Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger by Rebecca Traister
Chances are that if you’ve picked up Good and Mad, you are already there. That’s by design. Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger is channeling liberal women’s anger into an exposition that’s meant to fuel an already blazing fire. Yes, if you are curious why women whose politics are left of center are primed for a fight, Rebecca Traister’s latest book will try to explain the revolution to you. But this sermon is a testimony for believers, those who already use a hashtag with the word “resistance.”
Good and Mad is for and of its time. Traister covers the intersection of feminism and politics for New York magazine, and this, her second book, in some ways reads like an extended magazine feature. The quotes peppered throughout from feminists past and present would fit right into social-justice Twitter.
The book opens on the 1972 Democratic National Convention, and radical feminist Florynce Kennedy yelling at the male television anchors to get their (expletive!) hands off her. The DNC was particularly controversial that year for feminists, who wanted a promise out of the Democratic presidential candidate, George McGovern: make legal abortion a policy plank. (This is before Roe v. Wade.) The McGovern campaign is glad to have the support of Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan, and other prominent feminists, but once their backing is secured, they renege. They let anti-abortion activists have the floor. They ditch the feminists’ agenda. For this betrayal, Flo Kennedy pushes to the edges of the broadcast booth, demanding media attention in an outpouring of anger. These moments were filmed, and the ensuing documentary, Year of the Woman, disappeared for years, then reemerged, and Traister had picked up an assignment to write about it. “When, in 2015, I was assigned to write about it as a feminist journalist heading into the 2016 presidential election, I immediately understood what had made it so charged and dangerous, what had made it too much,” Traister writes in Good and Mad. “It was a celluloid time capsule, its wholly unfiltered view of women’s outrage, acute and strange to contemporary ears and eyes, trapped in amber.”
The images “felt retro,” she wrote, in that summer of 2016, when a female president could happen. Just a few months later, she writes, “I scrolled through images on my social media feeds and saw another cascade of wrath” during the Women’s March. It was just the latest resurgence of women’s anger.
This opening is one of many trips Good and Mad takes back in time to attempt to provide historical context for what’s happening now. But so many rage-inducing things are happening now that there’s a lot to cover. Her extended retrospective of the Trump candidacy and presidency captures that feeling of being inside of every tweet storm. This section of the book will have even the most avid news junkie saying in disbelief, “Oh right, then that happened, too.”
Capturing the mood of the moment is where Traister shines, and her point — that there’s always something to be downright pissed off about — feels constantly relevant in the context of the 24-hour news cycle. I read Good and Mad while pedaling on a stationary bike at the gym, when the hearings for Brett Kavanaugh, then the hearings with Christine Blasey Ford, were always on one of the televisions in my line of sight. I found myself getting some of the best workouts I’d had reading this book on a bike ride to nowhere, and that experience does underline the book’s cathartic effect.
However, some of Traister’s anecdotes from 19th-century suffragist history to the second-wave feminism of the 20th century feel cherry picked. She looks back to the antebellum era for failures of intersectionality, those moments when the movement for women voting didn’t support the movement for African-Americans getting the vote. The parallels are there — women of color who were involved in the Women’s March expressed concerns about whether white women were being inclusive — but it’s a compartmentalized view of history.
Later in Good and Mad, Traister zeroes in on white women who voted for Donald Trump, calling them complicit with their husbands and fathers, sons and brothers who have maintained patriarchal structures that have kept women out of power. But it’s too easy of an argument to make for a broad category of people. It ignores the complexities of the voting public and applies a stereotype to another group of women who were also clearly fed up and voted accordingly. Whether their anger counts, too, is an interesting question in feminist thought, and I would have liked to read what some of the intellectuals at the forefront of the current movement have to say about it. Instead, it’s given short shrift, as is conservative women’s anger. This isn’t the book to look to for a deep analysis of how Ann Coulter’s loud-and-proud brand of anger has made her career. Instead, this is a place to hone your talking points, hashtag resist.
Points of policy feminists have been fighting for all along (health care and child care, for example) also get short shrift in Good and Mad. But Traister is preaching to a choir that already knows this, and really, any nits a critic picks won’t matter to that choir, who will buy this book and love it. The left-leaning liberal public has voted, on this book and elsewhere — just look at the record number of women who stepped into the halls of Congress earlier this month. I have a feeling that some of them might be good and mad, too.