken into this and it's so easy to be cynical about it, but I'm like no, this stuff actually matters. But nobody is doing smart education around it.
Ann: Yeah. It was interesting, though. I mean I do think that it can creep in even when you are aware of what's going on and you're not a young girl because I had a conversation with a friend who'd spent a few weeks in Cuba recently and she was like yeah, it actually did make me feel different about myself to be in a place that I was not bombarded with advertising all the time out in the world. I felt differently, and it was a thing that I didn't notice until I kind of came back and was seeing this kind of one-note depiction of women and women's bodies everywhere I went that I realized how good it had felt to not be confronted with that as I was just going about my day. And so I'm not full-on tinfoil subliminal messages arguing here but it's definitely true that it has an effect. Yeah.
Aminatou: No, advertising works. It works. It 100% has an effect on you. And I think that's honestly the part that's so dangerous is you don't realize how much it's affecting you until you're confronted by it, right? And it's like thinking about even things like how the beauty aesthetic on reality TV has changed so much or whatever and how quickly these beauty norms are changing or how so many people are having plastic surgery and not talking about it or whatever, and the magazines are just like why don't you look this good? And it's like well, actually, this is a question that involves a lot of tools.
Ann: Yeah. It's like an interesting question, right? Where are the rules around this sort of thing? If you've had quite a lot of plastic surgery and the makeup is airbrushed on your face in extreme layers by a professional and your photo is on a CVS ad but you have not been digitally retouched, does it get the stamp of approval? You know what I mean? It's like all part of the same type of stuff.
Aminatou: Yeah, the game is dirty.
Aminatou: Okay, I feel like we're running away from our Me Too check-in.
Ann: I know we are. Do you want to do . . .
Aminatou: We should probably do it.
Ann: We should check in on the Me Too backlash wave which is cresting. Neither of us want to do it. I feel like it's very telling. It's not that I feel over this; I am still avidly reading about many things that are happening in many industries. But I'm having, I don't know . . .
Aminatou: I just can't do the day-to-day of it honestly. I think that there's two things that are happening for me. It's that one, some of it is definitely triggering me and I'm not dealing with it. Because not that I think I'm above being triggered or whatever; it's like I consume so much media. But I have to say that everything around the gymnastics girls has been really hard for me to stomach.
Ann: Oh, yeah.
Aminatou: That has just been really, really incredibly hard. I think the other thing that I'm having too is everything is moving so fast and I feel that we're at the point of the wave where all the hypocrites are coming out of the woodwork right now where I'm like let's see, because everybody wants every day to be monumental. And I'm like why don't you people just wait to have more information? Not everything has to move at this breakneck speed. But also everybody is being a vigilante about the backlash right now, right? Trying to squash every lying woman that could potentially lie about this. And I'm like this is . . . it's just interesting to see people who think that they're being the reasonable ones do very unreasonable things.
Ann: Yeah. There's a thing happening here where Catherine Deneuve and the letter from all of those women who I think she has since said some kind of apology for it . . .
Aminatou: She has apologized to the women who have been sexually abused. She's like I'm sorry to you, but she is not sorry about signing the letter that she signed.
Ann: Right. She has not apologized to all of womanity as is required. Yeah, then there's the strain that is like the Margaret Atwood I'm just here for due process types that are somehow conflating every single thing that's happening with a call for men to be jailed or something like that. I get so angry when I see people be like "But due process!" And it's like actually in many, many cases the women who are coming forward about these stories are not saying lock them up.
Aminatou: I know. Like who has gone to jail?
Aminatou: I'm like what? What is happening here?
Ann: Right. And honestly I think it's a response to a perceived tone in the conversation in media. It is not a response to what women and other people are saying when they come forward with an actual story. It's the straw woman argument that is kind of like an older generation cool girl type thing of let's not . . . due process is still important. I am all for the people who were victims of Harvey Weinstein or people who were harassed in the workplace by a superior with a violent aspect. You know what I mean? There's all these ifs, ifs, ifs.
Ann: Trying to set a series of criteria for like when is it okay to share your story publicly? And that is the biggest red flag for me of you are not listening to the women who are actually speaking.
Aminatou: Yeah. You know, I think you're right about that. I think one thing that I have been feeling, and I've talked to someone else who is -- like I've talked about this on the podcast about being like a survivor of childhood sexual assault and also adulthood sexual assault I guess. And you just realize that part of not wanting . . . even reasonable people say very cruel things, you know? And I think there's just this undercurrent where there are some people who are like okay, we're going to sit back and we're going to listen to the rest of you talk about all of the stuff. And you're reminded why people are still afraid to tell their stories because any time anybody tells their story it is this electrifying moment both for the people who are hearing it and for the person who is telling it. And a lot of times the people who are supposed to be listening are not listening to what that person is saying. Nobody's asking for anybody to go to jail. I'm dying for somebody to be like "What about the fourth amendment? Search and seizure."
Ann: [Laughs] God.
Aminatou: Nobody's calling for your Twitter to be cancelled. Women are just still telling you that they have been hurt. It's like I'm thinking particularly about this woman who wrote about her dating -- the date that she went on with Aziz Ansari, and reading that . . . so I have so many feelings about this. I think that that woman was done a huge disservice by the place that she told to tell her story.
Aminatou: But I'm also not a fool and I know that probably part of the reason she told her story there is because she didn't have anywhere else to tell her story. So yeah, it's like we can discuss the journalism of it, but that encounter was so graphic. Not graphic, but the detail of it was like you were in the room with them. And just hearing kind of the pain that is coming from this person then seeing the 10,000 pieces everywhere from the Atlantic to the New York Times condemning her about her own experience has been really instructive to me. And the thing is there's a way to talk to this person whether you agree with her or not that the encounter that she had was sexual abuse that is not cruel, you know?
Aminatou: And that doesn't invalidate how she feels. Because part of the conversation that we're having about Me Too and that feminists have been having since the beginning of time is maybe the way that dating is does not serve the best interests of women and it doesn't serve our pleasure and it doesn't make us happy. You know, and I think you can debate about whether what this woman has said -- you should go and read it yourself -- whether that amounts to sexual abuse or not. You can decide that for yourself. But here is a relatively powerless person who is telling you about the pain that she is experiencing and went on this date where frankly to me I'm like the first word that comes to mind is coercion, and this terrible, terrible experience that she's had.
And to hear women like Caitlin Flanagan and that terrible one at the New York Times whose name I won't even say because she drives me crazy. She's like the most irresponsible human being in the world. You know, just to be like "Why didn't she leave? Why didn't she . . ." And I'm like are you listening to yourself? How many steps backwards is this setting women that literally now the standard . . . it's like why weren't you strong enough to resist the advances of a famous person? And why didn't you get yourself out of that room? I was like we've already litigated all of these things. We know why women don't do them. And also this person is just telling you her story. She's not asking for anything. She's like clearly something traumatic happened to her and she has a right like everybody else to tell her story. And then we can parse out what we feel about it. But being cruel and unkind to her is not the way to move the conversation forward.
Ann: Absolutely. And you know how you know it's a backlash is when they do this pretty incredible flip, right? Where they're like listen -- I'm looking at Margaret Atwood in particular here but other people do this as well -- of like "Listen, I'm a feminist." [Laughs] You know? "I believe rape is bad. I'm not a monster."
Aminatou: You're like allegedly.
Ann: Allegedly. "I believe women who have been through real trauma . . ." That is the implication here, right? And yet there is this implied note of "I get to make the rules about whose stories are worth hearing and I get to make the rules about what everyone should be doing about those stories." Like the idea that it's not just, as you say, this woman should be able to talk about what happened to her and leave it at that and not be responsible for other people saying this guy should be fired or thrown in jail or whatever. No, no, that's too much. She has to be used as essentially proof of these other air quote "feminist" intellectual independence from the idea of believing women. And I think this is interesting too. It's not even about believing women; it's about hearing women. Like basically hearing them. That's it. You don't even have to . . . no one is asking Margaret Atwood to believe what this woman is saying and in her heart of hearts change how she feels about Aziz Ansari or anyone else. All we're asking is take her story into account, know it, and use that to make your own choices about how you want to deal with his work. It is not like there's a multi-page petition calling for him to be axed from his relationship with Netflix or whatever.
Aminatou: Right, right. And also Aziz Ansari does not exist in a vacuum, right?
Aminatou: Here is a guy that has made a career off of calling himself a feminist, off of reinforcing the fact that unlike other guys he understands non-verbal cues. So much of his standup is about that.
Aminatou: And he's like the nice guy. And the thing is . . .
Ann: And wrote a book about dating, P.S. Wrote a book about dating.
Aminatou: Wrote a book about dating that I actually recommend to a lot of people because -- and I think we've discussed this on the show before where I said it was the first time that I read a dating book that wasn't gendered, you know?
Aminatou: It was for everybody. Because most dating books are like Women Are From Mars, Men Love Bitches. It's always like everybody buy your own separate book and read it and we'll meet in the middle somewhere, right? And also, you know, to be clear make up your own mind about what you think about that encounter. But that women is not telling that story out completely in a vacuum. It's like here is the reality of the world we live in. And here's the other thing: if we had more honest conversations about how even nice guys have shitty sex all the time and how bad dating is and we used precise words and precise vocabulary and we really talked about all these terrible sexual encounters that are not criminal encounters people wouldn't need to tell their life stories to websites named babe.net because we've been having that conversation for a long time, you know?
And for me that's part of it. The other part of it -- like the thing that I've been really disappointed to the response to this, and some people have said that it's generational. I don't believe that because I've seen women my own age . . .
Ann: Oh, definitely not. Yeah.
Aminatou: No, I don't think that it's a generational thing, but I do think there are women who pride themselves in being strong and in being self-sufficient and knowing . . . it's almost like the war reporter model of "I know how to get into the Congo. What are you going to do?" Where there's this looking down on other women for choices that they make, and to make them look weak in this moment, you know? And that for me has been really hard to stomach. I'm like this woman is like 23. I think about where . . . I think about myself at 23 and I feel very tender about this person, whether you think it was just like a celebrity date gone wrong or you think that it's the complete other end of the spectrum. We're just like people trying to make it in the world and shit like this can destabilize you for a really long time.
I am somebody who has gone through all sorts of sexual trauma and on my good days I think I handle life pretty well. I'm like I've gotten over it and I'm navigating through the world and everything is fine. But it's like there are the hard days and there are the shitty days and hearing a national conversation about this that basically shuts down somebody for telling their story, or even worse blames them for being in a place they're not supposed to be, that has been really hard for me to stomach. That's what makes me curl up into my bed in the fetal position.
Ann: Yeah, and you know, when I hear that too I think about some of the big picture arguments made by some of the women who are . . . there are some men saying this too, but I'm going to specifically say the women who are saying "Oh, if you choose to believe women -- all women's stories that they're saying -- and you're choosing to listen to them as important, then you are somehow implying that all women are victims, all women are weak." That strain of argument where there's a clear desire to distance themselves from the idea that this type of behavior is widespread and part of everyday life for a large percentage of people in this country as if that will somehow protect them or has. And I truly believe that goes so deep. Oh, maybe if I in my head say that this is not as widespread as it really is, that these women are outliers or are complaining or are lumping things together that don't need to be lumped together, any variety of argument, then I am safe. Like I truly think that that is the lie that they tell themselves.
Aminatou: I think that's true, or that if something hasn't happened to you that it can't be a universal experience for a lot of people.
Aminatou: You know, you see this so much even on a smaller level. People are like "Well I've never been street harassed," or "I've never been whatever, harassed or blah, blah, blah." It's like yes, that's great, but again you're making this very individual thing out to discredit a systemic thing that we know is real. I'm so stuck on having empathy and compassion for people who tell their stories -- for women who do it -- because the thing is every single time it proves to be just earth-shattering. Even this Aziz Ansari account that everybody is condemning, I'm remembering that the first story about Jian Ghomeshi was basically exactly this thing. It was like a woman who wrote a blog post. She didn't even go to "journalists" -- big air quotes -- but she wrote a blog post about a terrible dating encounter that she had with him then it updated these flood gates, right? It's like well, this is day two of Ansarigate. Let's see what the rest of the week brings and the rest of the month brings. And it's like maybe nobody will come forward and you can still make up your mind about what you think somebody who calls themselves a progressive dude, this is how he treats the women that he dates, or you can say that that means nothing to you.
But it's so wild to me to stake your entire opinion and claim on just one example and also just to try to crucify this young woman for a thing that is like, you know -- like Oprah says, tell your truth. Then everybody can decide. You know, people can decide what that is. There's also just this undercurrent of people don't realize that women can be skeptical readers.
Ann: Wait, what? I'm sorry, we can be -- really?
Aminatou: That I can read this woman's account, right, and be like "Oh my god, who edited this piece? This is crazy. I would not have included these details. What a terrible disservice you were done," and also still grapple with the issues that are there, right? Like this woman telling her story is not what is going to destroy Aziz Ansari's career. Are you serious?
Ann: Yeah. I mean completely. And I think too I don't know if you saw the whole exchange with Dan Harmon and the woman who had worked . . .
Aminatou: You know, I was going to bring that up next. That's great.
Ann: I think -- so Dan Harmon is the guy who created the show Community and whatever, is like a big TV writer person. And a woman who had worked in a position of less seniority than him on one of the shows he'd worked on had shared about her experience of being hit on by him and rebuffing his advances and then being frozen out in the workplace as a result. This is I think something she had maybe alluded to before, or said something about before, but really reiterated and was clear about in part because this is a moment when a lot of women are reiterating and being clear about their experiences. And he apologized to her in a way that was not just kind of like a cover your ass legalese. And essentially as part of the apology said "You weren't crazy. I did in fact get bitter and make your life in the office harder after you rejected my advances which I shouldn't have made in the first place because I was your boss."
Aminatou: "And I poisoned the workplace for every other person there also in doing that."
Aminatou: Like it wasn't just the two of them that it involved; it involved their relationships with everybody.
Ann: And I think that that's really important because she has since said "I am satisfied with this," essentially. Not like I'm happy it happened, but really the acknowledgement that I wasn't crazy, that what you did was wrong, and that you screwed things up for me in particular and lots of other people and you're sorry for it. All of those things are what I wanted. And she's like -- I read his apology because she linked to it.
Ann: She was like go read this. And I think that is such a perfect counterexample to people who are like everyone who shares a story that is anything on a spectrum from Harvey Weinstein to Aziz Ansari and everything either direction and everywhere else is trying to lump it together and send men to jail and get them fired for minor offenses should take note of because she is a great example of someone who is like "This is what I wanted to happen. I wanted the conversation. I wanted the apology. I wanted the reassurance that I wasn't crazy." It's like I drew a lot of hope from that moment in what has otherwise been really difficult and toxic.
Aminatou: Yeah. Her name is Megan Ganz. You should follow her on Twitter.
Aminatou: And you should listen to Dan Harmon's apology because it was on his podcast. It was really healing for me in a way because I'm just like wow, you're telling the entire truth here. And the thing that she responded to him that's the point that you made is she said it's not about revenge; it's about vindication. You know, that's all that she wanted. Nobody is playing this long game of this is how we're going to get all the jobs and send all the men to jail. I mean that's my long game but . . . [Laughs]
Ann: [Laughs] For you personally.
Aminatou: But in the meetings they don't let me say it out loud. You know, but it's just very . . . I know that we're in this very powerful moment where everybody is just on high alert about a lot of things. But I think just remembering to have a little bit of empathy, and as much as you can to have sympathy for people who are going through this, these are conversations that are worth having, you know? And especially taking it away from the Hollywood celebrity aspect of it, these are conversations that are worth having in our own friend circles, right?
Aminatou: And really challenging each other about when there's somebody in your group that doesn't make people feel safe or you've had encounters that have not been optimal in dating and things like that.
Ann: If you see someone and they make you feel icky and gross because of a thing you didn't do, because of a thing they did that is related to their power in the world, like all of this stuff.
Aminatou: Right. It's like all of this stuff has -- the actual way that you know this stuff is changing and things are different is when it has real effects in your own community, like your own hits close to home. Because it's not going away. We're going to keep talking about it. It's going to keep making people really uncomfortable. And also we don't have the muscle yet of knowing how to process all of this information, and I think that's one thing that is really overwhelming. But the one thing I would challenge everybody with is whenever you say something out loud about how you feel about assault or rape or whatever, really remember that there are people listening to you that that has happened to. And sometimes the things that you say are the reasons they're not sharing their story.
Ann: Right. They're not just abstracted opinions about this issue. They very much affect how individuals feel about their lives and the things that have happened to them and their right to exist and tell their truth in the world.
Ann: Which P.S., survivors, you have a right to tell your truth and exist in the world and we love you. P.S. Yeah.
Aminatou: I know. These conversations are really hard to have. Ann, I really go -- there are days when I don't want to talk about it at all. All I want to do is take a shower and cry. There are days where all I want to do is talk about it. But it's really tough. It's really, really tough. And the only thing I know is the more we talk about it, the more healing can happen.
Aminatou: But it's just the shit is hard. So if this conversation is hard for you, there's no shame in that. You don't have to listen to it. We will put a content warning at the top and you can come back to it whenever you want. There is no shame in not wanting to talk about #MeToo and any of it. Because guess what? It's not like a hashtag for some of us; it's literally our whole lives every single day.
Ann: Yeah, exactly. It's not a moment. This is just reality for many, many, many people who are just trying to get through it. Aw, I love you. I'm sorry.
Ann: I'm picturing you just crying in the shower. I want to tell you I love you.
Aminatou: Oh, you know I love to cry in the shower. My god.
Ann: I know.
Aminatou: The perfect place.
Ann: Wet everywhere.
Aminatou: I'm already wet on the face. It's just, you know, it's hard. It's hard being a woman in this world. It's just hard.
Ann: Yeah. I really do feel like my new response, if I am working out some anger about things that diminish the experience of survivors on social media, I will reply to articles with "Would you read this in front of a room full of survivors? Would you read this in a room full of survivors?"
Ann: I challenge anyone who has written something like this to say it to the faces of many people they know are living this as a reality.
Ann: They can't, spoiler alert.
Aminatou: Spoiler alert. On that note I'm going to go cry in the shower because it's been a long day.
Ann: Okay. I'll see you on the Internet after. Don't take that phone in with you.
Aminatou: [Laughs] I'll see you on the Internet, booboo.
Aminatou: You can find us many places on the Internet, on our website callyourgirlfriend.com, you can download it anywhere you listen to your favorite podcasts, or on Apple Podcasts where we would love it if you left us a review. You can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We're in Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook at callyrgf. You can subscribe to our monthly newsletter The Bleed on the Call Your Girlfriend website. You can even leave us a short and sweet voicemail at 714-681-2943. That's 714-681-CYGF. Our theme song is by Robyn, all original music is composed by Carolyn Pennypacker Riggs, our logos are by Kenesha Sneed, and this podcast is produced by Gina Delvac.