Fem­i­nist au­thor talks ‘fe­male rage’

Texarkana Gazette - - BOOKS & AUTHORS - By Jenna Ross

Star Tri­bune (Min­neapo­lis)

An­gry women are hav­ing a mo­ment. They’re protest­ing, rab­ble-rousing and run­ning for of­fice. They’re 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 Trais­ter’s new man­i­festo, “Good and Mad: The Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Power of Women’s Anger.”

It’s crazy tim­ing. But it’s 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. “That’s 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 Ford’s 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.’”

More than a mo­ment, Trais­ter ar­gues that women’s anger is a move­ment. That these past few years, marked by the Women’s March, Black Lives Mat­ter and #MeToo, will have longterm, multi-decade ef­fects. That de­spite the pa­tri­archy’s very best ef­forts, women’s anger—their right­eous rage!—will change the coun­try.

It has be­fore. “There will be, al­ready is, a de­sire to treat this it­er­a­tion of women’s 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 wasn’t 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 it’s 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 Clin­ton’s 2008 cam­paign in the book “Big Girls Don’t Cry: The Elec­tion That Changed Ev­ery­thing for Amer­i­can Women” and the rise of un­mar­ried women in 2016’s “All the Sin­gle Ladies: Un­mar­ried Women and the Rise of an In­de­pen­dent Na­tion.” She’s 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 email to your best friend.

So she’s 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: “Here’s 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.”

“She’s ac­tu­ally promis­ing a re­bel­lion!” Trais­ter said. “But we don’t hear about that part.”

Women’s 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.

“There’s 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 couldn’t 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 Trais­ter’s work, in­clud­ing in “All the Sin­gle Ladies,” where she ex­plored how Hill’s 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. Women’s anger is viewed as ir­ra­tional, ugly, dis­qual­i­fy­ing. In con­trast, Ka­vanaugh’s 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 Ka­vanaugh’s nom­i­na­tion to the Se­nate floor. “Look at me when I’m talk­ing to you,” Maria Gal­lagher shouted. “Don’t look away from me!” Later that day, Flake called for a lim­ited FBI in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Trais­ter cheered the women’s 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 you’re won­der­ing whether you’re 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 it’s 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.

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