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Feminist author Rebecca Traister talks ‘female rage’ ahead of St. Paul event

October 5, 2018

Angry women are having a moment. Theyre protesting, rabble-rousing and running for office. Theyre shouting at a senator in an elevator, demanding that he look at them and attracting the eyes of the nation. Amid all of this comes Rebecca Traisters new manifesto, Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Womens Anger.

Its crazy timing. But its far from the first moment that left her thinking, Omigod, if only my book were coming out now, Traister said. That thought struck her regularly, headline after headline. Thats how angry women are.

Sure, the New York Magazine writer-at-large would have loved to include in her book the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh. She wrote in the New York Times about what his and Christine Blasey Fords Sept. 27 testimony revealed about who has been allowed to be angry on their own behalf, and who has not. (No surprise: Men are rewarded for their rage. Women are reviled.)

But in a phone conversation on the day of that testimony, Traister said that had the book printed post-Kavanaugh, I have a strong suspicion that there would be something else that would be like, Omigod.andthinsp;

More than a moment, Traister argues that womens anger is a movement. That these past few years, marked by the Womens March, Black Lives Matter and #MeToo, will have long-term, multi-decade effects. That despite the patriarchys very best efforts, womens anger their righteous rage! will change the country.

It has before.

There will be, already is, a desire to treat this iteration of womens uprising as hysteria, a mob, a witch hunt, a passing phase, a childish tantrum, something irrational, something niche, something that can be averted or neutralized as soon as everyone calms down, she writes in her new book. But these are all strategies that have been long used to get people, including women themselves, to look away from, disregard, and suppress one of the great drivers of social upheaval and political change in their country: their own fury.

Rage for the ages

Traister is furious. As a feminist and a journalist, she has long been angry about sexism, racism and the general refusal to take women seriously.

She wrote stories while angry. She wrote about anger, too. But it wasnt until she decided to tackle this book that she recognized anger as a unifying undercurrent, she said by phone.

I also had probably worked to hide it, to some degree, because I knew that anger is not warmly received when its expressed by women. So I had taken pains to be cheerful and funny and make it all very palatable.

Traister, who got her start at Salon.com, chronicled and contextualized Hillary Clintons 2008 campaign in the book Big Girls Dont Cry: The Election That Changed Everything for American Women and the rise of unmarried women in 2016s All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation. Shes known for her crackling takes on Twitter and in New York Magazine the kind that sharpen your thinking about a cultural conversation, yes, but also the kind you might e-mail to your best friend.

So shes used to writing quickly. But never as quickly as she wrote Good and Mad.

This is as unvarnished a look at the voice in my head as you can get, she said.

And what a voice! The book is brilliant and impassioned and, yes, angry. She writes: Heres the validation that I hope I can offer: that those who are furious right now are not alone, are not crazy, are not unattractive. That in fact, female rage in America has a long and righteous history, one that we have, very pointedly, never been taught.

Traister traces that history back to the suffragist and abolitionist movements of the 19th century, reframing a few heroes along the way.

Rosa Parks is presented to us as stoic, exhausted, noble, quiet, demure, nonviolent, she said. All that stuff is true. But she was also blisteringly angry at racial inequality.

Abigail Adams is remembered for appealing to her husband to remember the ladies. But, as Traister points out, she also wrote: Remember all men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion.

Shes actually promising a rebellion! Traister said. But we dont hear about that part.

Womens anger is underplayed even today, since it swelled in resistance to the election of President Donald Trump, a movement Traister analyzes via activists and politicians, feminist icons and suburban women organizing in politically red states.

There are women raising their voice in anger far more frequently and at a higher volume, Traister said. Still, those voices are often not taken seriously, despite their real effects.

Theres a kind of invisibility about how this is actually a massive political force, she said. One of my goals is to get people to see it as serious and politically consequential.

Yes, you are allowed

The night before Ford testified, Traister couldnt sleep.

Good morning to everyone else for whom morning is barely discernible because there was no sleeping, she tweeted at 4:45 a.m. Sept. 27.

All night, Traister had tossed and turned over this crucial moment in her head. She thought of how rarely, in our technologically fractured world, the gaze of a nation is focused on one direction. She thought of Anita Hill.

Hill shows up in much of Traisters work, including in All the Single Ladies, where she explored how Hills unmarried status was used to discredit her 1991 testimony that Clarence Thomas, then a nominee for the Supreme Court, had sexually harassed her. In Good and Mad, Traister references Hill a dozen or more times, pointing out how women, watching those Senate Judiciary Committee hearings, were so outraged by the treatment of Hill that an unprecedented number of them ran for office in 1992.

At the Kavanaugh hearings, the judge yelled and wept while Ford, who had every reason to be angry, was composed and congenial.

If she had been angry, it would have been off-putting to all kinds of ears, Traister said later that day. Womens anger is viewed as irrational, ugly, disqualifying. In contrast, Kavanaughs much wider range of expressive choices includes rage: White male anger is very often understood as righteous.

But in her commentary for the New York Times, Traister turned from the Senate chambers to the elevator outside it. On the morning after the hearing, two sexual assault survivors confronted Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., who had just announced that he would vote to send Kavanaughs nomination to the Senate floor. Look at me when Im talking to you, Maria Gallagher shouted. Dont look away from me! Later that day, Flake called for a limited FBI investigation.

Traister cheered the womens rage and encouraged other women to feel it, too:

If you are angry today, she wrote, or if you have been angry for a while, and youre wondering whether youre allowed to be as angry as you feel, let me say: Yes. Yes, you are allowed. You are, in fact, compelled.

Her book questions the idea that anger is inherently unhealthy, that rage eats away at the body. Instead, she argues, anger turns bad when its swallowed down and choked back.

When Traister finished writing Good and Mad, she looked back and realized what a healthy time it had been for her. She had slept well and eaten well, exercised often and had great sex. She credits that to the very rare freedom and encouragement to express my anger and take the anger of other women seriously. She knew her editors, too, would take it seriously.

That space was freeing, energizing, even joyful. If only more women could live in such a place.

Jenna Ross 612-673-7168 Twitter: @ByJenna

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