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Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger, by Rebecca Traister

November 7, 2018

Good and Mad
Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger, by Rebecca Traister. Simon and Schuster, 2018.

5 stars  MUST READ

A ground-breaking book by an insightful political reporter examining how women’s public anger has been downplayed and punished while that of men has been praised and encouraged.  She validates women’s political rage, but warns that their silencing is not stopped.

The political expression anger of women is not something new.  We simply have been taught to ignore it and its power.  Traister honors women’s anger, past and present, as valid, and expresses her own outrage at punishment doled out to angry women while angry men are praised.  Showing a strong understanding of American women’s history, she points out what women have achieved by getting angry in the past even though they have been rendered invisible in their rage.  Traister also describes how women have sought to mask their anger in public spaces by claiming they are following God’s commands or that their position as mothers justifies what they saying and doing. She quotes women who use humor to make their rage seem laughable and unimportant.

Interviewing women involved in politics more recently, Traister provides forgotten details about how their anger has been expressed and dismissed.  As she points out, the wave of feminism in the 1970 allowed a few women to express their anger over gender expectations in outrageous words and gestures.  But their anger became one of the biggest reasons for others to dismiss all that feminists were attempting.  In gaining a foothold in new professional arenas, many of us have stepped back from open anger.  As individuals, we have gained acceptability and change by lowering our voices and appearing compliant.  Christine Blasey Ford’s ’s appearance before the congressional committee is an example of this approach, though many of us have used and are using this technique.  The response to Ford is an example of the limits of this technique.  Since Trump’s election, younger, more varied women have come to the fore to fight for causes and in ways that my generation has not dared address as we entered previously male spaces. This time we all need to stop muting our own rage and support the next generation of angry women.

Traister is particularly articulate about the ways in which race and gender intersect. She is aware of the new discussions of what it means to be white, and she urges white women to realize they need to be more responsive to what they can learn from black women.  In discussing the Women’s Marches after the election of Trump, she also points out how which media coverage assumed that black and white women could not achieve enough unity to be effective.  In response, Traister describes how some black and white women worked together work together as abolitionists before the Civil War.  She also describes the friendship of Susan B. Anthony and Fredrick Douglas at the time when women suffrage supporters were fighting each other over universal versus black male suffrage.  Emphasizing the anger that can unite us is critical in the face of those who would divide us.

Good and Angry focuses on women’s anger in the public, political arena, not on their anger in general or in private.  Traister concentrates primarily on anger as a tool for coming together and changing the social structures and behavior that regularly restrict and oppress women.  Ending the double standard about women’s and men’s anger would be a critical step to give women a equal voice in our alleged democracy.

A long section of the book deals with the anger of the @metoo movement, and the dilemmas it raises.  While Traister is fully supportive of the validity of women’s rage, she also sees the complexity of the issues.  Should we release our pure anger at all men or may there be legitimate reasons not to remove men from power who have supported women in spite of relatively minor harassment?  If we support such men, however, we must that makes us complicate in a system that supports their behavior.

This book is full of quotable lines and insights for women who are seeking to explain and express their anger in public forums.  Traister is unusually sensitive to complexity and the shifting meanings of words. Rather than tell women to be angry and vocal or quiet and safe, she is exploring the middle ground, a place where we can converse and create, a place where contradictory stories can be seen as true.

At times I wanted more structure in her writing and clearer statement of what women should do with their anger. I wanted neat answers.  Then I realized that this book is not about neat answers.  Traister’s strength is that she sees and writes about the sheer complexity of women’s public expression of a demand for a place in politics and the ways in which that demand has been denied.  Hers is a work in progress and all of us need to join in the discussion.  We need our varied voices to find ways to support each other when we speak out rather than allow others to silence or destroy us all and what we believe in.

This is a book we all need to read and discuss, whatever our views on gender and politics.  The 2018 midterm election has raised the willingness of women to be “good and angry.”  If democracy is to survive, we need to be sure that women, all women, have a viable place in politics.  Those of us who have been activists in the past need to support the angry women of this generation of those who would change the world right now.

RELATED RECOMMENDATION:

Reclaiming Our Space, by Feminista Jones.

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