A Blog of Seattle Arts & Lectures

Required Reading: Ariel Levy

By Stephany Kim, SAL Intern

As part of our Required Reading series, we share a list of three essential works from SAL’s featured writers. Up this time: The New Yorker journalist and nonfiction author, Ariel Levy.

Levy’s original talk will be closing out our 2017/18 Women You Need to Know (WYNK) Series TOMORROW, Tuesday, May 15, at Benaroya’s Recital Hall at 7:30 PM. Tickets are still available! 

In the preface to her 2017 memoir, The Rules Do Not Apply, Ariel Levy admits: “I wanted what we all want: everything. We want a mate who feels like family and a lover who is exotic, surprising. We want to be youthful adventurers and middle-aged mothers. We want intimacy and autonomy, safety and stimulation, reassurance and novelty, coziness and thrills.” 

Before 2013, Levy may have been a candidate for this woman-who-has-it-all: Levy’s two-decades long journalist career covering gender politics for The New Yorker, along being legally married to a woman and carrying their baby made by a friend’s donated sperm, was evidence that she had fulfilled this vision of a modern woman, liberated from the burden of historical rules. I felt like this very fortunate beneficiary of the women’s movement, I got to have all these choices, and the rules did not apply,” she told the New York Times.” Harrowingly, she experienced a miscarriage while reporting from Mongolia, followed by a divorce and the loss of her home, and suddenly her her internal narrative turned on its head.

Throughout her career, Levy has been a provocateur of third-wave feminism, delving into practical realities of what the movement toward gender equality looks like. Her shockingly honest and intimate writing style will take you deep inside her unfiltered reflections on her experiences as a woman who tried to have “every single thing [she] wants in life,” and leave you raw with her revelations. Here are three works by Levy we highly recommend:


Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture (2005)

In the early aughts, Levy went on a quest to critique an American culture in which women are encouraged to objectify themselves: Girls Gone Wild, college girls in Playboy bunny suits, the rise in demand for breast implants, and the myriad of other ways the new millennium began embracing “raunch culture” as a corollary  of “female empowerment.” Levy interviewed young women who flashed the camera on their spring break and Paris Hilton devotees, and examines music videos featuring strippers, thongs marketed to prepubescent girls. “‘Raunchy’ and ‘liberated’ are not synonyms,” Levy wrote in the New York Times. “It is worth asking ourselves if this bawdy world of boobs and gams we have resurrected reflects how far we’ve come, or how far we have left to go.”


“Thanksgiving in Mongolia,” The New Yorker (2013)

When Levy dropped “Thanksgiving in Mongolia” on his desk, David Remnick, editor of The New Yorker, devoured it. “I couldn’t get out of my chair. . . The world is full of personal essays. My illness. My divorce. My delight. They are everywhere. Arguably there are too many. Among the average ones, there’s a kind of grasping aspect to them. When they connect, as Ari’s did, there’s really nothing like it.” In this essay, Levy documents in painfully vivid details her journey through life-changing pregnancy, loss, and grief. “The truth is,” she writes, “the ten or twenty minutes I was somebody’s mother were black magic. There is no adventure I would trade them for.”


The Rules Do Not Apply: A Memoir (2017)

Expanding on “Thanksgiving in Mongolia,” The Rules Do Not Apply provides a blunt, honest, and often painfully funny account of Levy’s struggle with family, love, sexuality, motherhood, grief, alcoholism, and more. Full of thoughts many of us have been too afraid to share, “Levy’s wise and poignant memoir is the voice of a new generation of women, full of grit, pathos, truth, and inspiration” (SF Book Review). The Chicago Tribune praised: “It is an act of courage to hunt for meaning within grief, particularly if the search upends your life and shakes out the contents for all the world to sift through. Levy embarks on the hunt beautifully.”

Posted in 2017/18 SeasonWomen You Need to Know