One of the unfunny witticisms going around during Hillary Clinton’s first presidential run was that she’d never get elected, because she reminded men of their first wife. When a male friend relayed the update during her second run—no, she didn’t remind men of their first wife; she reminded them of their first wife’s divorce lawyer—I recall barking with laughter. The joke distilled all the male anxieties of the moment: Something was being taken away from them, their balls were in a vise, pissed-off women wanted men’s stuff and were going to be ruthless about trying to get it.
I recalled this joke while reading Rebecca Traister’s Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger, which shares what might be called a divorce-court view of the gender situation in America. Men and women are on opposing sides, and women will succeed only by quashing men and seizing the spoils: the big jobs, the political offices, and the moral high ground. Walking us through recent events and still-fresh wounds—Black Lives Matter, the election of Donald Trump, the “Harvey-sized hole” blown in the news cycle (otherwise known as #MeToo)—Traister, who writes for New York magazine, is on a mission. Women’s anger about all of this, she argues, can propel us from the “potentially revolutionary moment” we’re in to one that actually alters the distribution of power. The main impediment to this taking place, in her view, is women’s habit of hiding our rage.
“Women’s anger spurs creativity and drives innovation in politics and social change, and it always has,” she writes. Stop crying when you’re angry (tears can be tactical, but they also telegraph feminine weakness), and stop trying to make your bitchy self palatable—as Traister confesses to sometimes doing, about which she can be quite droll. (“So I was funny! And playful, cheeky, ironic, knowing!”) The small problem: “Many of us who may have covered our fury in humor have occasionally found ourselves exploding.”
The primary target for this accumulated rage is, of course, men—white men, and one in particular. The energy of the 2017 Women’s March on Washington, the largest single-day rally in the nation’s history, catalyzed Good and Mad into existence; by 2018, according to an Elle survey that Traister cites, 83 percent of Democratic women were furious at the news at least once a day. But the oppositional fury isn’t exactly tidy, Traister acknowledges. For many of the women of color whom she quotes, the anger is equally directed at white women.