Rebecca Traister, writer at large for New York magazine and contributing editor at Elle, recently published her third book, “Good and Mad,” an examination of what happens not only when women get angry, but when they deploy that anger to galvanize social change. Women’s anger, Traister writes, has played a pivotal role in shaping the country: “Female rage in America has a long and righteous history, one that we have, very pointedly, never been taught.”
Traister sets out to remedy that by looking at famous instances of female rage marshaled to create change, from the suffragettes to Shirley Chisholm, from Mother Jones to the Mama Grizzlies of the Tea Party.
She also looks at the way that women's anger gets contextualized — 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 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.
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 — despite the fact that 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.”
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.” JN
This article originally appeared in the Jewish Exponent, a Jewish News-affiliated publication.