To enter the splendid core of ire and intelligence coursing through Rebecca Traister’s third book, “Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger,” is to be sustained by its heat, invigorated, galvanized.
In the early months after the 2016 election, Traister resolved to write about the explosion of women’s anger and activism, tracing it over a few years — until she recognized a need to capture this maybe-movement in something like real time, to ensure that none of its complicated fury would be lost to tepid retrospective accounts. “Good and Mad” was composed in a matter of months, with incandescent urgency.
It’s a virtuosic performance, elucidating women’s rage as a transformative political tool from 19th-century abolition and suffrage campaigns to summer 2018, connecting achievements of the mad women of feminism’s first and second waves to the present-day tide of women’s activism.
Drawing on history, profiles, interviews and her own observations, Traister interweaves the reflections and insights of feminism’s old guard and current trailblazers alike, from Shirley Chisholm and Gloria Steinem to Black Lives Matter co-founder Alicia Garza and #MeToo founder Tarana Burke, not to mention the initiatives of women working to affect local issues, fund and train women candidates or newly enter politics themselves.
Much of the book recounts fresh events, but Traister’s gift is to contextualize and synthesize superficially disparate eras and events, social injustices and private pains. Her exploration of the #MeToo movement and sexual harassment — kicked off with her own experience of a violent Harvey Weinstein — is instantly canonical. “The anger window was open,” she writes, after the first germinal stories of abuse appeared. “For decades, for centuries, it had been closed.” For many women, much the same could be said of Nov. 9, 2016.
Traister is attuned, though, to the irony of late white feminist awakening to injustices long plain to women of color. Women’s activism, she knows, is most effective when grounded in intersectionality, with women uniting across differences, including race and class. She examines how this ideal is thwarted by incentives for white women to use their vote to reinforce the white patriarchy, as did 53 percent in 2016.
Traister works to decenter whiteness throughout the book and is mostly alert to interlocking forces that oppress women, but glaringly absent is any mention of disabled women’s activism, for instance, in the fight to preserve the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid funding.
Ultimately, Traister is an anger optimist. It may be unfamiliar ground, but that’s OK. Recalling a moment of unease as #MeToo unfolded, she writes, “It felt unsafe. Exhilarating. Terrifying. Uncomfortable. Necessary and long overdue and as if it were either going to burn us all up or save us.”
Marian Ryan has written for Granta, Catapult, the New York Times, Slate and other publications. She lives in Berlin.
Good and Mad
By: Rebecca Traister.
Publisher: Simon & Schuster, 320 pages, $27.
Event: Talking Volumes, 7 p.m. Oct. 17, Fitzgerald Theater, Sold out.