Last night Cosmopolitan editor-in-chief Kate White held a chat at the 92nd Street Y. Did you know she was once a waitress at a Howard Johnson's? It was there that she met a very naughty co-worker who let her in on a secret: sometimes, to get what you want, you have to break the rules. For instance, as employees they were allowed free ice cream from the cafeteria at lunch time, but they weren't allowed the hot fudge, cherries or any other trappings of the toppings bar. Nevertheless, this friend always somehow managed to sneak into the employee cafeteria with a full-fledged sundae. "How do you sneak it past the managers?" Kate once got the courage to ask. And there, right before her eyes, the friend revealed her big secret to having it all; hot fudge, whipped cream and the rest...
It was something called an "upside down" sundae, whereby her friend stowed all the toppings on the bottom of the bowl, out of the sight of her superiors, then plopped the ice cream on top, safely hiding her stash of sweetness. "If you want that cherry in life, to say nothing of the hot fudge and whipped cream, youve gotta have that upside down hot fudge sundae." What a wonderful new cliche to replace the "cake and eat it too" crap!
Anyway, we tell that story because we had to employ a similar strategy merely to get entrance to this event, because a press officer at the Y informed us that press had been barred from the event. Using our cunning and the internet, we (Moe, Jessica) purchased two "civilian" tickets and sneaked in as though we were two normal people just interested in seeing what the editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan and mystery novel author Kate White has to say. What do such normal people look like, anyway?
Jessica: I got there first, and was oddly nervous. I wore more makeup than I usually do, because I didn't want to feel inadequately groomed when compared to the fashion bitches I assumed would attend. I still looked comparatively sloppy — I spotted a pair of this year's Miu Miu pumps and slunk into a chair in my dirty jeans. I had sat down in the middle of two rows of twenty-somethings who all seemed to know each other. I assumed they worked for Kate, so I asked the girl next to me if she, indeed, worked for Cosmo.
"I do," she said, "I'm Ashley."
"I'm Jessica, I work for Jezebel," I told her, and her formerly warm gaze turned icy.
"Oh. I saw that you guys wrote about us today."
That ended that conversation! (A quick perusal of the masthead later on led me to believe I was talking to associate web editor Ashley Womble, who was quite possibly responsible for the feature I mocked yesterday. Um, if you're reading this, I'm sorry Ashley! But like, "Boyfriend Wars" is a pretty exquisitely lame idea! Surely you see my point! No?"
Moe: Ha! That explains the forty text messages I got from you. I have to say, I did not notice any Miu Mius. I'm pretty sure i was sitting on the side of the room with all the Conservadox Jews, because...um, everyone's outfits were very modest. But Kate's outfit was fabulous! In a kind of "aggressively approachable" way. She wore a poufy taffeta-ish skirt and black patent leather ankle boots, with black tights and a black short-sleeved turtleneck. It was, like, the most expensive ensemble you could get away with and still probably be mistaken for an elementary school teacher. She is very thin, but she doesn't seem to make it the centerpiece of her appearance, and she has blown-dry highlighted hair that dovetails perfectly with the intense perkiness of her persona. She looked like she belonged on the set of a fifties sitcom. And then she told that fucking upside-down ice cream sundae anecdote. In my notes it is followed by an anecdote about Kate Spade, who apparently is friends with Kate White. I just wrote it all down, but now I'm deleting it because really, it is duller than the sundae anecdote. "Sometimes you've got to break the rules," was the big takeaway. I think that's when I completely lost it.
Jessica:I read Kate's book, You On Top over the weekend, and most of the anecdotes were taken verbatim from that, so they must have been fact-checked, right? Anyway, the book has some actually insightful, practical career advice. Interspersed with "Ways to Tap into Your Inner Sex Kitten." She also warns us to never ever talk to guys about our periods. But she runs a major magazine and still finds time to write mystery novels. You've got to respect that!
Moe: That's true. She also seems impossible to hate. But she's like, impossible to hate in that way where you feel like if you traveled back in time to 1963, and someone advised you not to talk to boys about your period, you would forgive them for that. Why do I feel like I'm in a time warp with Kate White? She's the foremost purveyor of orgasm advice in the country! People were still douching in 1963! And having coat hanger abortions.
Jessica: That said, she managed to make the vignettes sound spontaneous and unrehearsed; even charming. I won't go over her "five rules" in detail. You want some business speak, you can find it elsewhere. Maybe in your own head in that space reserved for common sense, buried under the names of former contestants on ANTM. I will say Kate's an excellent public speaker. Then came the Q&A. I don't remember what questions were asked except for your question about Whether Cosmo had a secret sex lab.
Moe: I swear to God I heard once that Cosmo has a "sex laboratory" where they try out positions and stuff. I was dying for something too-hot-for-Andy Griffith to be said. But yeah, she turned a little red when I asked that. Lady, you're the editor of Cosmo WTF?! Then someone asked a question about how to deal when you've realized you're following in your mother's footsteps and putting your career on hold for your husband. And that's when she pointed out her husband. Her husband was adorable, and all "aw shucks" about the whole thing, and she readily admitted that he was six or seven years younger than her, and that she's glad she married later in life. I felt bad for the woman who was putting her career on hold for her husband. For a moment I felt worse for her than for myself, for not having a husband. But I don't understand why you would do that, unless you didn't really like working. In which case, don't feel guilty about it! We're all about self-acceptance.
Jessica: Yeah, I think she's holding out on us and somewhere in the nether regions of the Hearst building there is a kinky dungeon filled with frilly underthings and eight cartons of batteries. I do remember, however, one of Kate's answers, which stuck with me. She said that women tend not to ask for things in their careers — she told a story about a group of young trainees at Arthur Anderson. When the group got their offers, all the men asked for more money, whereas all the women just took the initial quote. This resonated with me in particular because when I worked at Spin right out of college, the Editor-in-Chief at the time, Sia Michel, told me the exact. Same. Thing. Every woman Sia had hired took the salary that was offered up front. Almost every man negotiated for more.
Moe: Ugh, yeah, fuck men; where do they get off? I fucking hate those motherfuckers. That's why they always think they deserve to have sex with you. Motherfucker, explain to me why you deserve a motherfucking raise when there are kids working for twenty cents an hour in Bangladesh and I don't even make that much? I hate dudes.
Jessica: Leaving the Y, I realized that had Kate's book just been her career advice and her somewhat daffy personal essays, I would have valued it so much more. The impressive example she's set with her achievements is not-so-subtly undermined when she extols the virtues of "walk[ing] around your home with no top on. Feel[ing] the breeze with your breasts!" I realize that she's branded herself quite strongly as EIC of Cosmo (hell, she mentions it every five pages in her book) but that doesn't mean that her voice has to be "sexified" all the time. Last night, Kate told us that we need to "break all the rules" to succeed. Maybe she should listen to herself and stop shilling hackneyed "mattress moves so hot, his thighs will go up in flames."
Moe: You're totally right. She doesn't even like talking about sex! She should really be at a more serious women's magazine. Too bad there are none!