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New Book Looks At Why Women Have The Right To Be 'Good And Mad'

"Dr. Blasey Ford was so deferential, so polite, so constrained," Rebecca Traister, author of <em>Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women's Anger, </em>said.
Saul Loeb
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"Dr. Blasey Ford was so deferential, so polite, so constrained," Rebecca Traister, author of Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women's Anger, said.

Following a hearing last week that sought to look into sexual assault allegations brought against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, the FBI is investigating further and discussions of assault have been kicked off around the country.

For author and New York magazine writer Rebecca Traister, Thursday's contentious hearing highlighted important differences in the way Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford, who testified to the allegations, told their stories.

Traister says Ford's polite and constrained demeanor was in stark contrast to Kavanaugh's use of a full range of expression.

"He had in his arsenal the ability to use anger, fury, tears in a way that he felt confident would resonate with the American people. I don't think that Dr. Christine Blasey Ford — I can't imagine a scenario in which she would have gone into that hearing room armed with that same weapon, that same tool; that she could yell and be furious in her retelling of what happened to her," Traister tells NPR's Rachel Martin.

Traister's new book, Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women's Anger, is a deeper exploration of that dynamic. She says the idea for the book came to her just before the 2017 Women's March. She describes a buildup of anger — her own anger, the anger of other women that spilled over from the 2016 election of President Trump, and anger at many of the white women who voted for Trump in that election — as a catalyst for her book.

Though the Women's March had a massive turnout and has been followed by "a year that has women protesters opposing the health care repeal, teacher strikes, women running for office in historic numbers, and then #MeToo," Traister says the potency of women's anger and activism is still routinely diminished.

In an interview with Morning Edition, she discusses why she chose to examine women's anger and how it has been both politically transformative and perilous for women throughout U.S. history.

Interview Highlights

On why women's anger has been historically perceived as threatening

Well, in part, that anger of the founding — our founders who were the white men chafing against their lack of representation and who were angry and protested in ways that we understand correctly to this is our revolutionary moment. But when they made their new nation, they codified some of the very inequities that they themselves were angry about with regard to the British government. So they built the nation on slavery and the disenfranchisement of women.

On the silencing of women of color in the #MeToo movement

I think it's almost impossible for us to conceive of the voices of women of color as being heard loudly enough because they have been so unheard and so marginalized for so long. In fact, it's women of color who have been the leaders and the leading thinkers of so many of our social movements, in ways that have remained invisible to us. So when we think about #MeToo, one of the things that gets lost is that the definition of sexual harassment stems from cases that were brought in the '70s by women of color. ...

In 1991, it was Anita Hill, whose testimony against Clarence Thomas, claiming that he sexually harassed her, sort of cemented the idea that sexual harassment wasn't individual behavior but damage done to a class. It's Tarana Burke, who in 2006 pioneers and leads the #MeToo movement. And then when the #MeToo movement erupts — I think it's really important that we understand that the first people to get attention were very wealthy white actresses. ... I don't say that to diminish the experience or the reality of the harm they sustained. But in fact, all of that is foregrounded by women of color whose stories so often get lost or kind of erased.

On why the power of women's anger is not limited to a progressive partisan agenda

My argument is not that women's anger is always righteous. It's that it's very often politically potent and yet we're told not to take it seriously, still. I think that it's the anger that women are feeling across the country that is having a catalytic connective impact. And this is part of a long process — social movements take a long time. The kind of anger that women are feeling in this moment around Kavanaugh is going to be part of a far longer story that's going to extend deep into our future.

Noor Wazwaz and Ashley Brown produced and edited this story for broadcast. Cameron Jenkins adapted it for the Web.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Rachel Martin is a host of Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
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