Wow, Catherine Cohen Has an Amazing Voice

On a warm night in June, Catherine Cohen stepped onto the stage at Joe’s Pub in a red silk jumpsuit and cat-eye sunglasses, her puff of long brown hair swept off her face, and approached the microphone. “Hell-ooo,” she trilled. “Wow. I have an amazing voice.”

It was the comedian’s first show at Joe’s Pub, the cozy cabaret venue at the Public Theater, and the crowd was packed and pumped. As audience members sipped cocktails, Cohen tossed her hair, removed her sunglasses, and jumped into her first song, an introductory number in which she explains, “Boys never wanted to kiss me/So now I do comedy.”

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“Wasn’t it so fun?” Cohen remarks when I meet her, a couple weeks later, at a fashionably austere café in Prospect Heights. Dressed in a lime-green tank top and yellow skirt, the 26-year-old is still feeling the high of her show — her first with a full band — which she titled after one of her tweets: “The Twist? … She’s Gorgeous.” The show sold out so quickly, the venue immediately added another, on July 31 — which, at press time, is itself very nearly sold out. Not bad for a girl who used to obsessively scroll through YouTube videos of Joe’s Pub performances as a high-schooler in Houston, Texas. Five years after landing in New York City, Cohen is already ticking items off her bucket list. It’s probably not much of a twist to note that she’s really fucking funny. Our coffees arrive, and she pauses before answering one of my questions. “There was literally a bug on my hand. Like, hello!”

Through short, peppy original songs written with her pianist, Henry Koperski, Cohen both channels and satirizes the joys and frustrations of the young New York woman. The music itself ranges in style from jazzy lounge numbers to perky show tunes to pumping disco anthems, depending on what Cohen is lampooning. Her style isn’t far afield from Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s Rachel Bloom, who shot to fame on the basis of satirical songs she’d post on YouTube. Cohen’s act also calls to mind a less vulnerable Lena Dunham, or a more animated Amy Schumer — both of whom Cohen cites as inspiration, along with other funny women like Bridget Everett (a Joe’s Pub regular), Greta Gerwig, Molly Shannon, and Melissa McCarthy. “I don’t ever want to see anything that doesn’t have a female lead,” she admits, laughing. “I don’t care.”

Cohen did musical theater in high school before studying English and theater at Princeton; her parents work in business, she says, but have always been supportive of her creative aspirations. “They’re both very funny,” she adds. Like any fresh-out-of-college New York transplant with comedic aspirations, Cohen took classes at the Upright Citizens Brigade. But she found her creative footing by being herself. She did some characters — she first hooked up with Koperski a couple years ago to write an original song for a character she was trying out, Imogen Dragons, a ukulele-sporting singer with a “yogurt-y indie girl voice” — and had precisely one straight musical-theater audition when she first arrived in the city after graduating from Princeton in 2013. “I went to one audition and I was like, kill me, end my one life,” she recalls. “It was forty women who looked like me in a room wearing the same outfit, waiting for twelve hours to sing one second of ‘Gimme Gimme’ from Thoroughly Modern Millie. I was like, this is not my scene.”

Instead, she’s created her own scene, producing and hosting a weekly comedy show called Cabernet Cabaret at Club Cumming, the East Village hangout that actor/singer Alan Cumming opened last fall. (At one recent show, Cohen made a dramatic entrance, parting the red velvet curtains behind the club’s tiny stage and issuing a request in a voice dripping with grandeur: “There’s some natural light pouring in from the back and I simply cannot have that.”) It was there that she workshopped the songs that make up her one-woman show, which she also performed at Caroline’s on Broadway in the spring as part of their breakout artists series. Cumming, who calls himself a “major fan,” describes Cohen’s humor as “a sort of hybrid of character and confession which cuts a raw, deep, side-splitting incision into the vein of urban contemporary existence.”

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Cohen pays the bills doing voiceover work in “commercials for female-oriented products,” as she puts it — past stints include Olay, Schick razors, and Special K; basically any product for which a woman in a flowing white dress might appear in an ad, beckoning the prospective customer with promises of youth, beauty, and a tight ass. Her act befits a woman who is the voice of feminine consumerism but knows deep down that it’s a con job. “Voiceover me is a cool, sexy chick who knows what’s up and doesn’t give a shit,” Cohen says. “And comedy me, like, could not care more.” In her songs, Cohen plays a heightened version of herself — “a total cartoon of this glamorous woman I dreamed of being.” Her songs go down surprisingly winding roads; one breezy number about the magic of springtime devolves into an extended fantasy about murdering a guy who once touched her lower back at a party and made a joke about raping her.

Quoting Cohen doesn’t do her justice, though. It’s her delivery that kills, her ability to slip in and out of voices and personas — from a nasally hot-baby-girl squeal to a British-inflected grand dame to a whispery, seen-it-all vixen of the city — like they’re so many silk robes. Her dominant tone is a kind of self-contempt laced through with humblebrags: I’m such a mess; isn’t it adorable? The fact that Cohen has a legitimately lovely, and versatile, singing voice, only makes the tunes funnier. She’s doing something similar to what Lena Dunham did when she burst forth on the scene with the groundbreaking Girls in 2012 — self-deprecation as survival, weaponizing her perceived flaws before anyone can use them against her, all while making it very hard for critics to deny her talent and vision.

When I mention that her act reminds me of Dunham, Cohen tenses for a moment: “Do you hate her?” In the years since HBO premiered Girls, Dunham has become a punching bag for men and women, left and right, but I assure Cohen that no, I think Dunham’s a genius. “That’s how I feel,” Cohen says. “I totally get that she’s done some stupid shit; she’s a person. But at the end of the day, what she’s done is so groundbreaking. I get emotional even thinking about it because when I saw that first episode of Girls when I was in college, and I saw her body and I saw her fucking and talking about sex and enjoying it, I was like, if I had seen this when I was in high school I would have thought about myself totally differently.”

Catherine Cohen

Like Dunham, and Schumer, and so many other comedians Cohen admires, she’s determined to create a space for herself. Maybe she’ll land a role in a TV show, or, more likely, write one herself. If she “books,” she may travel to Los Angeles. “I want to go back and forth,” she declares, “gorgeously.” She rattles off a list of her faves, her inspo, her mental mood board: “Jenny Slate; I’m so obsessed with her. Insecure is so fucking good. Fleabag, are you serious? I Love Dick, amazing. I want to make something like that, just showing different kinds of women, how fucking cool they all are. And how funny and smart and human they are.”


The Women Behind TV’s Real Golden Age

In the spring of 2015, Joy Press had an epiphany. As she writes in her extremely engaging new book, Stealing the Show: How Women Are Revolutionizing Television, that year saw the premieres of more than a dozen new series, from Marvel’s Jessica Jones to rom-com musical Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, centered on and created by women — “as many as had emerged in the three previous years combined.”

Television, particularly network prime time, has traditionally attracted more female viewers than male. Yet, as Press — a former Village Voice TV critic — recounts, it took decades of female writers, performers, and creators to persuade the mostly male executives who literally ran the show that stories about women were not vegetables; that they could be just as meaty as programs centered on men, if not more so — even as they mixed in some “mind-nourishing feminism,” like shredding carrots into cupcake batter.

Stealing the Show is a wildly entertaining and informative jaunt through the creative upheaval that’s been taking place on TV screens over the past thirty years. Crucially, the book doesn’t treat women’s contributions to this awakening as a sideshow. Rather, Press’s book is something of an alternate history of the modern TV era, a persuasive rebuke to the now-familiar story of the brilliant male showrunners and their brooding male characters who breathed new life into the medium and ushered it to the top of the cultural food chain. (For more on this, see Alan Sepinwall’s 2013 book, The Revolution Was Televised; Brett Martin’s 2014 book, Difficult Men; and Tad Friend’s recent, fascinating profile of Donald Glover.) A savory blend of reporting and criticism, Stealing the Show reorients this conversation, placing women front and center, starting with Murphy Brown’s 1988 premiere and ending with the arrival, in 2014, of Transparent.

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Stealing the Show is a corrective to young viewers who might think the debate about “likable” female characters began with Hannah Horvath. Diane English, who created the CBS sitcom Murphy Brown, remarks that the network was concerned no one would like the title character, a middle-aged, single, career-driven woman played by Candice Bergen: “The word unlikable came up all the time. All…the…time.” While the title character of English’s show was “a human tempest, a ruthless dervish whirling through prime time,” Press writes, English herself “worked smoothly and quietly to get what she needed.” Elsewhere, she points to the similarity between Murphy Brown’s fussy perfectionism and that of Gilmore Girls matriarch Emily Gilmore (Kelly Bishop) — the former cycles through a different secretary every week, while the latter does the same with her housemaids. Both gags, Press suggests, gesture toward the perfectionist impulses of the series’ creators.

There’s a slight irony in writing a book about women’s contributions to television that argues against siloing female creators. But, like so many of the women she profiles — including Shonda Rhimes (Scandal, Grey’s Anatomy), Jenji Kohan (Weeds, Orange Is the New Black), Mindy Kaling (The Mindy Project), and Amy Sherman-Palladino (Gilmore Girls) — Press seems to understand that women often have to sneak their ideas into the mainstream in whatever packaging the entertainment industry sees fit, even if those ideas have nothing to do with women’s issues per se. (Or, sometimes, when they do: I’d completely missed the fact that the word vajayjay entered the popular lexicon after a Grey’s Anatomy writer used it in place of vagina — which ABC’s Standards and Practices department initially objected to, even in a medical context. It did not have a problem with the word penis.)

The book is full of vivid illustrations of women who helped push television to the culturally dominant position it’s now in. Tina Fey, Press writes, helped steer Saturday Night Live “back into the zeitgeist” when she was promoted to head writer in 1999 — the first woman to hold the job in the show’s history. Jenji Kohan’s Weeds reframed Showtime “as a creative daredevil…a brash upstart nipping at HBO’s heels.” Press calls Sex and the City “HBO’s first zeitgeist-defining hit” — even though, as former HBO president Sue Naegle tells her, “every time there was a female-lead show that worked, no one wanted to repeat it.”

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Stealing the Show is, essentially, a study in how the television industry suppresses and belittles women’s stories. (“This is the business model: If you get men to watch it, you make money,” New Girl creator Liz Meriwether quips.) Press points out that genres that skew female, like soap operas and melodramas, often come with “a kind of lowbrow stench”; elsewhere, she writes that producer Lisa Vinnecour, who’s worked on United States of Tara, Weeds, and Orange Is the New Black, takes issue with using the word diva to describe fussy female performers: “These are artists,” Vinnecour says. Press describes how Transparent creator Jill Soloway learned to structure an ensemble series from her time writing for Six Feet Under — that show’s creator, Alan Ball, was a fan of General Hospital, and he “elevated the soap structure into a finely woven tapestry of ideas.”

At just under 300 pages, Stealing the Show is such a fun read, it’s almost deceptively informative. Press’s research yields unexpected delights — particularly for readers under thirty, who may not remember some of these details — like the rumor, swirling around the internet after Gilmore Girls premiered, that creator Amy Sherman-Palladino was actually a pseudonym for Aaron Sorkin and two other male writers who’d worked on his shows. (“What’s funny is that the rumor wasn’t even that I was fronting for him,” Sherman-Palladino told a reporter in 2001. “It was, I didn’t even exist.”)

The book shrewdly contextualizes the contemporary reactions to the series it describes — including the backlash from female viewers who took issue with, say, 30 Rock’s casting a privileged, wealthy, white woman as a feminist hero, or the fact that the Brooklyn of Girls is so blindingly white. Usually, the writers “embedded” such critiques in the shows themselves; the entitlement of the women on Girls, Press writes, “was an intentional feature of the show rather than a mistake.” As cultural critic Lili Loofbourow writes in a recent essay in the Virginia Quarterly Review, “We still have not quite learned to see female storytellers as either masterful or intentional.” As admiring as she is, Press does not wax poetic about these storytellers’ inherent brilliance; her emphasis is on the specific ways in which they got their respective visions to air; not on their inscrutable genius, but on their steady work ethic. As Broad City‘s Ilana Glazer says, “We work so hard to create the space within we can just play” — and, as Press adds, “They are also making room for all of us to experiment.”



Lena Dunham and life partner Jack Antonoff made headlines last month when they swore not to get married until Dunham’s gay sister is legally able to. Now they’re taking their oath of solidarity steps further with this Talent Show for the Ally Coalition, an organization created by Antonoff and the band Fun to encourage entertainers to take a public stand for LGBTQ rights. Singer-songwriters Andrew McMahon and Ingrid Michaelson will perform along with Fun and other musical acts. Janeane Garofalo and Lena Dunham will also perform sets at this one-night-only variety show to promote awareness about bullying and violence toward gay teens.

Tue., Dec. 2, 8 p.m., 2014



Here’s one book tour performer it’s OK for Lena Dunham not to pay: Tonight, “life partner” Jack Antonoff will play with his band Bleachers at her reading. But that’s not all — friend, Girls co-star, and kick-ass chick prototype Jemima Kirke will join in for a Q&A sesh hosted by — and here’s the real kicker — literary heavyweight Zadie Smith. Take a step back; now breathe. It’s no secret that our local girl Lena has been associated with some questionable (read: dickish) management choices when it comes to this very tour, but that doesn’t take away from her status as a feminist mover and shaker, or the supreme relatability of the essay topics she covers in Not That Kind of Girl, from keeping an obsessive food log to guys who secretly rip off the condom mid-sex and hide it in your potted plant. She hits the same high mark of comedy and compassion that she dances around during the best moments of Girls, and reading this, you can just feel the future plotlines unfold.

Tue., Oct. 21, 7:30 p.m., 2014



What happens after your band releases a string of infectious and inescapable singles? Why, you attempt world domination with yet another band! Jack Antonoff, the multi-instrumentalist of Fun. and main man in Lena Dunham’s life, has headed up a side project called Bleachers, a band whose biggest competition in the indie pop department is Antonoff’s every other project. The world was introduced to Bleachers through “I Wanna Get Better,” the absurdly catchy first single off of their July debut album Strange Desire. With its ’80s new wave sound, Bleachers has given us a breezy soundtrack to the summer in the same way Fun.’s Some Nights did last year. Can’t wait to see which Antonoff project will keep us smiling come 2015, but for now, see them tonight.

Thu., Sept. 4, 8 p.m., 2014


In the Charming Happy Christmas, Anna Kendrick Is the Best at Being the Worst

Uncomfortable-silence auteur Joe Swanberg has made a career of testing how much falseness you can strip out and still have a movie. What if people on-screen talked like people off it, and they spent as much time looking at phones and laptops as you do, and if their moments of realization — this is the person I love! — work out about as well as the ones your friends dish about over drinks?

Now, with star-led hits like last year’s Drinking Buddies and the new Happy Christmas, Swanberg is attempting something more challenging still: testing whether a movie with so much real life in it can still move a crowd. Drinking Buddies soared, but for all its beer-burped non sequiturs, it was powered by beautiful stars sparking up against one another, the most movie-proven engine there is. But in it, those stars seemed of our Earth, even Olivia Wilde, whose career-best performance revealed not just the soul of a particular type of tomgirl but also just how poorly this actress has been served in other movies. Only by going deep-indie could she show us how much she can actually do.

Grand in its own shrugging way, Drinking Buddies even managed to commit a classic Hollywood sin. Its lovesick brew-bro Luke (Jake Johnson) chased dream-girl Wilde, neglecting his long-term love — and since she was no less a catch than Anna Kendrick, the Broadway/Pitch Perfect firecracker, he wasn’t always easy to feel for. Kendrick played skittish and gently frumped-up, the subordinate in her relationship, but her metabolism dictated the comic beat of her every scene, even the ones in which her Jill had to shyly broach the topic of when she and Luke might agree to have the conversation about possibly setting a wedding date.

See also: Anna Kendrick Had Her Heart Broken by a Hot Dog

Luke was lucky to have her, but now Kendrick’s lucky to have Swanberg. Happy Christmas is a collaborative showcase on the level with what he’s previously worked up with Wilde and Greta Gerwig — superb performers given the freedom to act human. This movie, too, thrums with Kendrick’s flighty rhythms — and it, too, soars.

Happy Christmas is slighter even than Drinking Buddies, more original in its shape, and interested in observing a wider range of broke-ass creative types. This time, it’s not about some beardo facing the problem of too many beauties — it’s about Kendrick as one of those Generation Awkward types, who at 27 is only just starting to feel her habits and quirks coalesce into something like an adult self.

After a bad breakup, Jenny hightails it from Brooklyn to Chicago to crash in the wondrous tiki bar basement of the house her brother (Swanberg himself) shares with his wife (Melanie Lynskey) and toddler son (Swanberg’s own kid.) Jenny’s a bit self-involved, god-awful at being alone, and quick to start talking through her problems to anyone who may or may not be listening. She, too, is a particular type: the nervous, means-well narcissist always this close to growing into someone reliable.

Her first night in town, she hits a party with a pal played by Lena Dunham — so much for leaving New York! — and gets stupidly drunk: She passes out on the hostess’ bed and plays dead whenever anyone tries to wake her. Dunham is all Midwestern nice in the first of her several hilarious scenes. Lugging Jenny from the party, she must say “I’m sorry” a dozen times, each with perfect, moment-specific sincerity.

Swanberg’s process encourages such truthful comedy. He drafts outlines of each scene but lets his actors improvise the dialogue, which here results in many small moments that feel like life but just slightly better — as their characters form a wary three-way friendship, Kendrick, Dunham, and Lynskey benefit from only having their unmemorable moments edited out.

The movie is packed with minor incidents, all fresh, compelling, and funny. It also boasts two lengthy scenes that are touched with something greater. The first involves the three women having a drink at that basement bar. Kelly, Lynskey’s character, considers Jenny too irresponsible to be much help with the baby, but she would like to be able to trust her — and maybe to get back to work on her second novel, a project motherhood has delayed. Jenny and Carson, Dunham’s character, both a couple years younger, try to win Kelly over and loosen her up. (The only thing Jenny can think to say at first is “You’re really pretty.”) Eventually, the talk spills out, a lengthy, frank discussion about the joy and loneliness of being a stay-at-home mom and of how it might feel to put your undomestic ambitions on hold for years at a time. There are more laughs and insights here than you’ll get in a day’s worth of blog reading on the same subjects.

The second scene is a queasy first date Jenny has with Kevin (Mark Webber), a pot dealer. She sits on his couch, not sure if it’s a date or not — officially, she’s there to buy drugs. He wanders out of our view to make her a drink, and Swanberg’s camera stays on Kendrick, who fidgets, poses, starts to pull off her coat but then thinks better of it. Eventually, Kevin returns, and Jenny works up gumption enough to ask if maybe they should get high together. In the same long shot, they both light up, and slowly Kendrick’s uptightness loosens. They laugh. They slump into one another. They get lost in the music, the things they say dissolving into meaninglessness. They make out.

It feels like watching life but not in some detached, dogmatic, strip-away-the-fun, indie-flick way. It’s watching life’s best and most revealing parts.



In Alone Together at Last, Lena Dunham and David Sedaris will team up for a one-night-only meeting of the minds. It’s the hang-out session of our dreams, bringing together two contemporary powerhouses of sardonic New York humor in a comingling that could be either cataclysmic or euphoric, but probably mostly hilarious. Sedaris recently published his first essay collection in five years, Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls, so we know what he’ll be delving into. We’re hoping Dunham will take this opportunity to dish about her collection of personal essays, Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She’s Learned, to be released next September. She already pulled the 60-plus-page proposal in a clamor of legal mumbo-jumbo, but we’re confident Sedaris can pry out the gossip.

Tue., Nov. 19, 8 p.m., 2013



Maybe you have conflicted feelings about Girls—we read your Facebook post about it, we swear—but credit where credit’s due: Even though it was also the theme song for Snookie & JWoww, Icona Pop’s club-to-charts crossover anthem “I Love It” didn’t blow up to national audiences until a fishnet-clad Lena Dunham jumped up and down to its four-on-the-floor beat. In advance of their forthcoming This Is … Icona Pop, out September 24, the Swedish duo play Webster Hall with K. Flay and Sirah. Be on the lookout for Charli XCX: The impossibly talented 21-year-old Londoner featured on “I Love It” originally had her own Gramercy Theatre gig scheduled for tonight, but that’s been postponed to November and moved to Irving Plaza.

Fri., Sept. 20, 7 p.m., 2013



In a lot of ways, Courtney Farrell is on par with Lena Dunham’s Hannah. She’s learning how to live in New York City, indulging in a mindfully crafted martini or two, and engaging in affairs with older men. On top of that she has the hots for her—also older—female teacher at boarding school. Consider that Farrell, the main character of Pamela Moore’s Chocolates for Breakfast, is 15 years old, and that she first appeared in 1956, and suddenly the sexcapades of any given 24-year-old on Girls seem less shocking than culturally overdue. It’s as good a time as any for a reissue of this racy classic. Real-life Brooklynite and author Emma Straub (Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures), who penned the new edition’s forward, will headline a series of readings from the book and conduct a Q&A with Moore’s son, Kevin Kanarek.

Thu., July 11, 7 p.m., 2013


A Toast to Lena Dunham’s Panties

Internet assholes are always yelling about what Lena Dunham doesn’t wear on Girls, but let’s talk about something she does.

Bros who think everything should be marketed to them never get tired of pointing out that Dunham’s Hannah Horvath seems to be topless more often than not, a point of controversy among jackasses because she’s 13 pounds overweight, as she very specifically reveals during a fight with Adam, Hannah’s psychotic on-screen boyfriend. “And it’s been horrible for me my whole life,” she wails.

But it’s not those 13 pounds that truly make her the antithesis of most skinny actresses who have seemingly embraced “famine chic” as a way of life. It’s her almost hilariously unsexy panties. Dunham’s panties are ill-fitting white cotton. The thinning fabric has unsightly holes. Let’s not forget the “weird stains” she references in one episode. There is absolutely nothing sexy about her underwear.

Admit it, women: You have a pair of underwear like that, and they are your favorite. When you wear them, you know you’re going to have a good day, because no matter where you are, your crotch feels right at home.

Hannah is not alone in her prominent enjoyment of comfy cotton over black, lacy bullshit. On 30 Rock, Liz Lemon’s fiancé discovers her secret wedding journal hidden in a drawer beneath her “panty wad,” which sounds like something my Depression-era grandmother might have used to wash the barn windows.

Lemon is no stranger to the Everyone Poops side of femininity. Her weekend plans often included filling a Slanket with farts while enjoying a plate of night cheese, and one of her ambitions is gradually transitioning her pajamas into daywear. She stood out precisely because she was so awkward and average. People root for her because they can relate — or because she does them one better on the weirdo scale — and by God, if she could find love, maybe we can, too.

Like Lemon, Hannah on Girls has embraced the truth that bundt cake and pizza do, in fact, taste better than thin feels. In spite of this, she wears short shorts and midriff-bearing tops (and on at least one occasion, some strange item of clothing called “shorteralls,” which would probably make Lemon feel old). Dunham strips down to her skivvies in front of millions with less thought than most of us give to what we’ll order at Starbucks.

In her carelessness, Hannah has something in common with the king of dirty drawers: Homer Simpson. It was everyone’s favorite beer-swilling suburban dad who first made tighty-whiteys funny, but since Homer’s heyday, shoddy briefs have become a ubiquitous symbol for men who don’t give a fuck. Hannah’s case is unique, of course, because she is a woman.

Even with her inherent sloppiness, Hannah wants what everyone wants: to fall in love and be happy. So does Lemon. In fact, the discovery of Lemon’s secret journal speaks volumes about her particular romantic quandary. While so many conventionally pretty girls on television and in movies might as well walk around carrying signs written in their own blood that say, “single female seeks husband,” Lemon keeps her wedding lust hidden. In a drawer. Beneath a panty wad.

Hannah is also reluctant to admit that she wants to fall in love. Spend a little time on the internet, and it’s easy to see why. According to a recent sampling of assholes (who probably all have perfect bodies — it must be so nice for them), chubby girls should never play topless ping pong lest they appear ungraceful, nor should they have the metaphorical balls to feel comfortable with their lumpy, pizza dough-esque physiques – those are the assholes’ words, not mine.

By being unafraid to look gross (read: totally real-life normal) sometimes, Dunham essentially tells the internet to go fuck itself. Privilege and entitlement aside, one thing Dunham gets right is Hannah’s underwear. Those are some extremely real underwear that could be fished out of just about any woman’s laundry pile, and they demand more honesty from all of us.