"Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women's Anger" by Rebecca Traister; Simon & Schuster (320 pages, $27)
"The furious female is, we are told to this day, in innumerable ways, both subtle and stark, a perversion of both nature and our social norms," writes feminist journalist Rebecca Traister in her new book, "Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women's Anger."
An angry woman "is ugly, emotional, out of control, sick, unhappy, unpleasant to be around, unpersuasive, irrational, crazy, infantile." She is also, Traister suggests, our only hope.
In "Good and Mad," Traister has taken on an ambitious project: chronicling the recent past, and telling the stories of newly angry women whose activism was prompted by the 2016 presidential election. Throughout, Traister threads in historical accounts of revolutionary sentiments among activists and political leaders from Susan B. Anthony to contemporary civil-rights activist Alicia Garza.
To write about history as it's happening, a political movement as it's building, can be a tricky proposition. It assumes a certain blindness, and risks a superficiality that Traister has not wholly avoided. At times, reading her breakneck account of recent events simply felt like scrolling back through my own Twitter feed from the past two years.
Yeah, I know, I felt like saying. I was there.
Traister's reporting feels most fresh in one of the book's final chapters, when she lays out the contributions women activists, many of whom had never been politically active before, have made to resistance efforts against the Trump administration, and in particular a liberal political awakening among suburban white women.
In Georgia, Traister compares her interactions with these newly minted activists to "walking onto the set of 'Thelma & Louise.'" She meets women who speak "with the youthful fervor of having found new friends and new love – of politics and one another," who have made huge sacrifices to embrace their new involvement in politics. "Several described how they'd not been sleeping, staying up all night scrolling through Facebook and message boards, reading political posts and messaging one another," writes Traister.
This is who I think "Good and Mad" is really for – women of privilege new to activism, whose anger isn't longstanding, who could use a crash course on intersectional feminism. For longtime activists, or folks well versed in the movement and the various schisms within it, much of "Good and Mad" may be review material.
There's a reason for this. In the final section of "Good and Mad," Traister says that she wrote the book in four months out of an effort to capture women's rage as it unfolded in real time, and that compression shows. Her work – particularly in books like 2016's "All the Single Ladies," a clever, exhaustively researched history of unmarried women in America – is typically ironclad in its reporting and analysis. But "Good and Mad" at times feels slight for its 252 pages, skipping over fundamental questions that might have made their way into a richer book written with more distance and deeper research.
From gun-control activist Emma Gonzalez to Mamie Till to Barbara Lee, Traister's subjects are described as "livid" and "furious," claimed as case studies in what the author identifies as anger. But what Traister calls anger seems to me an amalgam of focused activism motivated by any number of underlying emotions that, in the unknowable minds of other people, may or may not have actually fit the label of rage.
Like all emotions, anger is neutral. It isn't good or bad. It can motivate activism and bolster hope, but it is neither of those things on its own. To its detriment, "Good and Mad" does not fully acknowledge this distinction, or honor the nuanced emotional landscape activism can contain.
And besides, when the women political observers I know respond to events like the Kavanaugh confirmation or the latest #MeToo account of men behaving badly, it isn't just with rage, but a litany of complex emotions: despair, numbness from an accumulation of chronic stress, accounts of resurfacing PTSD, disappointment. Sometimes, there's a fierce streak of unkillable, rebellious hope. And sometimes there's just exhaustion. While it's true that American society rarely encourages women to express anger healthfully, there's also too little room for us to express feelings of sensitivity, sadness or even just being tired lest we be labeled hysterical, unserious or weak.
When Traister later credits expressing her own anger with such benefits as sleeping "well and deeply at night," feeling more inclined to exercise, eating and communicating well and even "having great sex," I am happy for her. I also wonder about the well-being of women who do not have the luxury of expressing themselves so freely, or who have made tremendous sacrifices in their efforts to better the world. They deserve more than anger. They deserve to thrive.