Talk about fortunate timing.
Journalist Rebecca Traister's new book, Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women's Anger, hit print the very week that the FBI was investigating sexual-assault allegations against U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. As we all know, his accuser, Palo Alto University psychology professor Christine Blasey Ford, said that the incident occurred when she and Kavanaugh were teenagers.
For many women, the hearings, including Kavanaugh's angry and disrespectful testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, re-exposed the fault lines first evidenced by the Clarence Thomas hearings 27 years ago. After the Kavanaugh hearings, protesters stormed the Supreme Court, women confronted Sen. Jeff Flake, and others yelled out loud as Kavanaugh was sworn into office.
Good and Mad explores how social movements –and change — have been fueled by women's anger. It comes fast on the heels of two other provocative books about women owning their ire: Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower, by Brittney Cooper, and Rage Becomes Her: The Power of Women's Anger, by Soraya Chemaly.
I called Traister, an Abington native now living in New York City, to discuss how fed-up females are having a major moment in America.
What exactly does "women's anger" look like?
Let's start with how we've been taught to treat it, which is to caricature it as crazed, infantile, menacing, castrating – which is then further caricatured through the lens of race and economic status. In reality, women's anger over injustice and inequality is no different from the righteous anger we've always praised in men – the kind exhibited by America's founders, who raged against unjust, unequal treatment of the Colonies by the British. The founders' fury is like our national catechism. Well, the fury of women is exactly the same.
How do the caricatures impact women's anger?
They discourage its healthy expression. We're told that our anger will undermine our message, make people take us less seriously, dislike us, or write us off. So we take pains to not express it – until it can't be contained any longer. Then, it can explode in ways that are symptomatic of the fact that we've been discouraged from expressing it.
So what's different about women's anger in 2018?
The recognition that it's not just some quirk or trend but a building block of potentially transformative political change around injustice and inequality.
Can you give examples?
Look at the recent past: Women have been responsible for #BlackLivesMatter; the collective action around campus rape; the rush to airports to protest the Muslim travel ban; the protest against repeal of the Affordable Care Act; the strike of McDonald's fast-food workers. And, of course, #MeToo, which has both provoked political change and brought down men who had used their power to sexually harass women and, in some cases, to control the political and media narrative about women's lives.
Going further back, women have always catalyzed social change. They've just not been given credit for their work in the labor, suffrage, and abolition movements, for example. Men's contributions to these movements are seen as heroic. Women's contributions are hardly seen at all.
How has social media impacted women's anger?
It permits angry people in lots of different places to connect with new lines of communication, which is terrific and fundamentally democratizing. Anger can be a joyous, empowering, and crucial connection in organizing and coalition-building.
But social media can also amplify the destructive qualities of anger, exacerbating divisions that exist in any progressive movement.
Can you say more about that?
Within every progressive movement, there are always power differentials; and the public is often fed the stories of those within the movement who have had the most access to power. In the women's movement of the 1970s, for example, wealthy, educated white women claimed the power. Social media today can quickly exacerbate those kind of angry divides, which once festered.
Does anger alone bring about change?
No. Social movements against injustice would be extremely unstable if it did. Anger at injustice is often accompanied by sorrow, grief, and suffering. But anger is the stuff that finally gives people the determination to commit to change. It can empower, organize, and coalesce.
Is women's anger generational?
I've been writing about feminism for 15 years. Older feminists used to ask me, "Why aren't young women today angry?" Because they didn't see blatant expressions of young women's anger, they thought it meant that young women were not awake. But in my research, I saw how deeply engaged young women were in fighting rape culture and gender inequality and in movements for things like higher wages, paid maternal leave, and better contraception. Their anger was channeled into action.
Now, though, some of the anger coming from young women is so hot that I see a kind of generational anxiety coming from older women about its intensity. It's really blowing them back. It speaks to the power of massive women's anger these days.
So what does women's fully expressed anger look like?
It can look like the Kavanaugh protesters yelling in the Senate gallery. It can look like women running for office, because they're angry that the system isn't working; we now have a historic number of women on the November ballot. It can look like women organizing voter-registration drives. It can look like a million things.
Your book is already on Amazon's best-seller list. Are you surprised?