book review, Opinion

Review of Good and Mad – The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger by Rebecca Traister

I found this book in a reading group for liberal women. I didn’t manage to go to the book discussion, but as female anger is rising or at least showing more and my first reaction to it was ambivalent, I had to read it.

Rebecca Traister examines the consequences of women’s anger. She narrates a long, recent history where women’s anger led to social change and if not suppressed actually made a difference. Part of patriarchy’s mechanisms is to lead women to think that being angry is not only unattractive, unladylike and overdramatic, but also destructive when at the same time white men are being celebrated for being angry and speaking up. It’s just a way of silencing women and making sure that white, male privilege is not being challenged. Traister gives so many examples where the hypocrisy becomes explicitly clear. And her message to women is that it’s not your anger that will hurt you, it’s the system that punishes you for showing your anger that mocks and ignores you!

I had to return the book to the library, so I can’t get into details. But if you’re interested in recent politics in the US and what female anger has achieved and changed so far, this is an interesting and encouraging read. It also gives insight into how female politicians and activists have dealt with their anger in the past. Traister also refers to her own transformation: going from someone who puts on a friendly and funny mask to someone who will not hide their anger anymore, just so our patriarchal society perceives her as less threatening and more palatable.

I quite feel attracted to calm and zen people. Even when they criticise and point out what needs to change, they’ll do it from a composed place. But I’ve also been told so many times to be less emotional and to pipe it down when I argue my point. It’s almost like the anger and the storm behind it take away from the truth. Make it ugly and less valid. This shouldn’t be the case, especially when there’s been years of mistreatment and disadvantage, it should be normal to feel anger and it shouldn’t be held against you. Traister points out how we hold victims of oppression to higher standards than the oppressors themselves. That’s specifically valid for women in US politics. Look at Hillary Clinton for example. The question here is though whether we should hold everyone to the same high standards or lower the expectations towards women to the level that we hold men accountable.

My anger does not come from a destructive place. I want to change things for the better, I have no time for vindication. My vision is to create a world where we can at least partly come closer to equality. I don’t want my daughter to deal with the same risks and discouragements, the disillusion and fears, when it comes to turning her dreams into reality. But obviously, this is dangerous. It endangers the status quo, patriarchy, capitalism and all the other inequalities that run through our world. Traister also speaks about this. When women who support the system get angry, it’s being encouraged. Conservative women like Schlafly and Palin get applauded for their anger, as they don’t question the status quo, instead support and try to strengthen it.

But let’s not forget how Trump’s supporters are/were fuelled by anger as well. Anger can be revolutionary, but it can also be reactionary. It can turn into hate. It can consume you; fire up and then confuse you into the wrong focus. Good and Mad is important and it certainly delivers on explaining how anger can be revolutionary and bring about social change. But it does ignore that the other side has anger in them as well. It does ignore how men like Trump use anger to manipulate people into serving them and their visions. Or Farage. When anger moves you to activism, standing up for yourself and fuels your fight against inequality, moves you to being creative, then it is translating into something useful. If it fuels your hate against groups of people, if it floods you with ideas of entitlement and if it only makes you bang your fist on the table, it locks you into the same spot. You’re not moving anymore; you’re married to your anger and unfortunately, the anger will become the more dominant partner.

Also, anger does make it more difficult to be happy. When I go through stressful phases, my being yearns for yoga or some time to switch off. A change of location. Some sun, some sea and good food! Good company and much needed rest and relaxation. Look at right-wing extremists, do they ever come across as happy? Or religious fundamentalists? Is this an aspirational way of being? While women need to break away the chains of patriarchy, be aware of the mechanisms and allow themselves to be angry, it’s also necessary to indulge in it for a while to be able to move further. If you swallow and stay composed all the time, it is there and it’s not going anywhere. On the back burner it will ignite when you experience new injustice, but never light up completely. It might make you sick, it will certainly be in the way.

Maybe it’s for that reason that while I enjoyed reading this book, it didn’t seem too revolutionary to me. Obviously, it puts women’s current anger into perspective. It will help women who have been suppressing their anger and need that extra encouragement to finally go for it! But it could have gone further than that. It reads like a transformation Traister had to go through and still on a high she shares it with you convinced that it will change every woman’s life. Be-all and end-all. Maybe a bit more exploration and distance would have taken the book to the next level.

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