Author Archives: Caolan Madden

Is Your Wife Bonus Feminist? A Quiz


This is an ad for a kitschy brand of wine cynically marketed at feminist housewives, so it’s basically the best possible illustration for this quiz.

Dedicated readers of WEIRD SISTER know that you can be a feminist housewife. Morgan Parker wrote the manifesto; Becca Klaver and Lauren Besser provide case studies in their podcast, The Real Housewives of Bohemia; I’m kind of a part-time feminist housewife myself. Or a part-time feminist SAHM, which is a stay-at-home mom or a student-artist-home-working-mom.  So, like, don’t worry about whether women who don’t work outside the home or who do unpaid caretaking labor or who don’t directly contribute income to their families can be feminists. ISSUE RESOLVED.

But there’s been some debate lately about this kind of ridiculous book, Primates of Park Avenue, in which anthropologist-turned-Park-Avenue mom Wednesday Martin describes the bizarre culture of super-rich New York families. See Martin’s op-ed in the New York Times, or this hilarious contribution in the Post from a somewhat aspirational Wife Bonus-getter who wants us to “STFU,” or this interview on NPR, which I haven’t listened to, but in which I’m pretty sure Martin uses the phrase “going native,” which, uhh, nope. Also see various accounts of the inaccuracies in Martin’s book: her PhD is actually in comp lit (ooooh does this mean I get to write a book called Primates of Ditmas Park?), she misrepresents when she was pregnant and what fancy gym she went to, and she pretends you could get macarons on the UES during a time when you could CLEARLY ONLY GET THEM IN FRANCE. Hopeless lower-class poseur or not, Martin gives us a shocking glimpse of a forbidden world in which highly-educated skinny moms spend their days Mean-Girlsing each other, grooming their toddlers to be captains of industry, and having weird gender-segregated dinner parties and going on vacations where they all wear the same color (well, come on, that sounds pretty fun. It’s not like I’m not going on an all-you-can-drink-rosé booze cruise this month where we all have to wear something pink. No, I seriously am.) The big shocker, though, is that some of these rich moms, many of whom have MBAs and formerly held high-income, high-pressure jobs like Business Lady and Captainess of Industry and Executrix and Lawyeress and Bankerina and Stock Market Girl Wonder and Political Risks Insurance Brokeress and a bunch of jobs I don’t know about because I don’t understand and will never be allowed to understand the language of Wealth and Power, apparently get Wife Bonuses, probably so they can feel like they still have a high-stakes Rich Person job. The bonuses are distributed by their husbands, who are their bosses, and they’re often based on their Wife Performance that year, which usually involves getting the kids into a school that will help them become Captains of Industry or the wives of Captains of Industry or maybe Bankerinas. The Wife Performance may also involve blow jobs BUT that might just be Martin trying to titillate us, since we know the wives and husbands never see each other for the length of time that a really bonus-worthy blow job requires.

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The Rad American Women Behind Rad American Women: An Interview With Kate Schatz & Miriam Klein Stahl

Rad American Women A–Zwhich was just released from City Lights/Sister Spit, doesn’t pretend to be an exhaustive list of important American women. But to imagine the 25 women selected by author Kate Schatz and illustrator Miriam Klein Stahl as a representative sample is to imagine a world in which radicalism is somehow the norm, a world in which living as a woman in America might itself be a radical act. From Angela Davis to Zora Neale Hurston, from Dolores Huerta to Kate Bornstein to Maya Lin to Patti Smith to to Temple Grandin to Wilma Mankiller, the book profiles women who came from very different backgrounds and worked in very different fields, but who were all undeniably radical: in their politics, their aesthetics, their style, in the ways in which their work continues to shape and challenge our own lives. Very few, if any, of them are familiar from the Famous American Women books of my childhood. In one of the most moving sections of the book, Schatz and Klein Stahl devote the letter X to The Women Whose Names We Don’t Know, gesturing not only toward public figures who could eventually show up in middle-school social-studies curricula–“the women we haven’t learned about yet”–but toward the ordinary women “whose stories we will never read.”

I got to talk to Schatz and Klein Stahl over email about their collaboration, their own daughters, and about the politics of basically every concept in the title: radicalism, America, nationalism, women, feminism, and the alphabet! Continue reading


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I Was Somebody: My Weekend with Miranda July’s App

When I first heard about artist and filmmaker Miranda July‘s Somebody app (an extremely buggy version for the iPhone debuted last fall) I was pretty skeptical. I was like, ” Okay, Miranda July invented an app that makes strangers talk to each other? Whoop-de-do, it’s like poop-back-and-forth 2.0, how quirky.”

But, like, who am I kidding, I love quirky. And I kind of love talking to strangers.

So when Becca, a Miranda July superfan, texted a bunch of our friends last week and told us to download the new, actually functional version of Somebody, I was like, “oh, too bad they don’t have an Android version. None of those hipster apps have an Android version.” And when Becca posted on Facebook in real time about her first “terrifying and thrilling” experience using Somebody, in which a strange man appeared on her block and started yelling her name, I was like, “that sounds insane, but I really wish they had an Android version.” And then I checked, and they did have an Android version, and I installed it. (Don’t worry, it worked out okay for Becca! Download episode 23 of Becca’s podcast The Real Housewives of Bohemia to hear the full story of her encounter with Somebody.)

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Songs My Toddler Likes, Ranked According to Feminism

My daughter just turned 20 months old, and she’s really starting to take control of her musical destiny: while we picked out the music she listened to when she was a baby, now she has her own preferences and can demand we sing or play the same songs over and over again. And she’s verbal enough now that she can actually sing along! As feminist parents, of course, we recognize that most traditional children’s music is a tool of the patriarchy, intended to mold pliant young minds into lovers of the status quo. But as helpless thralls of our adorable child, we make no effort to discourage her from singing the songs she loves. Still, why not rank the songs our daughter loves best from Least to Most Feminist? Here’s a somewhat arbitrarily-chosen list that includes most of her favorites.
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We’re Obsessed With: Lizzie and Ali


When I was in college, I was friends with this group of girls who had the driest, most deadpan sense of humor imaginable. (Just to be clear, since I have a moist sense of humor at best: I wasn’t in this particular group, I was just friends with them.) They were the kind of girls who would just flat-out lie to you about something, anything, for like fifteen minutes, or however long it took you to figure out that they were lying, but I’m pretty sure they assumed you were in on it and knew they were lying, because they were nice and generous enough to maybe think you were as smart as they were, or almost as smart. Also they had a wonderful, violent kitten named Cupcake.

They all grew up to be dry and deadpan and smart and generous in various careers, and one of them, Lizzie Prestel, grew up to make this webseries, Lizzie and Ali: A Mostly True Story, in which she plays a mostly-true version of Lizzie: one who is just as dry and deadpan as Real Lizzie, but a lot less smart and way less generous.That’s especially true in Lizzie and Ali‘s latest episode, which just went live on Funny or Die. Continue reading

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Bad or Boring: Doing Without Ethics in Poetry

Hi guys. I’ve noticed something about the word boring.

I noticed it most recently in discussions about Kenneth Goldsmith’s performance of his version of the St. Louis County autopsy report for Michael Brown. Many people responded with outrage to Goldsmith’s appropriation and objectification of Brown’s body (see the above link to Rin Johnson’s piece and Amy King’s piece asking “Is Colonialist Poetry Easy?”, among others); many of them saw his performance as symptomatic not only of an individual poet’s bad taste or careless sense of entitlement, but of the inherently white supremacist values of avant-garde poetry specifically and the American literary world in general (values that Cathy Park Hong brilliantly exposes in “Delusions of Whiteness in the Avant-Garde,” and that the Mongrel Coalition Against Gringpo continues to critique and rage against and lampoon). Goldsmith’s performance, many of these critiques point out, is a logical extension of a position he outlined in a 2009 inteview in Jacket:

I really have trouble with poethics. In fact, I think one of the most beautiful, free and expansive ideas about art is that it — unlike just about everything else in our culture — doesn’t have to partake in an ethical discourse. As a matter of fact, if it wants to, it can take an unethical stance and test what it means to be that without having to endure the consequences of real world investigations. I find this to be enormously powerful and liberating and worth fighting for. Where else can this exist in our culture?

The word, or the concept, of boring seems to come in when people want to preserve this anti-ethical practice but disavow the specific performance Goldsmith gave. I think that’s happening in this response from the publishers of SPORK Press, which celebrates Goldsmith’s “right to fail” as an artist, but notes that “personally I find the autopsy piece (offensive,) facile, and more specifically, boring.”

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It’s a Girl! Or, Am I Finally Ready for Jumpsuit Feminism?

I’m the kind of feminist who values stuff that has been traditionally associated with The Feminine. If I have to choose between “difference feminism” and “equality feminism,” I’ll choose difference: no unisex jumpsuits for me, Charlotte Perkins Gilman! You might expect that I wouldn’t want to dress my children in jumpsuits, either.


This family ruined everything by forgetting the styling rules for unisex hair.

I don’t actually believe that there’s anything in the world that’s fundamentally “feminine” or “female.” I just tend to like objects and activities and aesthetics that people consider “girly”—or, at least, that Americans have considered “girly” during my lifetime, even though some of those things (poetry, the color pink) were once the domains of boys, while others (talking loudly, talking a lot) get gendered differently depending on the context. Because I’ve more or less colored within the lines of what girls like me (white, cis, able-bodied, neurotypical, highly educated, apparently straight) were expected to do, I’ve experienced sexism and misogyny differently from the women I know who have had to struggle to gain a foothold in male-dominated fields, or who were shamed for not looking or dressing the way women are “supposed” to look or dress, or whose lives don’t conform to heteronormative models of marriage and child-rearing, or who have had to bear the burden of convincing people that they were women at all. Instead, for most of my life I’ve been most affected by the brand of sexism that dismisses my interests and practices as trivial and marginal. And, as many of my posts here and most of my academic writing makes clear, I have a very strong knee-jerk reaction to that kind of sexism—not because it’s The Worst Kind of Sexism in the World, but because so few people even seem to recognize it as sexism. Making people recognize that kind of sexism feels like important work to me, and like work I might be able to do.

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We Have Finally Reached Consensus on “Ladies”


Did you know that some people do not like to be called ladies?


I know, I know. You thought it was just a polite way to address women. You heard women don’t like to be called females or girls!


You’re right. For some women, “ladies” is a charming, even an empowering, term. For others, it’s condescending and limiting, enforcing stereotypes about women’s weakness and social codes prescribing ladylike behavior; plus, its use very often involves making assumptions about a person’s gender, assumptions that may be incorrect. Not even feminists can agree if it’s a word we want to use!


I asked some pals (I did a pal-poll) how they felt about this important topic. I also interviewed myself. Continue reading


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Fifty Shades of Grey & Why I Keep Defending Women’s Trash

Fifty-Shades-DIY-640x480In this fantasy he shows up at my boring job and we have an awkward but meaningful conversation. In this fantasy he just happens to walk by my house when I’m outside reading a Victorian novel and wearing a really flattering top. In this fantasy he shows up at the bar and I don’t accidentally have my first kiss ever with the wrong guy. In this fantasy he wants me so much that it drives him insane. In this fantasy he can barely control himself.

I went to see Fifty Shades of Grey in NYC’s Union Square at noon on a Tuesday. It had been out for ten days. The Internet had said the stars had no chemistry and obviously hated sex. A lot of my Facebook friends had said I should boycott it because it romanticized an abusive relationship. Rory and Alison had told me the sex scenes were incredibly boring, but the paperwork scenes were delightful. Marisa had posted a photo on Instagram of her and Matt looking sad after they watched it. So I basically knew what to expect. Continue reading


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Valentine’s Day Is for Everybody

I think Valentine’s Day is a shitty holiday for lovers. I think it’s an even shittier holiday for people who are in between lovers, or don’t want lovers, or aren’t getting along with their lovers. I mean, it’s not that I’ve never had a really romantic Valentine’s Day. One year my husband and I lit some candles and listened to some accordion music and ate some pastries and wondered, “Could this evening get any more romantic?” And then this happened:


Obviously the answer was “yes.”

But that incredibly romantic evening (there were FOUR weddings, you guys) was the exception that proves the rule. I’m in love, but I know that love is 1) a brutal trick played on us by our selfish genes to get us to reproduce and 2) destined to end in tears (don’t forget the funeral.) If you’re in love and happy, don’t go to a goddamn restaurant and let everyone watch you share a single noodle. Keep your head down and hope the evil spirits haven’t noticed you yet. At the same time I really love Valentine’s Day. I really love holidays in general, and also Valentine’s Day has the #1 best holiday color scheme. Red and pink and white! Overlaid by doilies! Dipped in chocolate! Coated with sugar! Drenched in glue! Brittle with glitter! Trapped on the sidewalk under an inch of ice and a dusting of snow! So sugary. So bloody. So tacky. So superfemme. Continue reading


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