It turns out that the phrase “a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle” did not originate with Gloria Steinem, but rather was inspired by another phrase: a man needs God like a fish needs a bicycle. U2 used the line well once, catching the additional irony of the idea when sung by a man. Yet the phrase remains connected to Steinem because it remains emblematic of feminism’s crux: politics, mixed with wit, stirred through emotion. In the end, one central story of feminism was the story of relationships; boiling the movement’s politics down to “woman,” “man,” and “need” was critically brilliant.
The military tends to talk in signs and numbers—and, perhaps most famously, in code. The use of abbreviations and alphabetical systems is efficient. In this week’s New Yorker, we learn a little bit more not only about what happened in the last hours of the bin Laden raid, but also about how the soldiers who carried it out talked amongst themselves, and communicated back to those at home. The language is riveting because the story is riveting. Yet we can learn from its lyrical economy.
Yesterday’s announcement that Robert F. Kennedy’s papers are being reviewed inspired us to revisit one of the former Attorney General’s finest speeches, one we have not written about here before. It was a speech given only three years following the assassination of RFK’s brother, and one given at the height of Civil Rights tensions in the U.S. In it, Kennedy calls on characteristic tools of his even-then-well-known rhetorical art: classical references; alliteration; noble ideals unmitigated by irony or qualification.
Ken Auletta’s profile of Sheryl Sandberg in The New Yorker is an excellent companion to Sandberg’s TED speech of last December. The latter was passed like a Dead bootleg among a certain group of women who had made a certain set of choices in their lives, perhaps not unlike the way Gwyneth Paltrow’s latest recipe might be passed among another set of women who had made another set of choices. The message and the language in Sandberg’s talk married something women want with the confidence of having achieved it. The performance of the speech made its content doubly impressive.
Lea Carpenter was a Founding Editor of Francis Ford Coppola’s literary magazine, Zoetrope. She graduated from Princeton and has an MBA from Harvard. Her Harvard University Commencement Address, “Auden and The Little Things,” was about the need for poetry in our lives. She lives in New York with her husband and son where she produces programming for the New York Public Library. She formerly wrote the Think, See, Feel blog for BigThink.