“The Rules Do Not Apply” by Ariel Levy

Alice Book Review

by Maura Masters

“Just for today, I will adjust myself, and try not to manipulate the situation.”— Al Anon 

This quote is for the friends and families, the survivors, of alcoholics, to help them give up their personal struggle to “save” the addict; to try and find him or her therapy; to get her to meetings; to take care of his family. In the end, it is the addict who has to manipulate the outcome, not the victim of the alcoholism. It is what it is, so somehow find peace in the reality.

These days I’ve been trying to switch my perspective away from the victim to the perpetrator. It’s one of the most chauvinist acts; blaming women for the atrocities they suffer. Blame the rape victim, not the rapist. Blame the person who loses her house, not the bank. Blame the smoker with lung cancer, not the tobacco industry. Why are the ones who inflict pain not held accountable? More importantly, what is their motivation for these deliberate acts — the choices behind the criminal?

I want power — to show the guys what kind of a “man” I am, so I’m going to take advantage of this passed out woman. I want fame — to live in a big house, show my family and neighbors that I’m successful, so I’m buying something I know I can’t afford. I want to be rich — I know people die from cigarettes, but I make so much money selling them that I have a big house, and power.

As my grandfather used to say, “A clear conscience makes a good pillow.” Make the choices that leave you at ease, that challenge you, but don’t drain you; that may not only cause pain, but also relieve anguish — that allow you to sleep at night.

Most “bad guys” do not rest easy. Every choice has a consequence, and theirs is to live in Hell. They choose to take what they can, and damn the consequences. Where is the honesty and humanity in that? Where is the bravery? But, unfortunately, in this country, their Hell is more often celebrated than berated or pitied. They feed on celebrity like alcoholics feed on drink.

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos cannot deregulate safety on college campuses. Coeds will suffer. The repeal of Dodd-Frank or the Financial Choice Act will only help the corrupt banks. Victims will be bankrupted. Cigarettes kill, so the tobacco industry should be taxed to high heaven. The cost of cigarettes should go up, up, up in flames. 

It’s up to the victims to aim their focus at the criminals, but that takes great courage and clarity how best to adjust themselves to not manipulate the outcome to a fruitless end. We can’t ignore the “bad guys”; they won’t go away, but we also can’t turn into the people they have become to seek our revenge, or make ourselves feel powerful. Use your voice; save your sanity. We can protest, but have to pick our battles wisely and deliberately – with a clear head.

Like the author (and journalist) of the memoir, “The Rules Do Not Apply,” Ariel Levy, she was a victim with devastating consequences. In the period of one month she lost her marriage, their home and their baby. She will never get over the loss of her son, it is a hole too deep, but she has slowly picked up, and created a new way. With this book, she is touring with humorist David Sedaris, and like her alcoholic ex-wife, Lucy, is moving toward recovery, one day at a time.

Levy is no stranger to creating and living a new way.  When she was a younger woman, she embraced sexual liberation. It fit well with her strong will and stronger opinions. (She attributes her bi-sexuality to her college days at Wesleyan College in Connecticut where they had co-ed bathrooms.) In the early 1990s, the blossoms of gender identity were blooming. Women were empowered, making our own choices and living the consequences.

Levy was raised under a left-leaning rainbow of possibility that often left her ostracized at school. She was loud and brash in ways that other 8 year olds didn’t appreciate. Her parents were unconventional (her mother invited her lover to stay on vacation with her family), and sympathetic (her father wrote copy for Planned Parenthood). As a result Levy was unfettered in her determination; she was passionate and her career as a professional writer, first at New York Magazine, and now for The New Yorker, fell into place. As a journalist, she was inquisitive, searching for the truth, and taking chances.

One early assignment was to follow cast members of the reality cable TV show, “Girls Gone Wild,” a pornographic direct-marketing scheme that was formed in the late 1990s but has since bankrupt. From that experience she wrote her first book, “Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture.”

The formulaic “Girls” 30-minute infomercials featured twenty-somethings at parties, clubs or other hipster settings. “Liberated” women took off their clothes, had sex on camera or participated in wet-t-shirt contests for the prize of a ball cap, t-shirt or maybe money. The point of Levy’s coverage was that these women, however empowered, were still taking it off for “the man.” They were victims and pawns, not champions.

Levy learned that, as a feminist, just because we can, doesn’t mean we should. Taking our clothes off by choice is fine, but to what end? Making decisions based on what others want is not at all empowering. Making decision based on what feels right and just is power.

When she lost her son (see her National Award Magazine winning essay, “Thanksgiving in Mongolia,” Levy was in brutal agony. The baby came too early, not from any decision she made, but because her body couldn’t hold him. It wasn’t a selfish choice; it wasn’t foolhardy. It was heartbreaking. Just as Levy thought she had it all together as a 38 year old woman: an enviable job, a loving relationship, a comfortable home and soon, a family, her world fell apart. 

Back at home, her wife, Lucy, was dealing with the stress and responsibility of a start-up business by concealing a very real and very damaging drinking problem. She was a practicing alcoholic. And, because of her addiction, they had to sell their home in Connecticut to pay the bills accrued from Lucy’s lost business, and to pay for her rehabilitation. Her marriage ended soon after that, but she did not blame Lucy.

“I realized that I am grateful to be here, too… I’m grateful I’m not tormented by whether I’m crazy or whether I’m right… maybe it wasn’t that Lucy didn’t love me enough to quit. Maybe all of this was not really her choice (which is to say not really her fault),” she said.

Why is it that women, when we’re feeling “free” or “stressed,” drink ourselves blind and do stupid things? Dangerous things? Why do women drinkJust because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

What is drinking covering up about yourself that you don’t like or that frightens you? Sure, not all woman-drinking is dangerous, usually it’s fun, but sometimes the reasoning behind it is suspect. Is it boredom or is vice? Is it for laughs, or is it like breathing? Are you a victim and a pawn and can’t look at yourself in the mirror, or are you a champion? What is the reality?

After attending an Al-Anon meeting, Levy realized that she didn’t have to be the one to have it all together. She didn’t have to be the bossy little girl all grown into a bossy professional woman. Nobody else expected that from her.

She didn’t have to be right when she tried to figure out her situation; it could just be what is was, nothing more, and she could let go. As a journalist, she didn’t have to “get to the bottom of it,” or put the facts in their place. “The idea that in life, unlike in writing, the drive to analyze and influence might be something worth refiguring, was new to me,” she said. The reality was what it was, no digging necessary.

Through the month of devastation, however, she saw through all her ego and self-expectations, and made sense of the choices she’d made. It wasn’t all her fault. It wasn’t all Lucy’s fault. There was no real blame. When she owned up to that reality, stopped owning the responsibility for other people’s actions, and began to make her own insightful decisions, her healing began.

Maura Masters loves editing Alice, and reading interesting and inspiring stories. She knows that women carry too much burden for other people’s bad decisions. Instead of wearing a wet t-shirt to demonstrate her empowerment, she does the dishes because it’s relaxing, and gives her a minute to float away on the bubbles.

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