Robespierre, Olivia Pope, & Other Bad Role Models

GOOD NEWS, Dames Nationals! Kacey Musgraves, one of our most beloved artists of recent years, and the coiner of musical bon mots such as:


(both from the Alarmingly Our Aesthetic music video for her song “Biscuits”)

Has a brand new album out today and it’s really terrific. Dame Sophie (who’s eager to see Kacey as the opening act for her beloved Harold Fashion if she can get her hands on some Philly tickets for considerably less than $300 ) really likes this one! She feels like it’s similar to Madonna’s Ray of Light or Bowie’s Low, like Musgraves is transitioning from one musical vernacular to another, thanks to the unique mix of  qualities like the autotuned electro elements of “Oh, What A World,” the echoes of Fleetwood Mac’s favorite chord progressions, keyboard washes, and sigh-laden backing vocals in “Lonely Weekend” and “Golden Hour,” and the loose, fragmentary feel of “Mother.” Dame Margaret’s thoughts are not nearly as nuanced-- she is too busy getting weirdly giddy over the wordplay in “Space Cowboy”’ and reveling in the COUNTRY POP DISCO banger that is “High Horse.” But even beyond the music of this album, we love that Kacey has always resisted easy packaging, as this terrific profile of her in Texas Monthly shows. One of the big thematic focuses of this profile is Kacey's unwillingness to either make herself sweet enough for the mainstream (don’t make your lead single about the crushing cycle of poverty in a small town!) or artificially challenging enough to be deemed "serious" by a lot of traditional metrics (stop dressing in sequined onesies and light-up cowboy boots!), which is a choice that aligns closely with the ones we make in our newsletter all the time. Like Kacey, we refuse to be either simply sweet or purely salty, instead asserting at all times our sovereign right to be the perfect mix of the two.

So! Listen to the album! Tell us what you think! So! Listen to the album! Tell us what you think! If you’re going to catch her on Harry Styles’s tour, please sing-a-long extra loud for us, and start betting along with us how long it will be until Harry acquires himself a pair of these:

ASK TWO BOSSY DAMES Time: Professional Motivation, Infidelity, and Podcasts Edition!

Our advice is at LEAST as good as any this carafe of wine would give, if it could talk.

It’s that time of the month again, when we dig through the queries submitted to our Handy Dandy Google Form and pick out a few lucky souls to grace with our infinite wisdom. If you’re having a bit of a quandry, never be afraid to ask Your Dames!

Dear Dames,

I am writing because I am currently going through a bit of crisis at work. Usually I am this very motivated, energetic, somewhat tiring colleague who pushes others to meet deadline & standard of quality...and I was recently given an offer to move up to a regional bureau of our global corp., so I guess my crazy work hours were not a total waste. Yet these days (I have yet to make the transition to the regional bureau and I have a lot of projects to complete before I leave), I feel as if I lost my mojo. I think it is because I am now finding my boss' approach to human resources management unjust. She is a good person and she tries hard to provide as much opportunities to all staff, but as a hard worker who abhors free riders, I sometimes feel cheated by her socialist (can I say that?) approach, who in the end treats everyone the same, regardless the effort put in and actual outcomes achieved. I know I shouldn't be bothered too much about this especially as I would be leaving this office in a month, but I am seriously demotivated these days, as I see others not doing much while I am pressured to deliver more than anyone else (and I am most frustrated with this one guy who is a big shirker, who makes way more than any one of us)...
How do you dames deal with this kind of situation? Should I be happy about this idealistic, égalité & fraternité approach to workplace? Maybe I should stop working too hard, but then it would be very noticeable... Do you think I should stop working too hard at the new place?

Burnout workaholic

Dear Burnout Workaholic,

Reading through your letter, we feel like you’re trapped somewhere between being a sweet nut like Craig from Parks & Rec…

… and letting the darkness grab ahold until you’ve gone full Robespierre.

He is really a telling example of what comes from obsessing too much about whether everyone else actually cares as much as you do.

You have got to let this go. The problem here is not your boss’s managerial style-- it’s that you are pouring an unsustainably high amount of yourself into your job, wearing yourself out, and losing yours perspective in the process. For example, you claim your boss treats everyone equally, despite work outcomes, and yet you, the busiest bee, are appropriately being promoted while the colleagues whose luster you deem lacking are staying right where they are. So, whether you agree with your boss’s method of project distribution or not, you cannot reasonably claim that outcomes in your office are performance-resistant. Your manager may not do enough to recognize the work you do, or assure that everyone in the office is pulling their weight, but unless she has demanded you overwork yourself, you have a part you’ve played in this situation that you’re ignoring.

As your time in this office winds down, ask yourself: in the absence of a specific goal, why are you working so hard that it’s made you feel burned out? It may feel natural to point at the rest of your team not contributing as the rationale, but what would happen if you didn’t pull their weight, too? Is it possible, that in the absence of you being a hero, others might have an opportunity to step up, and develop some of the qualities that have led to your promotion? Think about what drives you to absorb more than your fair share of work and how you can work with your new manager to prevent that dynamic from reappearing. If you find yourself continually doing more than your job, or taking on responsibilities for team leadership or management that are beyond your job description, think about pulling back, or meeting with the person who’s actually tasked with the work you’re assuming.

While you work on that, you also need to resist the impulse to demonize those around you instead of examining how your own actions contribute to the stress you’re struggling with. Your reference to some of your colleagues as “free riders” particularly rankles your Dames. It is a perspective that’s sadly lacking in empathy. There are lots of reasons someone might not be performing at 110% at any given point. Can you put yourself in the shoes of a colleague who has a lot of stuff preoccupying them outside of the workplace? Take your pick, it could be anything from an urgent healthcare issue to moving house to a being a primary caregiver for a relative. That stuff does have a way of sending its tendrils into domains where it’s not supposed to exist, but we don’t leave our lives at the door when we clock in. It could be that these people are just naturally lazy-- we don’t know them. But more to the point, beyond work, you don’t necessarily either. And thinking of them as merely lazy does not seem to alleviate your unhappiness around their performance, it seems instead to focus and sharpen it in really problematic ways. We think you’ll be happier and more satisfied at your new job if you give people a little bit more room to be their full selves and practice imaging a cause you can sympathize with that could be at the root of problems that drive you batty.

We have confident that, in this new job, with a wider scope for your energy, you’re going to regain your equilibrium, and become again the cheerful go-getter you’ve always known yourself to be. But, in the meantime, please steer clear of guillotines.

Yours in Liberté, Egalité, and Sororité,

Margaret and Sophie

Hi Dames,

First, thanks for reading my letter and offering your time and wisdom to your readership. We really do appreciate it! :)
I am currently (much as I hate this term) someone's "other woman." About a year ago, my boyfriend of 7 years and I broke up. A few months later, I met a guy with whom I worked and immediately developed a crush on him. He's married with children, so I never thought it'd go anywhere. A few months after that, we started flirting. A few months after that, we started a full-blown affair. Everything about the affair is as exactly as cliche as it sounds. (Seriously, name a trope about affairs, it probably applies to us.) Of course, I know it's extremely wrong (both to his family and to myself), but I can't get myself to stop. I don't think I've ever been so attracted to anyone. And many of his qualities are what I want in a future partner.

I've tried to interrogate what would allow me to do something so objectively wrong. The obvious reason is that he's a rebound. I think there's some truth in that (I do like being wanted), but I think that's only part of it. I've always been the "good girl." I was the person who didn't drink before she was 21, I worked my ass off to get scholarships. Even my personal life was in order. Almost everyone I knew thought I was going to marry my ex before we surprised everyone and broke up. I rarely, if ever, do anything that feels good in the here and now. I rarely even think about what I want. Usually, I think about what I should want or what the rules and authority have told me what to want. This fling is one of the few extremely selfish, extremely pleasurable things I've ever done.

I want to know how I can stop the affair. And I want to know how to nurse my heart when it ends. And I want to know how I can retain some of the selfishness I've learned, without being selfish in such a destructive way. Any advice would be deeply appreciated. Thanks for reading.

The Other Woman

Olivia Pope Traits to Emulate: Ability to keep white garments pristine despite frequent contact with blood AND red wine; Luxe knitwear game; Professional excellence. Olivia Pope Traits to Reject: Wine consumption levels; Long-standing affairs with married men.

Dear Other Woman,

We are going to speak very plainly: if you haven’t done so already, you must end this relationship immediately. You should do so in such a way as to give neither yourself nor the man in question ways to get back together. We recognize that a breakup by text is cold as ice, but that may be what’s called for here. Be brief, be clear, leave no wiggle room. Grab a couple of friends you really trust and let them know your action plan, so you have people to help you stay accountable, and people to lean on when the absence of this affair really hits you and you’re awash with sadness. The moment you’ve sent your breakup missive, unfriend & block him on social media, delete his contact and block all of his phone numbers from your phone.

If you still work with this man, it is even more vitally important to block him from all access to you socially, because you will still have access to each other professionally. That’s going to be awkward as hell. Dame Sophie did a quick comb through the Ask A Manager archives and found a few entries that apply to your situation: (1) I broke up with a coworker, and I'm afraid it will be a problem at work  and (2) Can I refuse to be alone with a coworker who I had an emotional affair with?

We also want to address your self-assessment of how you got into this situation in the first place. You should absolutely invest time in thinking about what you want in every aspect of your life, and by all means, go for it! Selfishness is not inherently bad, and after a lifetime of working hard and playing by every rule (because, we gather, you’re inclined to be a rule-follower and have gotten a lot of good mileage out of that strategy) you’re definitely overdue for a rebalancing of those scales. That rebalancing should place a premium on your actual needs, interests, and desires, which we think you can definitely do without compromising other folks’ relationships.

It must have felt invigorating to finally encounter a bad choice you wanted to make, after decades of responsibly following the rules. But you’re right-- the circumstantial amplifiers like here, from just getting out of a long-term relationship to the dizzying high of being someone desired beyond the bounds of appropriate actions, are all too great to make your belief that this one guy is the partner for you reliable one. Even if he is The One (which we have a hard time imagining anyone who’d lie to his partner and risk his family’s happiness like this would be), he needs to get so much sorted out in his own life before there’s any chance he can be something good in yours. Like, years worth of stuff. And you, in the meantime, probably need to do some work yourself, experiencing a wide range of deliciously selfish choices that hew a little closer to the fun line (take a shower so long the hot water runs out!) and a little further from the emotionally reckless side .

We can tell that you know that your affair with this man has the potential to be professionally explosive as well as deeply hurtful to his family as well as to your good self. Extricate yourself so you can get to the next phase of your life, which we hope will be wonderful, fulfilling, and as fun as you’d like it.

Yours in Faithfully Good Faith,

Sophie and Margaret

Dear Dames,

I'm about to have a winter baby! My first! Wow! Can you recommend any good podcasts to keep me company while sitting indoors nursing a baby for many hours? Some podcasts I already like: Appointment Television :), You Must Remember This, Another Round, Reply All, Hidden Brain. Would like to try something new, but wary of anything that will emotionally blindside me in a tender postpartum state.  -- Sarah (who has probably already had her baby)



Dear Sarah,

First of all, congratulations on the anticipated birth of your baby! We hope everything went smoothly (and would love to see photos if you feel inclined to share them) and figure that you’ve probably found a bunch of great podcasts to enjoy while nursing, but just in case you need more, here are a bunch we are loving right now:

  • Criminal and This Is Love: A pair of half hour-long podcasts by the Same Durham-based team— one tells a true, contained story about some aspect of criminal behavior every other week, and the other does the same, but for stories about how love manifests itself in the world. Tread carefully with Criminal while you’re emotionally raw, but the stories the team finds, from a teen swimmer saving a baby whale from beaching itself to a riot that ensued when a sly bar-owner made the world's most expensive bourbon into Jell-O shots, are riveting, and the compassion with which host Phoebe Judge conveys them is deeply moving.

  • It's Been a Minute with Sam Sanders: A twice weekly show out of NPR that alternates between in-depth interviews with fascinating people every Tuesday and a weekly news roundup every Friday evening. Host Sam Sanders's endearing personality is just the spoonful of sugar necessary to make the medicine of the weekly news swallowable-- and the segment at each episode's end, where listeners share the best thing that's happened to them all week, is guaranteed to make you cry— but only ever in a happy way that’s safe even postpartum.

  • The Memory Palace: Nate DiMeo's concise episodes on historical figures and happenings manage to pack a world of emotional richness into their short run-times-- each 8-30 minute episode contains a story so grippingly told that you'll wonder why Hollywood has yet to turn any of them into movies.

  • Still Processing: After her friends recommending it for months, Dame Margaret finally started listening to this New York Times podcast last summer and was immediately furious with herself for waiting so long. Wesley Morris, who covers film and culture, and Jenna Wortham, who writes about people and tech, have hypnotically compelling conversations about culture, race, gender, and sexuality-- you won't be able to stop quoting them.

  • Thirst Aid Kit: Bim Adewunmi and Nichole Perkins, two of our favorite Buzzfeed culture writers, run this hilarious podcast where they discuss celebrities or fictional character for whom they thirst, what drives their desires, and how they, and other women in the world, express it. The show is hilarious, charming, and-- with its emphasis on clearly foregrounding female desire-- quietly revolutionary.

  • Uncivil: We hate to call something "of the moment," but given the country's ongoing national reckoning with the legacy of the Civil War, this engrossing podcast, which reexamines some of the most enduring myths about it-- from  the 40 acres and a mule freed slaves were meant to receive to the idea that the South set out to defend "state's rights"-- could not feel more vital.

  • Hit Parade: every episode of this musical storytelling podcast, which draws inspiration from Billboard’s Hot 100 chart, is perfect. It’s only out monthly, so the backlog is extremely manageable. Dame Sophie suggests starting with one of these four episodes: Queen of Disco, Fab Four Sweep, Le Petty Prince, and Silver Medalists.

  • Ask a Clean Person: the podcast version of Jolie Kerr’s long-running Internet Cleanliness Advice Column is as sparkling as Dame S. imagines her floors would be if she followed all of her stratagems & tips. Sophie’s favorite episodes are laundry-based, but Jolie covers everything from how to clean sports gear to dealing with the gunk that gets in a car’s cup holders. There’s something here for everyone, and all the frank sex talk will go right over your sweet baby’s head.

  • Longform: super-engaging weekly interviews with journalists, about their processes, approaches, and favorite subject areas. Some favorite episodes include interviews with Ann Friedman, Margalit Fox, Margo Jefferson, Kiera Feldman, Tina Brown, and Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah.

  • Embedded: just straight-up excellent investigative journalism. The current season focuses on President Cheeto, his business dealings, and more.

  • Forever35: friends Doree Shafrir & Kate Spencer get together and talk about self-care, serums, and more.

  • The Broad Experience: host Ashley Milne-Tyte shares great conversations with women about their experiences in the workplace. A must-listen for Dame S.!

  • And it’s impossible for us to close out a podcast recommendation segment without mentioning our friends and favs, The Unfriendly Black Hotties and Overdue. The Hotties we appreciate anew with every brilliant, uproarious episode of their show, whether they're covering the latest kerfuffles in higher education, the true meaning of our current political administrations' zodiac signs, or alternating back and forth between facts about the extreme lives of blue whales and the reality of mass incarceration in America. As difficult to classify as it is essential, we are hard-pressed to imagine what we did before the Hotties came into our life. And on Overdue, Andrew Cunningham and Craig Getting read books unfamiliar to them and alternately riff hilariously upon and engaging meaningfully with their contents. Their episode this week on Gone With the Wind is a particularly strong example of how funny and smart the show can be.

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This gif and outfit were just too good to leave out.