Between A Rock And A Hard Lead: A Female Journalist’s Dilemma With Zoe Barnes


Guys, I just don’t know how to feel about Zoe Barnes.

Have you watched House Of Cards? Do you know what I’m talking about?

Barnes is the take no prisoners, eerily serious female reporter for the fictional Washington Herald and Slugline. However, that wasn’t always the case.

When we first meet our girl (Kate Mara), she is a decent yet unremarkable journalist whose pieces on charity galas and park ribbon cuttings get lost in the back bowels of the Metro section. She’s hungry for a more serious beat but ill-positioned to recieve it. She’s called a Twitter twat by her coworkers. It’s all pretty tragic.

Then she begins receiving career-making tips from a secret source. She starts breaking stories based on hundreds of pages of leaked congressional documents. She causes a huge stir in DC that rockets her to political J juggernaut status, seemingly overnight

Oh yeah, she also starts fucking a congressman to get the intel.

Based on these facts alone, it would be easy to thumb my feminist-lite nose at the girl. It’s not like trading sex for power or money is anything new or original, and it’s easy to initially write Barnes off as another blood-thirsty career woman using her sexuality to get ahead. But not so fast …

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In elementary school, I was known to all as the motherless girl. I was one of three, actually. It was something fundamentally understood about the Dow sisters.

“Their mom died. They only have a dad.”

It started out so absurdly sad and horrible that it didn’t feel real; it never quite landed. But soon, it transitioned into something darkly funny.


I remember the transition clearly.

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MY VAGINA IS A PENIS: an interview with trans comedienne Tranna Wintour


The first time I saw Tranna Wintour, she was a boy dancing her ass off at Cabaret Mado, a famous Montreal drag club (not to mention my favorite place on earth after Indigo). She complimented some skanky thing I was wearing and I didn’t see her again until an image of her wearing a flamingo pink tinsel bra waving her licorice-skinny arms hysterically blared across the huge screen that made up the backdrop of the Kylie Minogue concert I was taken to against my will. On my way to the bathroom back at Mado for the Kylie after party, I saw Tranna again and we exchanged numbers. Less than a year later, I was watching her organize an unbelievably large collection of art books in her Montreal apartment, wearing a nightie reminscent of those worn by The Golden Girls’ Dorothy Zbornak, the night before we were set to see the MDNA tour.

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Heroine: Vada Sultenfuss

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She made floppy hats and peasant blouses cool. She shared her first kiss with her best friend Thomas J who later died from bee stings while trying to find her mood ring in the woods. She lived in a funeral home, and tuba-playing Dan Akroyd was her dad. For babies of the late 80’s and early 90’s, it didn’t get much cooler than Vada Sutlenfuss of the My Girl films (cue Temptations music).

It would be easy to single out Vada as an important female heroine based on her killer sass, punishing stares and beautiful vulnerability. But what really made Vada an icon of my 7-year-old heart was her commitment to be nobody but herself. That meant not taking shit from the bitchy girls at school. It meant learning that “you can never wear too much blue eye shadow”. It meant falling head-over-heels in love with your babe of a poetry teacher and being unafraid to confess your undying love to him, like the fearless goddess Vada was.


But perhaps the most astonishing thing about Vada Sultenfuss was and continues to be her tender, honest and thoroughly authentic way of dealing with grief, be it from the loss of her mother and best friend Thomas J, her transition into womanhood, the introduction of a new mother figure into her already contentious life or the slow loss of her grandmother to dementia. For adults, these are horrifying realities. For a kid, it’s crueler and more unfathomable. Yet Vada navigates these unsure landscapes with humor, love, ethos and a lot of killer one-liners.


It should also be noted that at the age of 7, I attempted to convince my entire family by wearing a denim Gap Kids bucket hat paired with a butterfly broach that I was in fact not Katherine at all, but Vada Sultenfuss. Needless to say, I was sent to therapy immediately. However my therapist deemed Vada a highly laudable role model.

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“His wife doesn’t tip,” says Siobhan. “But other than that, I don’t know much about her.”

We are smoking cigarettes on the steps of the verandah, and Siobhan’s mother is not home.

“Does your mom do her nails every time she comes to the salon?” I ask, putting the cap back on Dr. Pepper lip chap and smacking my lips.

“Yah,” she replies, “And my mom’s getting pretty sick of never getting a cent out of her as a tip.” Siobhan exhales and puts the butt in the ashtray between us. “My mom’s really good at nails, all her other clients tip.”

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I broke a mirror today.

It happened sometime while I was at work, pacing my office and trying to find a story to report on. I came home at lunch and found the glass shattered into a million pieces all over my floor.

When I saw all those pointy little pieces, I realized what a fake grownup I am. My first instinct was to wait for my Dad to get home because I know he hates when we kids touch broken glass because we cut ourselves. That’s when I realized that I’m 25-years-old, standing in my very own shoebox apartment, over 2,000 miles away from home. And I’m still scared to touch the glass. A fake grownup, indeed.

intro reals

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In the waiting room of a Toronto walk-in clinic, I read the tribute James Franco wrote for Philip Seymour Hoffman in VICE.

My worry over whether I had a sexually transmitted infection disappeared as I observed how Franco wrote. I found structure, and I found inspiration in Franco’s comparison between Hoffman’s characters and the work of Michelangelo.

“I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free,” Franco quoted the artist as saying, after describing Hoffman’s acting as sculptural.

I do not have a sexually transmitted infection. When I walked out of the clinic, I was on King Street West, near the hotel I stayed in with Bea, who would have been responsible if I did. I remember finding comfort in the hotel carpet. There was no carpet in the bachelor apartment I was working seven days a week to rent. There was no carpet in the psychiatric unit of St. Joseph’s Health Centre, where I had been released from less than 48 hours before Bea saved me.


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