She looked at me with arched eyebrows as I read aloud several passages from the two books late one night. “You didn’t know that?” my wife asked quietly.
No, I didn’t.
Even now, a year since the Harvey Weinstein revelations and nearly two years since the “Access Hollywood” video, after hearing so many #MeToo stories and reading books on the structures of misogyny, there was still so much I didn’t know about the depths of anger that these accounts draw from — so much, I suppose, I had the luxury of not knowing.
I didn’t know that, by the time they are preschoolers, children learn that boys can express their anger but that girls must suppress theirs. I didn’t know how much physical pain women endure in their lives, simply because they are women, and how frequently that pain is discounted, deemed “emotional.” I didn’t fully grasp how throughout our political history, principled rage has been lionized when emanating from men, but pathologized when coming from women, acceptable when it upholds women’s roles as nurturers, not when it serves their personal ambitions or collective aspirations.
And I didn’t quite realize that the #MeToo movement is not solely about revealing the pervasiveness of rape, assault and harassment, though it is accomplishing that. It’s also, as Rebecca Traister writes in her new book, a broader insurrection against gender inequality driven by “the righteous fury of the unrepresented” and, as Soraya Chemaly writes, an attack on “the injustice of having one’s social experience denied and hidden from communal understanding.”
Traister’s “Good and Mad” and Chemaly’s “Rage Becomes Her” are two urgent, enlightening books that I hope will be read together, works that are well timed for this moment even as they transcend it, the kind of accounts often reviewed and discussed by women but that should certainly be read by men. Traister, whose columns on gender and power earned her a National Magazine Award this year, focuses on the political history of female anger. She spans the suffrage movement to the 2016 election to, of course, the #MeToo wrath now upending the casting couch, the anchor chair, the editor’s desk and possibly even the highest bench in the land. Chemaly, an activist with the Women’s Media Center, emphasizes the psychology and culture of female anger, mixing personal experience with reporting and academic research to show how that anger is deemed a transgression of gender norms, and how the pressure to dial it back — and not be labeled shrill or scolding or imperious or just plain crazy — only pisses women off further.
But more than anything, these two writers have come to praise female anger, as an emotion and a tool. Anger is a catalytic force for activism and organizing, they argue, a demand for accountability, a statement of rights and assertion of worth. It is also a vital form of communication, Traister explains, a way for women to find one another and realize that their frustrations are shared. “The expression of primal, agonizing anger that followed Trump’s election meant that for the first time, some women — even those who’d been living in proximity to one another for years — could hear one another.” Or as Chemaly puts it, “Anger isn’t what gets in our way — it is our way.” [Continue reading…]