The Bad Thing

Lidija Haas

  • The Rules Do Not Apply: A Memoir by Ariel Levy
    Fleet, 207 pp, £16.99, March 2017, ISBN 978 0 349 00529 4

You can’t have it both ways and both ways is the only way Ariel Levy wants it. Levy is best known for her portraits, in the New Yorker, of women who test society’s boundaries, or run up hard against them, and she has often hinted at her own stake in these stories. There was Caster Semenya, the South African runner forced to endure hormone testing and endless discussion as to whether her physical attributes should disqualify her from competing against other women; Edith Windsor, the widow who sued the US government over its refusal to grant legal equality to unions between women and whose case finally brought down the federal Defense of Marriage Act; the Van Dykes, who in 1977 took to the road, shaved their heads, changed their names, and aimed to avoid ‘testosterone poisoning’ by cutting out men almost entirely (they hoped they might one day convert enough lesbians to create a vast Van Dyke population). Levy’s interest in these figures seems more than journalistic: she meets Lamar Van Dyke, the last remaining member of the group, and marvels at ‘a woman in her sixties who has been resolutely doing as she pleases for as long as she can remember’. Women like that, she says, are ‘not easy to come by, in movies or books, or in life’.

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