Women’s Anger Still Isn’t Taken Seriously

Rebecca Traister talks about her new book, Good and Mad.

Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

“Women’s anger is not taken seriously as politically consequential and valid, in part because women are sucked back into a maternal or wifely aesthetic framework,” Rebecca Traister said in a recent interview with The Masthead, The Atlantic’s membership program. “We need to understand their fury as politically and socially catalytic.”

In November, as part of The Masthead Book Club, members read Traister’s Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger. Members discussed the book on The Masthead forums with Atlantic staff, and submitted questions for Traister via video. Watch the conversation, and read on for an excerpt:

Is female anger really always taken less seriously? While reading the book, a a member reminded me of the phrase, “When mama’s unhappy, everyone’s unhappy.” It seemed to her that, especially when women invoke their roles as wives and mothers when angry, their anger is extremely effective.  — Caroline Kitchener

Rebecca Traister: That is historically the context in which women have been offered what power is on the table. Their power is within a domestic sphere, within familial relationships. But if the only way we can invoke our authority is by making a comparison to a domestic and maternal sphere, that’s a very limited scope. Part of what this book is about is the fact that women’s anger is not taken seriously as politically consequential and valid, in part because women are sucked back into a maternal or wifely aesthetic framework. And we need to understand their fury as politically and socially catalytic.

Are movements like #MeToo and #TimesUp making a difference?  — Barbara Didrichsen, Masthead member

Traister: Sure, they are making a difference insofar as there’s actually a difference in how consequences are being meted out. For years, even for very specific men about whom allegations have been made, those allegations were out in public for years and years and years. Nobody did anything about it.

I reported on sexual-harassment allegations against Bill O’Reilly when I was a young reporter in 2004. He remained the top anchor of Fox News, a network that was so powerful, it propelled presidents into office. So am I shocked by what has happened in the past year, that some of those very specific men lost their perches? Yes. But we should also remember that they didn’t lose their power.

It’s important to note that the No. 1 book on the best-seller list is written by Bill O’Reilly. He may have lost his perch at Fox, and that’s important, but he has not lost his voice, or his ability to make millions of dollars.

Do you think that the Ford-Kavanaugh hearings, and Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court, might allow women to hear each other in new ways, and make greater strides against institutional oppressions?  — Barbara Kellam-Scott, Masthead member

Traister: What happened with Brett Kavanaugh long-term is going to be formative—ultimately, probably, catalytic—in a way that’s hard to recognize right now. What was made visible to so many Americans in those weeks of September and early October is going to have a galvanizing effect on young people.

I do some of the work I do today because I sat and watched Anita Hill 27 years ago in high school. There are young and old people whose lives and views of how power works in this country and is abused has been shaped by what has just happened. I believe that 30 years from now, there’s going to be a journalist telling us about how Ana Archila and Maria Gallagher demanding Jeff Flake look at them in the eyes in the elevator was a catalytic, communicative movement, a way of channeling the fury of so many millions of women who are isolated in their homes, who couldn’t be in that elevator and couldn’t be at that protest, but felt their fury communicated. We’re going to say that was a moment of political import, in ways that we can’t predict now.

The Masthead Book Club chooses a new title each month—previous selections include Educated by Tara Westover, Political Tribes by Amy Chua, and The Road to Unfreedom by Timothy Snyder. This month we’re reading The Library Book by Susan Orlean. To learn more about the Book Club and The Masthead, visit www.theatlantic.com/join.