Seven alternatives to Miley Cyrus

October 7th, 2013


As the parent of a 13-year-old son and an 8-year-old daughter, I have an interest in the ongoing pop culture debates over art vs. raunch, nakedness vs. maturity, empowerment vs. exploitation.

But I am also an admitted fan of pop music, and in my considered opinion, the stuff Miley Cyrus is putting out is just boring.

I could spend hours discussing the impact of Rihanna, Ke$ha and Britney on impressionable children, because “We Found Love,” “Tik Tok,” and “Toxic” are kickass singles.  I tried “We Can’t Stop,” but I don’t get it.  I don’t even think it would be a good Rihanna record.

As a result, Miley’s antics with foam fingers, teddy bears, and cultural appropriation are not even on my kids’ radar–but they might be on yours. If that true, then I’m here to help!  Below is a Radical Housewife-approved list of hip-hop/pop gems by women that I guarantee inspiring mad twerking that you can feel good about.


Your kids might be surprised to learn that this talk show host used to be cool:


Mary’s groove is as fierce as her clothes are hideous:


Everyone in my house loves M.I.A.–and the family that galangs together, stays together:


Miley DREAMS of being as hot as Neneh Cherry:


Amanda Blank is Brooklyn’s answer to Ke$ha (and that’s a good thing):


One of my closest college pals went to high school with Santigold, a totally pointless factoid I trot out to seem “hip”:


And Le Tigre, of course:


If you disagree with these selections, please refrain from writing me an open letter.  I’d prefer you just leave me a comment.




Good mothers, bad mothers

September 24th, 2013



This fall, my son, an eighth grader, enrolled in an advanced math course for gifted kids at the University of Minnesota.


He has spent more than a few nights cussing me out for “forcing” him to do something that is so hard.


One reason this math is so hard is that, for the previous thirteen years of his life, the math has been so goddamn easy.  For once he is receiving instruction appropriate for his intellect.


His intellect may be highly developed, but many of his other skills are not.  He did most of his first assignment in ballpoint pen because it did not occur to him to walk downstairs to get a pencil.  Unfortunately, many of the problems written in pen were wrong.  Did I neglect to tell him that you can’t erase pen?


When he forgot his math book and supplies at home, I brought them to school for him.


When I dropped them off, I chewed him out royally–this was the fourth time in two weeks that the math stuff had been left one place or another.  He sobbed that he was a stupid idiot and I obviously hated him and believed he would be a loser all his life and he might as well quit the human race.



Which is it?




If you’re like me, you ask yourself this question a thousand times an hour, a million times a day–despite knowing that it is unanswerable.  When I thrash myself against the good/bad binary, I am wasting energy that would be better used to care for myself and for the kids who are counting me.

So why do it?  Whose interest does it serve?  Offhand, I could name a few: the Bugaboo company, Phyllis Schlafly, Us Weekly magazine, patriarchal capitalism, the usual axis of evil.

Avital Norman Nathman knows that The Good Mother Myth won’t be shattered by the anthology of the same name that’s being released by Seal Press in January 2014–but like I tell my math student, sometimes it’s worth it to put yourself out there and TRY instead of just shaking your fist at the universe.  Or something to that effect.

Speaking of putting yourself out there, The Good Mother Myth: Redefining Motherhood to Fit Reality features an essay I wrote last summer that is some of the most vulnerable stuff I’ve ever had the nerve to share with the reading public.  I’m scared that you’ll hate it and think I’m a loser and/or stupid idiot and I might as well quit the human race, because only BAD mothers admit to frailty…or was it GOOD mothers?  I can’t remember anymore…

I hope you’ll pre-order it anyway, either from Amazon or from the indie bookseller of your choice.  To sign up for a newsletter about the book and its fab editor and contributors, put your info in the handy widget on the upper right hand corner of your screen.

And if any of you are algebra experts, say so in the comments.




Manuscript Monday: “Are you doing the right thing?”

September 9th, 2013



Hey y’all!  Remember that I’m writing a book?  (I think even I forgot for a while.) This excerpt is from Chapter 8, “Welcome to the Mommy Wars.”




Like most cultural debates, the “Mommy Wars” are a wholly-media manufactured phenomenon, a solution in search of a problem.  Sure, there are moms who were jealous of other moms’ ability to stay home, their ability to keep working, their ability to dress their babies in Baby Phat by Kimora Lee Simmons, but hey, this is AMERICA, a nation built on jealousy.  The cult of manifest destiny rested upon the notion that indigenous tribes were hogging all the good stuff for themselves.  Why the Trail of Tears?  Andrew Jackson saw some tasty, arable land and felt deeply envious of the Seminoles and Cherokees living there.  In our century, the Lancome cosmetics company puts Julia Roberts in its advertising to inspire envy, not amiability.  You want to buy the product to steal a little bit of her beauty for yourself.


images (7)


The way the Mommy Wars work their magic is to demand the following of mothers: are you doing the right thing?  What if your baby loses out?  What if you lose out?  Will my children hate me?  What if this has all been a terrible mistake?  Then you’re so incredibly confused that the tragedy of child hunger in America feels not nearly as important as whether Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Cambridge is nursing the heir to the British crown.

The Mommy Wars, as they stand today, serve as an effective check on the ambitions of the American mother.  The phenomenon keeps women in a perpetual state of guilt, shame, and inadequacy–and does so without involving anyone but wealthy white women!  Behind the punditry, the blog posts, the endless shaming of individuals who are making individual choices is a quiet but urgent message: I care about me. The rest of you can go fuck yourselves. 




I asked this back in chapter one: when is a choice not a choice?  When you understand that many of your “decisions” are based on circumstances set in motion before you got out of diapers yourself, let alone changed one on a baby of your own.  Do working class women of color have the choices that Linda Hirshman and I do?  No.  It’s very unlikely that a garbageman’s daughter will become CEO of a Fortune 500 company.  Hell, it’s unlikely that an upper class woman of color will do that!  The playing field remains uneven to a disorienting degree.

Carping about what women “should” do avoids serious debate about the consequences of entrenched economic inequality.  Women of all races earn less than men, but they receive no proportional discount on food, rent, clothing, utility bills, health care, child care, or college tuition.

Just IMAGINE what we could accomplish if we redirected all that Mommy Wars energy…..!







Away from the numbers

September 3rd, 2013


(If you don’t know the song the above title refers to, allow me to introduce you to the Jam.  You can thank me later.)


It’s back to school time, dear readers, so you get a quiz: what is the gender of the child in the 44 shirt below?



The August 2013 issue of the Minnesota Women’s Press featured the theme “What She Wore,” which is your big clue that the child in the photograph is yours truly in 1972.

I write about my “Free to Be…You and Me”  childhood a lot, not so much to idealize it as to wonder what the hell happened to that period in American culture when gender neutrality was a viable fashion option for people of all ages.  I’m not saying that gender neutrality is perfect, but hell, it’s got to be better than today’s compulsory superhero vs. princess gender binary coding–as well as its opposite, the mad ping-ponging from one end of the spectrum to the other.  Mommy blogger Katie Vyktoriah knew she would get mileage out of a story called “What Happened When My Son Wore a Pink Headband to Walmart,” including a coveted repost on HuffPo and the sympathy of millions when the story when viral.

Too bad it was fake.


When my first child was born in 2000, I searched high and low for number shirts, naively expecting that such things would be available at Target and other fine purveyors of children’s wear.  Instead I found aisles of blue Thomas the Tank Engine onesies and pink Cinderella tops and nothing, I repeat, NOTHING, in between.

It’s hard out here for a mama.  Just imagine how hard it is for kids!  And when it’s hard for kids, mamas do things they ordinarily wouldn’t.  As I write in my column for the aformentioned MWP issue, my own mother shocked the hell out of me when she dragged me (and I mean that literally) into the Southdale Dayton’s in 1984.

My mother steered me toward the juniors department, where she yanked Guess tops off the racks. “These shoulder pads will make you look fantastic,” she announced happily.  They didn’t. My mother howled with frustration every time she fished a pair of puffy ovals out of the trash. I didn’t want to disappoint her (or my junior high friends; we were a heavily padded bunch), but the sudden insistence on feminine performance didn’t sit well with me. I was a girl, but I didn’t want to be girly, for girly style was not only fussy and impractical, it was weak. It was wimpy. It was dumb. 



Fortunately, as I write in the piece, a li’l book called Whipping Girl helped to straighten (pun very much intended) me out, as did parenting, a job that is too complicated and messy to fit in an either/or box.  I remained resentful of my mother for those horrific Dayton’s trips for years until I realized a disturbing truth:

If I knew of a product that would armor my children against social condemnation, I would put it on my Visa card in a hurry. 




Speaking of numbers, this time of year always shocks me into realizing that my kids are really and truly growing up.  As the saying goes, the years are short but the days are soooooooo looooooong.  Every year I snap first day pictures of the dynamic duo on the front stoop, and after the bus pulls away, I load the pictures up and compare them to years past.

Damn.  Remember when they were six and one?  Eight and three?  Twelve and seven?  I do.

Parents are routinely cautioned about sleepless nights and dirty diapers, but they aren’t warned about how much crazier things get when we realize that OUR BABIES are going to be vulnerable in the stupidest, most meaningless ways.

And that we will do stupid things as we attempt to protect them.

Elliott and Miriam of the future, if you are reading these words in a Google cache somewhere in the mid-21st century, know this: to me, you are both number one.  I love you no matter what.  Please forgive me.






Two middle-class white liberals react to the Zimmerman verdict

July 15th, 2013


One half of a middle-class white liberal couple checks his smartphone.

Matt: Hey, the verdict must be in because Twitter is blowing up.  Adrian Peterson is pretty upset….uh oh.  That can’t be right…..wait a minute… holy shit….

Shannon: Oh no.

Matt: Zimmerman got off.

Shannon: WHAT?!!

Matt: He did.  He really did.

The other half of the couple looks up the New York Times online, not because she doesn’t trust the future Hall of Fame running back for the Minnesota Vikings, but because she is so shocked she needs the Grey Lady’s corroboration.

Shannon: OH MY GOD.

The astonished couple self-medicates with the items pictured below.

Shannon: I feel sick.

Matt: Me too.

Shannon: You should see some of the posts on my Facebook wall.  It’s hard enough thinking about Trayvon Martin’s mother.  Reading the reactions from my friends of color is one punch to the gut after another.

Matt: I can’t imagine.

The couple pauses.  They are white; they really can’t imagine.  

Matt: I wonder if there will be rioting.

Shannon: Fox News hopes there will be.

Matt: Please don’t mention them right now.  I already feel like throwing up.

Shannon: I know there will be more hoodie demonstrations and events that we probably should go to, but I dunno…..  as middle-class white people we could wear hoodies made of bullets and cocaine and still not get shot on the streets of Florida.  I’m not sure we’re the ones who should be speaking right now.

The couple pauses.  They are sorry they ate all the ice cream.  They wonder: is there more tequila?  

Matt: If anything good comes out of this, it’s that those Stand Your Ground laws will be repealed.  This case shows what a joke they are.  Things have to get really bad before they get better, don’t they?

Shannon:  Rodney King got the crap beaten out of him over twenty years ago–did anything change then?  And what about Newtown?  If anything would change the gun control debate in this country, you’d think it would be a lunatic walking into a school and murdering children!  CHILDREN!  But it didn’t.  How can we expect anything to change now?

Matt: Newtown!  Jesus!  I can’t talk about this anymore.  I have to read and go to sleep, sorry.

The couple stops talking about it.  One half of the couple reads the book pictured below.


The other half of the couple wrings her hands and thinks about writing a blog post that will express her grief, offer a few resources for her readers, but won’t change anything.  

She is awake for hours, but to her credit she does not revisit the tequila.



The Trayvon Martin Foundation

Petition to the Department of Justice: Open a Civil Rights Case Against George Zimmerman

#HoodiesUp for Trayvon Martin Rally, Minneapolis





Fed by love

June 19th, 2013


A common theme in my writing about parenting is my overwhelming need to untangle generational parenting styles to figure out what will benefit my own children the most.  In plainer language, I want to do better than my mom, whom I understand wanted to do better than her mom, et cetera.

Rationally, I expect that my own kids will do the same thing, should they decide to become parents.  Emotionally, I wonder how I will react when that time comes.  Will I freak out?  Will I respect their choices?  Will I assume that they are rejecting my way when they strike out on their own?

This month’s Minnesota Women’s Press is food-themed, a loaded subject for women, mothers most of all.  When we feed our children’s bodies, we imagine ourselves filling their hearts and souls.  Which we’re not, but tell that to the Paula Deen, Rachael Ray, and whoever else the Food Network is pushing.

When my maternal grandmother died in 2003, I opened her eulogy with the following words: “my grandmother is the smell of butter.”  When I wrote about her for the Women’s Press in 2009, I declared: “butter was the woman’s natural milieu; I think she probably dabbed it behind her ears.”

She loved butter, and she probably loved us too, but she never said so.  If she declared her love for anything, it was probably for Johnny Carson and the Marlboro Light 100s she chain smoked.  That was much less embarrassing and vulnerable than admitting to loving a person.  Sheesh.



My current column is titled “When food means ‘I love you.’”  I would very much like for my children to see food as a source of nourishment and/or delight, not as a conduit of my affection for them.  Already, however, I am touchy when my hard work is sniffed at or spat out.  If Elliott dislikes my chicken fried rice then he must not love me.  If my coffee cake is burned I must be a failure.  ALL LESSONS LEARNED AT MY FOREMOTHERS’ KNEES!  That they, in turn, learned from the women before them!  At least they could do it in an age before Pinterest and mothering as an Olympic-level sport.  From the column:

I follow a number of so-called “mom blogs,” and you’d think to read them that not even abortion is as loaded a topic as whether children ought to eat yogurt that contains high-fructose corn syrup. Even though we 21st-century moms aren’t shy about telling our little darlings we love them, our culture compels us to express our care and concern through cookery.

Here I must cop to the fact that the chicken I put in that fried rice recipe was not a free-wheeling hippy-dippy bird that I picked up at Seward Co-op.  Elliott could taste it!   I just hope I can handle the grief when my future grandchildren are organic vegan gourmets who turn up their noses at the kind of nut cheeses I bring for Christmas.

Oh my.



Right now is a difficult time of year to strive for balance, emotionally or nutritionally, for bizarre schedules and hot weather lead to nights where ice cream is the only thing on the menu, and carrot-spinach ripple it ain’t.  I am trying very hard to let myself off the guilt roller coaster so I can enjoy it.

And I also committed to say “I LOVE YOU” with words and smooches several hundred times a day without fail…but I do that anyway.






Manuscript Monday: “Legalize Love”

May 13th, 2013

Today’s excerpt is dedicated to two people I love dearly, who appear in my book under the pseudonyms Kelly and Gretchen.  They are very important members of my family, and whenever anybody asks me why a straight middle class housewife gives a crap about marriage equality*, I mention them.  In fact, Kelly took this picture of Elliott at a marriage equality rally our families attended on February 12, 2009:


I remember that rally well–I delivered a speech on behalf of Minnesota NOW that was received warmly by the less then the few dozen people who bothered to show up.  Today, my friend Kelly is back at the Capitol, with THOUSANDS of  ecstatic people ready to celebrate marriage equality in our state.  Among those thousands are Kelly and Gretchen’s two daughters, who can’t wait to be bridesmaids in their mothers’ LEGAL Minnesota wedding.


I can’t believe it.

Kelly and I were both good American girls, born in the land of the free, rewarded with Social Security Cards and easily obtained passports.  Had I fallen for a lederhosen-wearing Bavarian named Matthias Schwarz (instead of a professor’s brat born within a mile of UC-Berkeley), his road to citizenship would be assured.  Kelly, on the other hand, had no such opportunity.  She could not legally sponsor the citizenship of the foreign-born person she loved.

“Ugh,” Matt said, his usual eloquence failing him.

Deep in the throes of liberal guilt, I blurted, “you’re lucky, then, that you’re a white European and not a dark-looking terrorist.”  Post-9/11 hysteria brought new reports daily of Muhammads and Fatimas kicked off airplanes, hijab-wearers taunted with racial slurs, rocks thrown in mosque windows.  Gretchen admitted that her citizenship class had zero attendees of obviously Arab descent.  The Muslim students took great pains to announce that they were Somali war refugees.  Well into 2003 there was still palpable fear that al-Qaeda lurked in every (swarthy, hijab-clad) corner.

Matt returned us to the original point. “It shouldn’t be against the law to sponsor the person you love.”

Kelly shrugged.  “We can’t get married,” she said simply.  “If we’re not legally married, our relationship doesn’t exist.”

“But we have some domestic partner laws,” I said.  “Are you able to register as partners?”

Gretchen lifted her head from her thick textbook. “We can register all day long, but it still doesn’t mean anything.”  Then she returned to The New Citizen’s Guide to the Constitution.

Kelly shrugged.  “I guess it would be nice to have a big party,” she said, “but it’s true that it doesn’t mean much.  I still can’t give Gretchen any of my job’s benefits.  I can’t even carry her on my health insurance.”

“I have to buy my own,” the student of American law announced.

I decided, after draining my Summit Extra Pale Ale too quickly, that The Happy Hetero ought to state the obvious.  “That’s really expensive.”

Kelly nodded.  “Yes,” she said.  “Yes, it is.” At least [their son] Morgan could be added to Kelly’s coverage without any trouble; unmarried mothers, once a category as publicly shunned as homosexual couples, were wholly unexciting in the 21st century.

Gretchen passed her citizenship exam easily, returning home from her swearing-in ceremony with the gift awarded to her by the Customs Bureau, a tiny American flag stapled to a barbecue skewer.  “USA! USA!” she taught Morgan to shout.  He ran around the yard, chanting and waving, chased by Elliott, who shrieked that he wanted a turn.  Frustrated, Elliott grabbed Morgan by his overall straps and threw him to the ground, WWF style.  The home of the brave, indeed.



 *though anyone who would ask me such a stupid thing deserves a kick in the crotch, not a polite answer



It’s time

May 9th, 2013

I know it’s time.  You know it’s time.  We all know it’s time.

Yet whenever I read this phrase, so casually and coolly dropped into news articles on the happenings at my state capitol today….

“Minnesota is expected to become the 12th state making same-sex marriage legal”

….I have to do a little:





The unemotional can watch the Uptake’s live stream, but I am already a bit too verklempt, especially since the person introducing the bill in the House is Rep. Karen Clark, the longest serving openly lesbian member to serve in a state legislature in the United States.  Since 1980 she has kicked all kinds of butt for equality and justice in Minnesota, and everyone exulting today (on the live stream you can hear them chanting, howling, and screaming outside the House chamber) owes her an enormous debt of gratitude.

Now I just have to break the news to Elliott that he’s probably a little too old to be a ring bearer.




Parenting as Plan A

May 1st, 2013



Yesterday the FDA approved plans to sell emergency contraception over the counter to anyone over the age of 15.  This is a good thing, but it is not in compliance with a federal ruling that ordered Plan B be available to ANYONE who walks into a CVS and buys it.  To quote the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists: “The medical evidence demonstrates that EC is safe and effective in preventing pregnancy for all reproductive-age females.”  ALL females.  ALL.

When I was a teen, before I had my state-issued driver’s license, I relied on these thin plastic cards to get discounts at the Southdale movie theater:



Don’t I look awesome? Matt calls it my Julia Cafritz period, but my ferocity was all an act.  Inside I was a trembling, anxious, fearful mess.  My contraception was my mother’s insistence that should I require it, she would be only too happy to help me procure some.  This embarrassed me into celibacy until I left for college (though my scowl may have been a contributing factor).

Yesterday’s announcement is a small step forward for girls like the one in the plastic card pictured above.  We cannot forget, however, that the arbitrary identification requirement is a serious barrier for people who don’t look like her.  With this policy in place, 13-year-olds and undocumented women can purchase Tylenol and Robitussin, both extremely toxic in large doses, but they cannot buy Plan B.  Why?



Conservatives who protest the availability of condoms in high school health clinics are suddenly horrified that Plan B doesn’t protect against sexually transmitted infections.  The drum of “parents’ rights” is beaten long and loud.   Safe, FDA-approved medications are “dangerous.”  Human sexuality is scary and wrong.  There is no right to premarital, non-procreative sex.  Since no one fears eternal damnation these days, fear of pregnancy needs to keep kids out of each others’ pants.

This has not been one of my happiest parenting weeks.  I received some very disappointing news about my son’s grades, which led Matt and me to have THAT TALK with him.  While he curled into a surly ball in the corner of the couch, a very familiar scowl on his face, I could almost hear the thought “this sucks” rattling around his teenage brain.  While my mouth was blabbering all the Very Important Lessons that my son needed to learn about his school responsibilities, inside my head I was thinking the same goddamn thing: “this sucks!”

So much about parenting sucks.  It sucks to be the bad guy all the time, it sucks to clean up all the messes, both emotional and literal, it sucks to send the person you love the most in the world to the place you hated the most in the world (middle school).  It also sucks that there is tremendous social pressure to say WHY NO, PARENTING DOES NOT SUCK AT ANY TIME EVER, IN FACT IT IS THE BEST THING THAT EVER HAPPENED TO ME.

Which it is, of course, but it’s not a gig for the faint of heart or the unprepared.  It really needs to be your Plan A.

If all sex can’t be planned, at least parenthood ought to be.  A person’s ability to decide her future, whether it’s Plan A, B or C, ought not to depend whether she has an ID card in her pocket.  





Manuscript Monday: “Patriarchy and our sons”

April 22nd, 2013

Hi readers!  Sorry I haven’t posted much lately, but it’s sorta hard to type when you’re hiding under your thickest blanket, scared to death not only of the bizarro Minnesota weather (nine inches of snow last week, eight inches more expected tonight) but also of the United States Senate.  And that thing that happened in Boston.



I can’t get over how young and vulnerable the boy in this photograph seems.  He’s a baby!  What the hell happened between the moment this picture was taken and the moment he decided to drop a bomb in a crowd full of people?  

As this face flashed across my television and computer screens myriad times over the last five days I flashed back to the intense, white-knuckled terror I felt in 1999 when, within weeks of each other, the Columbine tapes were released and discovered the sex of my first child.  



Since [my] angst-filled first pregnancy, I’ve become convinced that the greatest challenge of the 21st century women’s movement is to raise feminist boys who become feminist men.  I chanted this mantra to myself in 1999 to build up my confidence, to be sure, but the reality is that no part of our culture will change until men make it happen.

If you’ve forgotten, we live under patriarchy.  Men make the world go ‘round.  Women like Indira Gandhi of India, Golda Meir of Israel, Margaret Thatcher of the UK, Michelle Bachelet of Argentina, and our own Secretary of State Hillary Clinton are exceptions, but not the rule.  A 2007 report from the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) discovered that  “women perform 66 percent of the world’s work, produce 50 percent of the [world’s] food, but earn 10 percent of the income and own 1 percent of the property.”

Successful civil rights movements acknowledge that power can’t be shifted without the consent of the powerful.  Women got the vote by appealing to the consciences of their menfolk.  How will we upend patriarchy?  By raising a generation of boys who reject the rigidity of gendered society in favor of a balance of power that will ultimately benefit everybody.

Deeper minds than mine have probed the motives and psyches of Columbine killers Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold; I cannot claim to improve on their work here.  But would these broken children have expressed their frustrations differently in a world less accepting of testosterone-fueled violence?  Could some gender flexibility instead of ingrained machismo have allowed Klebold to ask for help with his suicidal ideation?  Perhaps suicide was an inevitable outcome of his mental illness—chronic depression has as high a fatality rate as cancer—but where does a boy get the idea to kill others, too?

The prevailing wisdom is that Harris was an irredeemable psychopath.  Where does such a lack of empathy for others begin?  In the cradle, where boy babies are less likely than their sisters to be held when they cry?

Is it too radical to suggest that feminism could have prevented Columbine?  I don’t think so.  Feminism asks that we critically examine the interconnections between gender roles and social behavior, and there’s no better starting point for such a discussion than in our persistent, almost intractable, culture of violence.



So why the hell are you so angry, fellas?  Why, with virtually all the power on the planet, do you still need to hurt others?  Why do you, yourselves, hurt so badly?

Would you like to talk about it?