Let me tell you how I started reading Good and Mad from Rebecca Traister. I was watching Dr. Christine Blasey Ford testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee. I was also on Twitter, because I wanted to experience this momentous hearing with other people, even though I was on my recliner recovering from surgery.
Chris Hayes started tweeting about this book with Ezra Klein. They were both reading advance copies, and felt it was incredibly relevant to Dr. Ford’s behavior versus Judge Kavanaugh’s. At the time, I also had an advance copy on my ebook shelf. But I had planned to read a few other books first. (Following a first in, first read policy.) Since I too was struck by the different emotional reactions of these two people, I had to start this book that same day.
“… in resisting and dissenting today, we are playing our parts in a story with long, righteous, proud roots.”
(p. 247, print copy)
Good and Mad is positively stupendous. Not because it makes me happy to read about the systemic and ongoing subjugation of women. But because it makes me ecstatic to see that other women are just as angry as I am. And that they’re doing something about it.
Traister discusses women’s anger in the context of history, from suffragists to the Equal Rights Amendment movement. Throughout the book, she connects these historic events back to today. I appreciate the long view this gives readers, because fighting systemic oppression is always a long view.
Another key element of Good and Mad, is the intersectional aspects of women’s anger. Traister tells the stories of women of color from Mamie Till to Carol Moseley Braun to Patrisse Khan-Cullors. The stories of Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, who after the historic Stonewall Inn raid and riots went on to found gay and trans support organizations. Cisgender, straight, white women are late to the protest, activist party.
“Of course, there is also the reality that when women do explode with rage, even if the effect is to catalyze a social movement, their anger will never be recorded, never noted, never recalled or understood as nation-reshaping. The fact that we can often only register the fury of white men as heroic is so established that it would verge on the comical if it weren’t so deeply tragic.”
(p. 88, print copy)
A 2018 book about women’s anger would be incomplete without discussion of the #metoo movement. Traister explains where the hashtag began. Hint: it wasn’t with the Hollywood folks calling out Harvey Weinstein. Instead, it was first used by Tarana Burke, “ … a lifelong advocate for the rights and health of women of color, who had first coined the term “me too” precisely because she wanted to let women, “particularly young women of color, know that they are not alone.”” (p. 191, print copy)
Sexual harassment, assault, and abuse are a crucial part of this history of anger. Traister lays out women’s experiences, as well as the opposing viewpoints from other women and, of course, men. Be prepared for both depressing and inspiring moments. The difficult parts are essential to understanding how women have reaching our current boiling point, so hang in there.
As she did in the stellar Big Girls Don’t Cry, Traister also talks about the conundrum of women’s political anger. When you hear a female politician or public figure, does she speak in only measured tones? And when she doesn’t, what is the reaction from colleagues or media? You know the answer. When women express their anger or displeasure, or challenge men with force and strategy they’re vilified.
Gatherings of protesters, which have lately included many women, are portrayed as mobs without control. It’s an exaggeration or an outright lie because the minority feels out of control. And yet, these actions—speaking out and protesting—have given many women focus and hope.
Good and Mad made me think long and hard about my own experiences, especially about what I’ve “swept under carpet” because I didn’t want to make someone angry or truly be angry myself. I’m thinking about all the times when laughing and trying to be “the cool girl” was the only option I thought I had. It breaks my heart for that younger me.
I’m also one of those cisgender, white, hetero women channeling my anger into political activism. Like women Traister mentions, it makes me feel better. Plus, I want to actively work at leaving a better world for my grandchildren.
There is more depth to this book than a blog post can begin to review. I’d like to buy it for all of my good girlfriends. More importantly, I’d like to discuss it with them and with the men in my life. It’s not hyperbole to say this will be a pre-eminent book about women’s history for decades to come.
Many thanks to NetGalley, Simon & Schuster, and the author for the opportunity to read the advanced readers copy of this book in exchange for this honest review.
For additional reading
Kate Harding, the author of Asking for It, recently published a syllabus called A Master Class in Women’s Rage. Check it out on Medium.