Periods, miscarriage, and menopause: Why is animalistic womanhood taboo?
“For ten minutes I was somebody’s mother,” says Ariel Levy, as she discusses the silent but universal animal lives of women.
Ariel Levy is a staff writer at The New Yorker magazine and author of the book Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, The New Yorker, Vogue, Slate, Men's Journal and Blender. Levy was named one of the "Forty Under 40" most influential out individuals in the June/July 2009 issue of The Advocate.
Levy was raised in Larchmont, New York, and attended Wesleyan University in the 1990s. She says that her experiences at Wesleyan, which had "co-ed showers, on principle", strongly influenced her views regarding modern sexuality. After graduating from Wesleyan, she was briefly employed by Planned Parenthood, but claims that she was fired because she is "an extremely poor typist". She was hired by New York magazine shortly thereafter.
At New York magazine, where Levy was a contributing editor for 12 years, she wrote about John Waters, Donatella Versace, the writer George Trow, the feminist Andrea Dworkin, the artists Ryan McGinley and Dash Snow, Al Franken, Clay Aiken, Maureen Dowd, and Jude Law. Levy has explored issues regarding American drug use, gender roles, lesbian culture, and the popularity of U.S. pop culture staples such as Sex and the City and Gwen Stefani. At The New Yorker magazine, where Levy has been a staff writer since 2008, she has written profiles of Cindy McCain and Marc Jacobs.
In her memoir, The Rules Do Not Apply, Levy recalls her experiences with loss and reexamines the feminist ideal of “having it all.”
Ariel Levy: When I was 38 I accepted an assignment in Mongolia and I had been writing stories for The New Yorker, and before that New York magazine, for 20 years and this was going to be the last adventure like this for a while because I was about to start on another kind of adventure: I was five months pregnant and I was about to have a new kind of life. And I wasn't worried about it. My doctor had said it was fine to fly until the third trimester and I was not concerned. But the second night I was in Mongolia I went into labor in my hotel room and I gave birth and for ten minutes I was somebody's mother. And when I got home from Mongolia I was so sad I could barely breathe and friends or women who knew what had happened to me would take one look at me and literally burst into tears. And I actually understand how that felt for them now because now women come to my readings and things and I see them and I look at them and I immediately know what they're going to tell me. They have a particular kind of look; they just look blown apart.
The reason I wrote about it in this essay for The New Yorker called 'Thanksgiving In Mongolia' was that I felt like: why doesn't anybody talk about this? This is an incredibly intense experience that a lot of women have. And when it happens to you there's no literature about it, there's very little, so you feel insane, you feel like a crazy person that you're having that level of grief for a baby who wasn't even quite a baby, and are you the only person who's having this reaction to this experience? The answer is no. At this reading that I gave for my book The Rules Do Not Apply last week in San Francisco this lady raised her hand and she was like, "I have three children who are alive; I've lost four babies; I'm at 77 years old and I miss every one of them." And that was amazing to me. I mean, more and more I'm meeting women who are older who are like, "Oh yeah, it's never stopped hurting." I mean it goes away. At first you sort of live in grief, like in a tunnel of grief, and then eventually grief lives in you and it's just something you take with you and you're not walking around about to cry. But it is a big thing and I think that in more general terms things that have to do with this business, with this animal experience of being a woman—you know, not everywoman is going to have a child, not every woman is going to lose a child, god knows, but every woman at some point in her life is going to have some kind of intense experience around menstruation, fertility, childbirth, child loss, menopause, all this stuff, all this animal stuff about being a woman, we don't talk about. And it's an enormous part of the lives of half the human population. We should talk about it, I think.
So when I got back from Mongolia I wrote this essay about the experience of losing my baby there. And the reason I did that—well, there was no reason, it just happened; it sort of came out of my fingers and I didn't think about it. But if I were to think about it subsequently part of the reason I did it was because just like anyone else is proud of their offspring, I was proud of mine. I mean I think if you have children who are alive—most people I know who have kids spend a certain amount of time looking at them and being like, "Oh my god, I made you. You're a person. Like, look at you, you're beautiful!" And I did that. Only for ten minutes, but I did do it and I was proud. I was like, 'World, I made a person! No one knows but me, no one met him alive but me. I'm going to write about this because I feel compelled to, for whatever it's worth, I want to proclaim this person's life happened.' And that was why I wrote it. Now why I published it was that I thought it was a matter of feminism that that should be a legitimate subject for writing, for literature, for publication. And the response I got to that made me realize I should write about it more.
In 2013, Ariel Levy published her critically acclaimed essay Thanksgiving in Mongolia in The New Yorker, recounting the experience of giving birth to her baby at five months, alone in a hotel room in Mongolia, and ultimately losing him. "For ten minutes I was somebody's mother," she says. That feeling was impossible to come to terms with when she returned home, and the culture of silence surrounding miscarriage rocked her. "I felt like: why doesn't anybody talk about this? This is an incredibly intense experience that a lot of women have. And when it happens to you there's no literature about it, there's very little, so you feel insane." For Levy, this taboo extends to the entire animal experience of being a woman: menstruation, fertility, childbirth, child loss, menopause—all things to be whispered, not discussed. Listening to Levy make this broad experience of loss deeply personal and public is incredibly moving. Ariel Levy's memoir The Rules Do Not Apply, is out now.
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The best leaders don't project perfection. Peter Fuda explains why.
- There are two kinds of masks leaders wear. Executive coach Peter Fuda likens one to The Phantom of the Opera—projecting perfectionism to hide feelings of inadequacy—and the other to The Mask, where leaders assume a persona of toughness or brashness because they imagine it projects the power needed for the position.
- Both of those masks are motivated by self-protection, rather than learning, growth and contribution. "By the way," says Fuda, "your people know you're imperfect anyway, so when you embrace your imperfections they know you're honest as well."
- The most effective leaders are those who try to perfect their craft rather than try to perfect their image. They inspire a culture of learning and growth, not a culture where people are afraid to ask for help.
To learn more, visit peterfuda.com.