Tag Archives: Women

Women’s History Month: The Rules Do Not Apply

Women’s History Month is resonating strongly with me this year. Not since the 60s have women’s collective voices been so clear and purposeful, as evidenced by the Women’s March and beyond. The political climate seems to have opened a channel, empowering women to candidly share their deepest emotions, their challenges, their fears.

Listening to Ariel Levy’s actual voice narrating her new memoir, The Rules Do Not Apply, I felt that this was one of those times when the audiobook surpassed the written version of a woman’s poignant, wrenching story.

Women's History Month: The Rules Do Not Apply

The Rules Do Not Apply

In her brave but vulnerable whiskey-husky voice, Levy opens with this:

“In the last few months, I have lost my son, my spouse, and my house. Every morning I wake up and for a few seconds I’m disoriented, confused as to why I feel grief seeping into my body, and then I remember what has become of my life.”

Suffused with shock and grief, she obsessed over the choices she had made over the course of her life. Before the tragedy, she had always laughed in the face of convention, finding her own interpretations of sexuality, work, love, marriage. Loss had never figured into her life plan. But then, does it ever?

Levy began her career doing scut work at New York Magazine and landed the plum job of staff writer at The New Yorker in 2008. Her beat was often the offbeat: traveling to rural South Africa to track down Caster Semenya, a female Olympic runner whose gender had been under pubic scrutiny; reporting on a gang of lesbian separatists named Lamar Van Dyke. As she wrote in “Thanksgiving in Mongolia,” the New Yorker essay for which she received the 2014 National Magazine Award for Essays and Criticism,

I’ve spent the past twenty years putting myself in foreign surroundings as frequently as possible. There is nothing I love more than traveling to a place where I know nobody, and where everything will be a surprise, and then writing about it. The first time I went to Africa for a story, I was so excited that I barely slept during the entire two-week trip. Everything was new: the taste of springbok meat, the pink haze over Cape Town, the noise and chaos of the corrugated-tin alleyways in Khayelitsha township. I could still feel spikes of adrenaline when I was back at my desk in New York, typing, while my spouse cooked a chicken in the kitchen.

In fact, it was in Mongolia, on a reporting assignment (and the topic of this essay) that Levy lost her baby. A nagging pain in her abdomen became stronger, and then excruciating. Her baby was born in the bathroom of her hotel room and died minutes later.

Later, her doctor told her the miscarriage had been caused by placental abruption, a rare problem that usually arises from high blood pressure or heavy cocaine use. Or because of the pregnant mother’s advanced age. Levy was 38. It could have happened anywhere, her doctor assured her. Traveling was not the factor. Nonetheless, Levy was wracked with guilt.

Her mother came to stay with her for a while. When Levy asked her, what will become of me, her mother answered, you will be fine. Other times she said, you are not alone. During Women’s History Month let us celebrate the voices of women who can share the universal emotions of grief and loss and survival that let others know that we are not alone.

The Rules Do Not Apply is painful, honest, revealing, and intimate. Levy is unforgiving of herself, but you will want to hug the person behind the voice.

See for yourself. Try out Audible with a free month of accessing a vast list of selections.

 

This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Audible.
The opinions and text are all mine.

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Why I’m Burning My Bra

Why I'm Burning My Bra

In 1968 a group of feminists known as the New York Radical Women gathered outside of the Atlantic City convention center to protest the Miss America contest. They felt that the contest  demeaned women and held them to an unreasonable and oppressive standard for beauty that was damaging to all women.

In those days, the Miss America contest attracted millions of TV viewers, and was a perfect platform for making a political statement and being heard.

With fervor, these women flung their bras onto a bonfire.

Or so the story goes.

Guess what? That never happened.

Bra burning is an urban legend.

Although draft card burning took place for realz, bras were only symbolically tossed into the flames that day in 1968. Since the Boardwalk was made of wood, police would not allow any fires to be set.

Instead, bras, girdles, cosmetics, high-heeled shoes, Playboy magazines – all derided as instruments of female torture — were thrown into a “freedom trash can” making a perfect photo opp for the swarming paparazzi on the Boardwalk.

But someone coined the phrase bra burners, referring to women perceived as militant in the struggle for women’s rights, and it stuck.

My personal act of women’s liberation comes not from a tirade against male oppression, but a thunderbolt of news that, at my advanced age, I’ve been wearing the wrong bra size all my life.

I was fitted for a bra when I was 12 and I still remember the humiliation of being naked in front of my mother plus a total stranger at Pomeroy’s Department Store who tried to show me how to position the girls into a Maidenform 30A.

I would not subject myself to that ever again, I vowed.

As I got older my body changed, of course, and my bra size along with it. Shopping for bras was such agony that I did it as infrequently as I could get away with. Quickly gathering a few different brands from the rack, I would scuttle into the dressing room and get it over with stat.

This week I happened to be in a department store, along with my best friend Elise, trying on a dress that was form fitting.  The saleswoman stood behind me, evaluating me in the three-way mirror. She cocked her head. She observed me from all angles, fiddled with the ruching on the bodice, and sighed. “I don’t think your bra is doing you any favors,” she said. “Is it OK if I bring our foundations person in?”

I was trapped. What could I say?

“Sure.”

Well. The foundations lady almost fainted when I confided my bra size.

Without giving out too much information, I will share that I was four sizes off in the band size and two in the cup size.

OMG.

She disappeared for a few minutes and came back with several bras in my size. When I slipped them on (and yes, she also showed me how to position the now much bigger girls) I instantly realized what a well-fitting bra can do for a figure. And your self-confidence.

Pricey? Yes. Worth it? Absolutely.

Women should be measured every couple of years, the foundations lady told me. Most women do not know their true size if they haven’t been fitted. Also, if you are wearing your bra on the tightest setting, it is not the right size for you.

While we were there, Elise figured she may as well get measured. And guess what? She had been wearing the wrong size, too.

So that smoke that’s coming from my backyard? It’s just the two of us tossing our old stretched-out, ill-fitting bras on the bonfire. And roasting marshmallows at the same time.

Care to join us?

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Book Buzz: About Women

Is there anything more soul satisfying than a deep, meaningful and uninterrupted conversation with someone you like and admire?

We don’t often have that luxury. With our busy lives, conversations are often limited to a quick how-are-you in the carpool line or grocery aisle.

I’m talking about the conversation that is honest and leisurely, meaningful but lighthearted. Secrets may be revealed. Wine may be consumed.

Book Buzz: About Women

About Women

Such is the nature of the conversations between two fascinating and accomplished women — one a French painter, the other an American author — as they share thoughts about life, romance, war, culture, work, fashion, religion and more in the intimate and lovely About Women: Conversations Between a Writer and a Painter.

The women, French painter Françoise Gilot and American writer Lisa Alther (yes, that Lisa Alther, author of  the bestseller Kinflicks, a huge favorite of mine) have been friends for 25 years and the conversations are culled from many over the course of their lives.

Coming from different countries and generations – Gilot was born in post-World War I Paris and Alther was born in Tennessee during World War II – their backgrounds are vastly different. Gilot, who happens to be the former partner of Pablo Picasso, had an upper class Parisian upbringing surrounded by cultural amenities. Alther grew up in Appalachia on a farm and later moved to small-town Vermont.

But what they share is a creative sensibility, an intellectual curiosity and an open mind. The  women muse about the influences that guided them as they developed their artistic passions. Sharing memories of parents and grandparents, of wartime losses, of school and fashion and religion, they are able to obtain insights into themselves as well as each other. And sometimes they just have to agree to disagree.

They have opinions on everything.

French and American customs, for example. An American woman resents hearing a wolf whistle on the street, Alther says, while according to Gilot a French woman takes that as a compliment. Alther says, “I think women react badly to comments int he street here because they’re often delivered with the intention of demeaning.” Gilot says, “Either that or you’re imagining that that’s the intention.”

Gilot claims that is is considered “extremely impolite to say thank you” and Alther counters that “Here it’s considered rude not to say thank you.”

About fashion, Alther says, “The attitude here is often to wear something so appropriate that you will fit in and not be noticed. Whereas the attitude in France seems to be to make an individualized statement that will make you stand out.” Gilot agrees.

They compare the genesis and trajectories of their careers. Alther says, “The odds against my ever getting published were staggering. I wrote fiction for fourteen years without getting published, and I collected 250 rejection slips.”

That is always encouraging to us unpublished authors, so thank you for that, Lisa.

It is timely that I have read this book just before attending the annual Pennsylvania Conference for Women this week where I will happily soak up wisdom from a bevy of stimulating presenters, all speaking to issues pertinent to women: health, personal finance, leadership, finding a balance, just to name a few.

Book Buzz: About Women

It is always reassuring to hear women speak about finding empowerment and fulfillment.

Just as Alther and Gilot did in About Women.

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I am happy to offer one of my readers a copy of About Women. Please leave a comment below and a winner will be selected randomly. USA addresses only, please.

I received a copy of About Women: Conversations between a Writer and a Painter from Doubleday for an honest review, which is the only
kind of review I write.

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Many Paws and Menopause

I am of the mindset that change is a good thing. I welcome change. Most of the time.

But when it comes to The Change, i.e. the change of life, i.e. menopause?

Not so much.

The change? Hoo boy. Is it ever.

It’s a Hot Mess

Menopause, oh menopause. You antagonize us midlife women with your heartless cruelty.

Let me count the ways.

Hot flashes and night sweats.

photo credit: janwillemsen via photopin cc

photo credit: janwillemsen via photopin cc

Mood swings and hair thinning.

Simultaneous disappearance of waistline and sex drive.

Sleepless nights.

Cellulite dimpling random body parts.

Reading glasses, often misplaced.

Many Paws

Chins multiplying like rabbits.

Sturdy black hairs sprouting under the chin, making tweezing difficult because who can see that close without reading glasses.?

Loss of memory and bladder control.

photo credit: Beige Alert via photopin <a

photo credit: Beige Alert via photopin

Are we having fun yet?

I’m Kidding. Kind of.

So maybe I’m painting a worst case scenario. Surely, there must be benefits of menopause.

When I figure that out I’ll let you know.

But what can you do? Menopause is merely part of life. Railing at it is useless. As with most things in life, you can wallow in self-pity. Or you can laugh.

I endorse the laughing.

Many Paws

Which is what I did when I read author Susan DeGarmo’s humorous take on what every woman will face someday: “Many Paws: The Years of Change.”

Despite its title, “Many Paws” is not about cute baby animals. But it is cute. Small enough to fit in your pocketbook, it is a pop-up book with a colorful, whimsical design, and funny pearls of wisdom throughout. How adorable is this??

Many Paws

“Many Paws” is not heavy reading, nor is it a self-help book. It’s a little collection of humor about the nuisances  that all women endure in one way or another.

Like DeGarmo, I will not embrace menopause. Menopause is not my friend. But I will laugh about it with my friends who totally understand.

Because that is the best way we sistahs will get through it.

I can’t think of a better gift for a friend, mom or sister whose hot flashes and mood swings have turned her into Meno-monster. She needs a laugh? This will give her just that.

I have a copy of “Many Paws to give away to a reader. Tell me the worst or best thing about menopause and I will randomly select a winner.

I received a copy of “Many Paws: The Years of Change” for an honest review. No compensation was received.

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