The Help Desk: The itsy bitsy spider learned how to not be a jerk

Every Friday, Cienna Madrid offers solutions to life’s most vexing literary problems. Do you need a book recommendation to send your worst cousin on her birthday? Is it okay to read erotica on public transit? Cienna can help. Send your questions to

Dear Cienna,

You remind me of my Aunt Alice, who once told me that the only difference between men and women was obligation, sensibility, kindness, and everything else. (But then again, she hated women, had "will obey" in her vows, and lived a very orthodox life.)

There was this one thing, though: she was really, really, really into spiders. She used to make all my dresses, and on every label she made a little black spider on a thread. Every birthday card: spiders. She once knit me an afghan that had all radiating spider web patterns.

Given how much you write about spiders I thought maybe you could throw some light on Aunt Alice. Any insights?

Beth, Redmond

Dear Beth,

Thanks. Based on your description, I strongly believe your aunt and I could've had a fine time alone together in a dim room, not speaking. I think we both identify with spiders' solitary, independent nature – they are unconcerned with being either overlooked or hated, as most are too busy with snacking and butt play.

And I suspect that your aunt would have a harder time hating women in today's climate. Even if you ignore for a moment judge Brett Kavanaugh's alleged sexual misconduct and under-oath lies, congressional Republicans' staunch support of getting this man's shithooks planted on the Supreme Court prove they have dropped the charade that women are human beings and should be listened to and respected as such. Why even call us women – why not "man's best friend"? They treat us alternately like bitches and dogs.

The silver lining is that more people are taking notice. It's not just self-ascribed feminists beating the drum about women's basic rights any more (like the right not to be groped and harassed, the right to be listened to and believed). Did you know that some spiders are social? And that their personality can change depending on what other spiders they're socializing with? If spiders can change, I have hope that more people can, too.



PS. I want that afghan.

P.P.S. This conversation reminds me of the life and writings of Pearl S. Buck, who was raised in China by missionaries but went against her church and spoke out against Christian missions later on in life. She was also an ardent advocate for women and minority rights. You should read The Good Earth – it won a Pulitzer (and she won a Nobel Prize in Literature) way back before "affirmative action" became a sly talking point to dismiss the accomplishments of women and minorities.