Fury is all the rage

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Journalist Rebecca Traister’s book “Good and Mad” analyzes the power of women’s anger, and why it is essential to cultural transformation


  • Rebecca Traister and Aminatou Sow at the New York Public Library. Photo courtesy of the NYPL

  • Packed house at the New York Public Library’s main branch for the "Good and Mad" book talk. Photo courtesy of the NYPL


Rebecca Traister is furious, and she feels “fucking great” about it.

Traister, award-winning author, journalist and New York magazine writer at large, and Aminatou Sow, co-host of the “Call Your Girlfriend” podcast, spoke to a packed house at the New York Public Library’s main branch on Oct. 2 to mark the launch of Traister’s new book, “Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Woman’s Anger.” Obviously, cracked Sow, Traister engineered the book’s release with the current new cycle.

Yes, the joke landed. But looking around — at an audience ranging from young professionals to older activists on the feminist scale, at the middle-aged woman Instagramming her “suffRAGEtte” shirt, at the teetering stacks of books that would sell out by the end of the evening, at the audience giving a standing ovation before the talk even began — it was clear that women’s anger isn’t just a blip in the news cycle or a trend piece. Female rage is both a catalyst for and consequence of American history. If the room stuffed to the gills was any indication, there are still pages and pages yet to be written.

It was with this in mind that Sow and Traister launched into a passionate conversation about just how women’s anger functions as a political propellent, particularly at a moment when almost daily, a new incident fans the flames. (It’s worth noting that at approximately the same time as the book talk, President Trump was imitating Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee at a campaign rally in Mississippi.)

Traister did not pull any punches. Yes, she said, it’s risky to show anger. Angry women are often characterized as “hysterical, performative, unhinged.” These shrill harpies and furious freaks are the very opposite of the cool girl trope, noted Traister, the pop culture ideal rewarded by the patriarchy for keeping her cool. For women of color, the stakes of showing anger are even higher. Anger can get you fired. Anger can get you killed.

Which, of course, is why women’s anger is sanitized and tamped down. Perhaps it’s also why neither Traister nor others thought of women’s anger as a worthy lens to view politics until the 2016 election. Traister called her book idea a moment of clarity, and a narrative through-line became immediately obvious. Women’s anger is “consequential ... only women never had their fury hailed as fundamentally transformative and patriotic,” she said. The audience nodded in recognition.

Traister envisioned working on a book about female anger over a period of years. But that was before the Women’s March, before young women were some of the most vocal activists on gun control, before #MeToo, before the Kavanaugh hearings. The fast and furious pace of political upheaval and outrage turned a marathon into a four-month sprint.

Yes, “Good and Mad” comes at a time when women’s anger has reached a boiling point. But Traister is quick to point out that as a country, we’ve been here before, many times. It was women who led labor and civil rights efforts that transformed our nation. For instance, Clara Lemlich called for a general strike that became the shirtwaist workers uprising, resulting in new labor agreements with all but a few factories — one of which was the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory. For the record, Rosa Parks wasn’t just tired. She was intentional in the act of refusing to stand. And yes, she was angry.

Traister certainly isn’t the first to recognize that women’s anger can be a propulsive force. But by looking at “the specific nexus of women’s anger and American politics,” and how many of the movements for social change and progress are woven within it, Traister presents an illuminating reframing.

Women’s anger isn’t threatening because a shrieking banshee may spontaneously combust. It’s threatening because angry women run for office. They expose corruption and wrongdoing. Most recently, the unapologetic rage of Ana Maria Archila and Maria Gallagher, the activists who confronted Senator Jeff Flake in an elevator, used anger as a vehicle for disruption and change. Anger makes it impossible to look away.

Women’s anger has proven not only productive, but patriotic, even revolutionary. So why is it that the righteous anger of our forefathers — our “national lullaby,” Traister calls it — is the song we have on repeat? This reporter couldn’t help but think about what was missing from the audience: men.

Too bad more of them weren’t there to witness what Traister and Sow tapped into: anger allows women to be be seen — and that’s what feels so damn good. “It’s not the anger that’s bad, it’s the swallowing and holding it in,” Traister noted.

“Good and Mad” hasn’t been on shelves long. But the very fact of its existence reframes women’s anger for what it so often is: a catalyst for change.

The Traister-Sow talk can be viewed here, and it will be rebroadcast on the NYPL’s “Library Talks” podcast, which comes out on Sunday, Oct. 7.

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