If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably spent the two years since Nov. 2016 in a slow, exhausting pressure-cooker of rage. You also probably don’t go to the book review section of your newspaper to hear about politics, in which case I have bad news for you: This is going to be an article about politics, and I’m going to express an opinion on those politics because not doing so at this point seems morally reprehensible. So if that’s not what you’re here for, this review isn’t going to be for you, and Rebecca Traister’s ferocious new book, “Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger” won’t be for you either.
Traister, who was already an essential voice in feminist literature for her previous books “Big Girls Don’t Cry” and “All The Single Ladies,” has cemented her place in the canon with “Good and Mad,” in which she explores the reasons why women’s justified rage has long been suppressed, the consequences women face for expressing that rage and the absolute necessity of anger as a force for progressive political change. Drawing on a deep well of research and a sharp wit, Traister maps the history of women’s anger from the Seneca Falls Convention and the abolitionist movement to #MeToo and the Trump election. Along the way, Traister makes clear that this book isn’t about anger as a psychological, emotional phenomenon; this is a book about “The specific nexus of anger and American politics, about how the particular dissatisfaction and resentments of America’s women have often ignited movements for social change and progress.” Anger, Traister argues, is the key that unlocks the kingdom. Social and political change depends on women’s ability to “Accept our own rage as valid, as rational and not as what we’re told it is: ugly, hysterical, marginal, laughable.”
Traister’s greatest strength is her willingness to complicate her own narrative of women’s anger by approaching it from a steadfastly intersectional framework. She argues compellingly that white women, because of their proximity to the power of white men, have always had an incentive to sell out women of color in favor of their own interests. Similarly, Traister lambasts the sexism of card-carrying liberals who, in their support of Bernie Sanders and disavowal of Hillary Clinton employed the same misogynistic tactics as Trump supporters, albeit in more nuanced ways. Even feminism itself, Traister tells us, has long been divided into warring factions, but just because the movement is imperfect doesn’t mean that it is invalid.
“Good and Mad” isn’t simply a scholarly study of anger. It’s also a conduit for anger, aimed at goading us into expressing our bottled-up rage more freely by laying bare “The architecture of sexism that has been holding everything up.” Traister herself is openly, gleefully angry in her writing, even though she knows better than anyone that women’s anger tends to be used against them, shown as emotional and therefore invalid no matter how reasonable its justifications may be. Reflecting on her own experience as a journalist, Traister writes, “I have, for years, made the rage that guided my work appear palatable. 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 … So I was funny! And playful, cheeky, ironic, knowing!”
By showing up so unapologetically in her own rage, Traister creates a model that she hopes we all will follow by turning our anger into action. After all, she writes, “No one can promise that our work now will remap our landscape and remake our future. That burden is on those of us who want desperately for it to do so. We determine whether or not we change the world.”