Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger
Simon & Schuster
It was a packed house last week at the Free Library of Philadelphia’s main branch when 6ABC anchor Tamala Edwards interviewed journalist Rebecca Traister about her new book, Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger.
Traister, writer at large for New York magazine and a contributing editor at Elle, has ties to the Philadelphia area, and her parents were in the front row. A National Magazine Award finalist and former senior editor of The New Republic, Traister is the author of two prior books, All the Single Ladies and the award-winning Big Girls Don’t Cry.
Her new book, which Traister finished in June 2018 but was published this month, turns out to be an extremely timely examination of what happens not only when women get angry, but when they deploy that anger to galvanize social change. Even as women’s anger has been “suppressed and discouraged,” Traister writes, it has played a pivotal role in shaping the country. “In fact,” she says, “female rage in America has a long and righteous history, one that we have, very pointedly, never been taught.”
Traister sets out to remedy the lacunae in our historical knowledge by looking at many famous instances of female rage marshaled to create change, from the suffragettes to Shirley Chisholm, Mary Harris Jones (aka Mother Jones) to the Mama Grizzlies of the Tea Party.
She also looks at the way that anger, when expressed by women, gets contextualized by culture at large — how a male politician can raise his voice and be considered assertive and firm, while a female politician who does the same is seen as out of control. Traister cites a psychology study in which subjects were shown photos of men and women making facial expressions.
“[Researchers] found that their subjects were more likely to assume that whatever was causing a woman’s emotion was something internal, whereas whatever was provoking a man’s response was something external, or … ‘She’s a bitch, but he’s just having a bad day.’”
The double standard is even more confounding for African-American women, who struggle to get beyond the stereotype of the angry black woman, even when they aren’t particularly angry — see: Maxine Waters and Michelle Obama.
Traister also examines the anger between black and white women. On the left, much of the anger from black women derives from the power of white women in determining the agenda. In both the book and at the Free Library, Traister cited the work of African-American Rutgers professor Brittney Cooper, author of Eloquent Rage, who, Traister notes, “has regularly observed [that] it’s the fact that black women have been offered neither patriarchal nor racial advantage in exchange for support that has enabled their steady and unremitting leadership of the resistance to white patriarchal power in America.”
It’s black women, Traister writes, who “have long been the backbone of our political and progressive past: the strategists and protesters and organizers and volunteers, the women who’ve gotten out the vote and licked the envelopes, pioneered the thinking that led to the revolutions. Yet they’ve been only barely represented in leadership of the political parties they’ve bolstered.” (The way Traister’s book is being received proves the point: Unlike Eloquent Rage, which Traister has admitted served as her primary inspiration, Good and Mad has made headlines in virtually every major news outlet in the country. She’s the big name, not Cooper.)
In the end, Traister advocates for women to acknowledge that their rage is as valid as the oft-cited anger of white men in Rust Belt America. “Being mad is correct; being mad is American; being mad can be joyful and productive and connective,” she writes.