Good and Mad | Rebecca Traister

Summary of: Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger
By: Rebecca Traister


Embark on a journey through the rise, fall, and resurgence of feminist political anger as explored in Rebecca Traister’s ‘Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger’. From the feminist movements of the 1960s and 1970s to the hibernation period during the Reagan Revolution, to the reawakening spurred by the cases of Anita Hill and later the #MeToo movement, this book summary delves into the reasons for the disappearance and reemergence of feminist anger. Discover the forces that shape the dynamics of this powerful emotion and learn how its suppression within society serves to stifle the political power it can generate.

Feminist Anger Through Decades

The feminist political anger in the United States saw its peak during the 1960s and 1970s. The era witnessed widespread protests for equal rights, fighting racial injustice, and opposing the Vietnam War. Feminists donned outrageous outfits and engaged in radical activism such as civil disobedience, like the creation of the Jane Collective in Chicago. These actions propelled advancements like the legalization of birth control and abortion, fairer divorce laws, and recognition of sexual harassment as discrimination. Unfortunately, the Reagan Revolution in the 1980s led to a backlash against these gains, portraying career-focused women as devils in popular culture while restricting abortion access and slashing social support for vulnerable women. This forced feminist political anger into hibernation until its resurgence in 2017.

Feminist Anger Rekindled

Feminist political anger had subsided since the 1980s, only briefly returning in the early 1990s with the sexual harassment allegations brought by Anita Hill against Clarence Thomas. Despite the surge of women running for political office that followed, the number of female politicians soon returned to previous levels. Feminism continued to evolve during this time, attempting to distance itself from negative connotations and striving to make the movement more inclusive and appealing. However, the 2016 presidential election reawakened feminist political anger as many women were disillusioned with the result and the continuing fight for gender equality.

Feminist political anger had been notably subdued from the 1980s until 2017, only briefly reemerging in 1991 when law professor Anita Hill testified against Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas on allegations of sexual harassment. Many women saw Hill’s alleged mistreatment by the all-male Senate Judiciary Committee as a glaring example of inequality, resulting in a record number of women running for and successfully winning political office in 1992. However, this resurgence of political involvement from women soon dwindled, and feminist political anger once again retreated to the background.

Feminism’s evolution during this period focused on distancing itself from the negative stereotypes associated with the term “feminist,” such as craziness or unattractiveness. As a result, the movement attempted to make feminism appear more inclusive, welcoming, and appealing, often infused with a sense of humor and irony that reassured nonfeminists rather than challenging them.

By 2016, progress towards gender equality seemingly abounded with Hillary Clinton expected to become the first female president, and women outnumbering men in higher education institutions. However, the presidential election outcome served as a rude awakening for women everywhere, reigniting the feminist political anger which had been dormant for so long. As the demands for gender equality continue, the revival of this fury can only bolster the push for change, highlighting the need for more female representation in the world of politics and beyond.

Resurgence of Feminist Rage

Following the unexpected election of President Trump, feminist political anger experienced a resurgence with two notable events – the Women’s March and the #MeToo movement. On January 21, 2017, the Women’s March became the largest single-day protest in US history, demonstrating the palpable anger of over four million women across the nation. The #MeToo movement further expressed this frustration by spotlighting the widespread issue of male-perpetrated sexual harassment and assault. As more women shared their harrowing experiences, the collective rage grew even stronger. This outrage manifested in ways reminiscent of the 1970s activism, like the circulation of the “Shitty Media Men” list highlighting alleged harassers in the media industry. While feminism had always been present, this renewed anger blurred the line between simmering and boiling. The question remains: what caused this emotional shift and the brewing of this storm of fury?

Feminist Anger and Political Change

Feminist political anger stems from the multitude of injustices that women face in society, such as sexual harassment, domestic abuse, income inequality, and workplace discrimination, among others. Women expend immense energy combating these issues, detracting from their potential to pursue personal goals and projects. Furthermore, society often suppresses women’s anger, stifling their political power and hindering their ability to drive meaningful change. The significance of political anger is evident in historical events like the American Revolution, further underscoring the importance of embracing anger to enact progress.

To comprehend the rise of feminist political anger leading up to the 2016 US presidential election, we must first examine its sources. Feminist political anger arises from a variety of injustices women experience, including sexual harassment, domestic violence, wage disparities, underrepresentation in leadership roles, gender biases, and unfair allocation of household tasks, among others. Each of these grievances on their own is exasperating from a feminist standpoint, and the repercussions only intensify the frustration.

For instance, harassment not only victimizes women but also forces them to expend time and energy evading harassers and potentially unsafe situations. This also applies to challenging gender biases, double standards, and unequal domestic work expectations. These efforts take away from women’s capacity to focus on their personal passions, goals, and professional aspirations, essentially stealing their time to battle issues they shouldn’t have to face.

Understandably, many women are incensed by the gender-based injustices deeply ingrained in American society. However, society often perpetuates an additional injustice by stifling women’s anger, dictating that they cannot express their fury as openly as men. In doing so, society suppresses women’s political power; political anger serves as an impetus for political transformation.

The essential role of political anger is evident throughout history, as seen in the American Revolution, exemplified by the passionately enraged revolutionaries in the Boston Tea Party. By recognizing and harnessing the power of feminist political anger, a catalyst for change can be ignited, driving meaningful advancements in gender equality.

Unleashing Feminist Anger

Confronting and dismantling society’s sexist expectations of women’s emotions is crucial in allowing feminist political anger to flourish. For years, this anger has been suppressed largely due to the fear of being labeled an “angry woman,” which often results in being deemed unnatural, monstrous, or unattractive. This stereotype is further perpetuated by the pressure on women to be charming and pleasant, reinforcing the unfair demand for their role as mere adornments to the world of men. Challenging these associations and assumptions is key to unleashing and empowering women’s anger.

Suppressing anger only increases its intensity, as experienced by many women who harbor feminist political anger. This anger reached its boiling point in the years leading up to 2017, as women continuously held back their emotions to avoid the scornful label of being an “angry woman” in a society wrought with sexist notions.

In the eyes of society, women should embody sweetness, agreeableness, and pleasantness, leaving no room for emotions like anger that break this stereotype. This constraint places more value on a woman’s appearance by deeming them unattractive or unnatural when displaying outward rage or frustration. The cultural training enforcing this connection between anger and unattractiveness in women can further be observed through powerful female figures such as Nancy Pelosi and Elizabeth Warren. Portraying women with anger on their faces in photographs seeks to belittle them due to society’s expectations of female behavior and demeanor.

These expectations force women into a matrix of contradictory expectations, revealing two underlying sexist assumptions. Firstly, women must be friendly to be considered attractive, with phrases like “you should smile more” translating to a suppression of negative emotions in favor of agreeableness. Secondly, this concept perpetuates the notion that a woman’s primary purpose is to be attractive, reducing her to a mere decoration in a man’s world.

Addressing these cultural and psychological blocks is vital to empower women’s anger and create an environment where feminist political anger can break free from societal constraints and silence these damaging and unrealistic expectations.

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