Women’s anger is fi­nally pow­er­ing our pol­i­tics. Th­ese books dig into the in­jus­tices and hu­mil­i­a­tions that fuel it.

The Washington Post Sunday - - OUTLOOK - CAR­LOS LOZADA Twit­ter: @Car­losLozadaWP Car­los Lozada is the non­fic­tion book critic of The Wash­ing­ton Post.

My wife looked at me with arched eye­brows as I read aloud sev­eral pas­sages from the two books late one night. “You didn’t know that?” she asked qui­etly. No, I didn’t. Even now, a year since the Har­vey We­in­stein rev­e­la­tions and nearly two years since the “Ac­cess Hol­ly­wood” video, af­ter hear­ing so many #MeToo sto­ries and read­ing books on the struc­tures of misog­yny, there was still so much I didn’t know about the depths of anger that th­ese ac­counts draw from — so much, I sup­pose, I had the lux­ury of not know­ing.

I didn’t know that, by the time they are preschool­ers, chil­dren learn that boys can ex­press their anger but that girls must sup­press theirs. I didn’t know how much phys­i­cal pain women en­dure in their lives, sim­ply be­cause they are women, and how fre­quently that pain is dis­counted, deemed “emo­tional.” I didn’t fully grasp how through­out our po­lit­i­cal his­tory, prin­ci­pled rage

has been li­on­ized when em­a­nat­ing from men, but pathol­o­gized when com­ing from women, ac­cept­able when it up­holds women’s roles as nur­tur­ers, not when it serves their per­sonal am­bi­tions or col­lec­tive as­pi­ra­tions.

And I didn’t quite re­al­ize that the #MeToo move­ment is not solely about re­veal­ing the per­va­sive­ness of rape, as­sault and ha­rass­ment, though it is ac­com­plish­ing that. It’s also, as Re­becca Trais­ter writes in her new book, a broader in­sur­rec­tion against gen­der in­equal­ity driven by “the righ­teous fury of the un­rep­re­sented” and, as So­raya Chemaly writes, an at­tack on “the in­jus­tice of hav­ing one’s so­cial ex­pe­ri­ence de­nied and hid­den from com­mu­nal un­der­stand­ing.”

Trais­ter’s “Good and Mad” and Chemaly’s “Rage Be­comes Her” are two ur­gent, en­light­en­ing books that I hope will be read to­gether, works that are well timed for this mo­ment even as they tran­scend it, the kind of ac­counts of­ten re­viewed and dis­cussed by women but that should cer­tainly be read by men. Trais­ter, whose columns on gen­der and power earned her a Na­tional Mag­a­zine Award this year, fo­cuses on the po­lit­i­cal his­tory of fe­male anger. She spans the suf­frage move­ment to the 2016 elec­tion to, of course, the #MeToo wrath now up­end­ing the cast­ing couch, the an­chor chair, the ed­i­tor’s desk and pos­si­bly even the high­est bench in the land. Chemaly, an activist with the Women’s Me­dia Cen­ter, em­pha­sizes the psy­chol­ogy and cul­ture of fe­male anger, mix­ing per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence with re­port­ing and aca­demic re­search to show how that anger is deemed a trans­gres­sion of gen­der norms, and how the pres­sure to dial it back — and not be la­beled shrill or scold­ing or im­pe­ri­ous or just plain crazy — only pisses women off fur­ther.

But more than any­thing, th­ese two writ­ers have come to praise fe­male anger, as an emo­tion and a tool. Anger is a cat­alytic force for ac­tivism and or­ga­niz­ing, they ar­gue, a de­mand for ac­count­abil­ity, a state­ment of rights and as­ser­tion of worth. It is also a vi­tal form of com­mu­ni­ca­tion, Trais­ter ex­plains, a way for women to find one an­other and re­al­ize that their frus­tra­tions are shared. “The ex­pres­sion of pri­mal, ag­o­niz­ing anger that fol­lowed Trump’s elec­tion meant that for the first time, some women — even those who’d been liv­ing in prox­im­ity to one an­other for years — could hear one an­other.” Or as Chemaly puts it, “Anger isn’t what gets in our way — it is our way.”

With “Rage Be­comes Her,” Chemaly of­fers a re­lent­less cat­a­logue of the sources of fe­male anger and the ef­forts to re­press it. “As girls, we are not taught to ac­knowl­edge or man­age our anger so much as fear, ig­nore, hide, and trans­form it,” she writes, and that les­son pro­motes ac­com­mo­da­tion and def­er­ence. Struc­tural bur­dens such as the “car­ing man­date” — women’s en­dur­ing re­spon­si­bil­i­ties for house­hold chores, child care and el­der care, re­gard­less of whether they also work for pay — are “stress­ing us out and mak­ing us an­gry, sick and tired.” The daily risks women nav­i­gate are just a cost of liv­ing while fe­male. “Sex­ual ha­rass­ment and vi­o­lence are so nor­mal­ized among girls and women,” Chemaly writes, “that they don’t of­ten con­sciously reg­is­ter them as abu­sive be­hav­iors.”

Un­til, of course, they do. Trais­ter re­calls a public run-in she had in 2000 with Har­vey We­in­stein when, as a young re­porter, she sought to in­ter­view him at a party and the pro­ducer jabbed his fin­ger into her shoul­der, called her a “c---” and, af­ter her male col­league asked him to apol­o­gize, wran­gled him into a head­lock. We­in­stein suf­fered no con­se­quences, and press ac­counts of the episode min­i­mized his of­fenses. Soon there­after, Trais­ter be­gan hear­ing ru­mors about his be­hav­ior with women. “Among the rea­sons that I never re­ally en­ter­tained the idea of re­port­ing the story my­self was that I had been shown so clearly that I could not have won against that kind of power,” she writes. Only years later, with the New York Times and New Yorker cov­er­age of We­in­stein’s pat­tern of pre­da­tion and vi­o­lence, “a Har­vey-sized hole was blown in the Amer­i­can news cy­cle, and there was sud­denly space and air for women to talk — to yell and scream and rage.”

That rage, both au­thors ar­gue, is not only healthy but ra­tio­nal and pro­duc­tive. “We en­vi­sion our emo­tions bat­tling our rea­son be­cause, af­ter all, that’s what we are usu­ally taught,” Chemaly writes. “The en­tire setup makes it eas­ier for what you say to be por­trayed as un­rea­son­able.” One of Trais­ter’s he­roes is the late Flo­rynce Kennedy, the lawyer, civil rights ad­vo­cate and sec­ond­wave fem­i­nist who laced her ac­tivism with anger (“The next son of a bitch that touches a woman is gonna get kicked in the balls,” she warned male jour­nal­ists at the 1972 Demo­cratic Na­tional Con­ven­tion) as well as bit­ing hu­mor (“Are you my al­ter­na­tive?” she would re­tort when men asked if she was a les­bian). Trais­ter sees echoes of that at­ti­tude in to­day’s up­ris­ing, in her view a wel­come evo­lu­tion from the glossy, non­con­fronta­tional, celebrity-driven, cool­girl fem­i­nism of the early 21st cen­tury, one in which Trais­ter ac­knowl­edges her own stylis­tic com­plic­ity. “I’d ab­sorbed the mes­sage that open anger was need­lessly over­dra­matic and unattrac­tive — that it would be too much, re­ally — and I had worked to ac­com­mo­date th­ese as­sump­tions, tem­per­ing my fury in my writ­ing,” she writes. “So I was funny! And play­ful, cheeky, ironic, know­ing!”

“Good and Mad” is nei­ther cheeky nor play­ful. It is an­gry; the book em­bod­ies its own ar­gu­ment. Trais­ter re­mains out­raged by the “bru­tal mas­culin­ity” that pre­vailed in the 2016 elec­tion. She de­cries the “shrug­ging con­de­scen­sion” with which many dis­missed the women’s marches fol­low­ing Pres­i­dent Trump’s inau­gu­ra­tion. She dwells on the “per­for­ma­tive dick­ish­ness” that Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell dis­played when at­tempt­ing to si­lence Sen. El­iz­a­beth War­ren’s crit­i­cisms of Jeff Ses­sions’s civil rights record. (Nev­er­the­less, you may re­call, she per­sisted.) And though her book was com­pleted too early to dis­cuss Chris­tine Blasey Ford’s ac­cu­sa­tion of sex­ual as­sault against Supreme Court nom­i­nee Brett Ka­vanaugh, Trais­ter is in­censed at the late sen­a­tor Ted Kennedy for stay­ing quiet dur­ing the 1991 con­fir­ma­tion hear­ing of Clarence Thomas — when an all-male Se­nate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee heard Anita Hill’s tes­ti­mony — in part be­cause of Kennedy’s own his­tory with women.

In her in­sight­ful 2017 book, “Down Girl: The Logic of Misog­yny,” Cor­nell philoso­pher Kate Manne ex­plores the no­tion of “him­pa­thy,” the im­pulse to ex­tend ex­ces­sive sym­pa­thy to male wrong­do­ers over their fe­male vic­tims. Trais­ter is es­pe­cially harsh to­ward any women of the #MeToo era who dare stand up for pow­er­ful men ac­cused of mis­con­duct. “Women who are will­ing to de­fend white pa­tri­archy and its abuses — usu­ally women with prox­im­ity to pow­er­ful men and the chance to gain from it, and who are there­fore them­selves of­ten white — have his­tor­i­cally found re­ward from those pow­er­ful men, in the form of sex­ual or ro­man­tic at­ten­tion, mar­i­tal al­liances, as well as jobs and stature, in ex­change for their de­fense,” she writes, wield­ing a rather broad brush.

Else­where in her book, how­ever, Trais­ter is more un­der­stand­ing of women with dif­fer­ing views, ar­gu­ing that any move­ment that cam­paigns for half the pop­u­la­tion is nec­es­sar­ily “an un­wieldy en­ter­prise, one that tries to rep­re­sent fun­da­men­tally con­flict­ing in­ter­ests, di­ver­gent per­spec­tives, and peo­ple from var­ied back­grounds who have lots of good rea­sons to dis­trust, re­sent, and dis­agree with one an­other.” It’s a more re­al­is­tic and com­pelling vi­sion, and doesn’t rely on large-scale ques­tion­ing of mo­tives.

In­deed, Trais­ter elo­quently high­lights the chal­lenge of blam­ing not just forces and sys­tems, but in­di­vid­u­als. “We must con­front the fact that the bad guys are, in many cases, also our good guys: the men in our beds, our hearts, our fam­i­lies,” Trais­ter writes. “They are our brothers and fa­thers and un­cles and friends and lovers and hus­bands and room­mates and sons.” She is tired of male ac­quain­tances and col­leagues com­ing to her for “fem­i­nist ab­so­lu­tion” and de­scribes oth­ers, in­clud­ing her hus­band, who had just never re­al­ized things were this bad. One night dur­ing the peak of the #MeToo on­slaught, he asked her, “How can you even want to have sex with me at this point?”

I’ve not posed that ques­tion to my wife, at least not yet. Af­ter my en­thu­si­asm for th­ese books be­trayed ig­no­rance about var­i­ous as­pects of fe­male life, she as­sured me that she didn’t think I was an id­iot, res­ig­na­tion and sym­pa­thy min­gling on her face.

If there was anger there, too, she knew how to hide it.

Car­los Lozada

GOOD AND MAD The Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Power of Women’s Anger By Re­becca Trais­ter. Si­mon & Schus­ter. 284 pp. $27

RAGE BE­COMES HER The Power of Women’s Anger By So­raya Chemaly. Atria Books. 392 pp. $27

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