When the moment called for an evaluation comparing and contrasting the respective testimonies of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and Judge Brett Kavanaugh before the United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary, The New York Times couldn’t have tapped a better writer than Rebecca Traister. As various pundits were fumbling through their evaluations of the markedly different temperaments displayed by the two figures before the legislative branch, Traister was in the rare position of being able to accurately cite a well-worn adage as credential: She literally wrote the book on the subject.
Traister’s essay, published in the Sunday opinion section of the Times, provided valuable insight to the uninitiated, likely preserved in happy ignorance by their own safe privilege, as to why Ford might feel obligated to remain intensely measured and why the man who followed her to the witness table felt emboldened to rant furiously, spitting out insulting, dismissive responses to the elected officials designing to question his suitability to serve on the highest court in the land. Traister drew on research she’d already done for her book Good and Mad, which bears the subtitle The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger. With power, clarity, and historical evidence, Traister illuminated the persistent societal clampdown on women expressing any emotion much more heated that demure acquiescence. The piece is infuriating and heartbreaking. To the degree that it puts a diagnosis to a backwards, gender-specific prohibition against personal expression, the essay is also hopeful and inspiring. If a disease is identified, it can be combatted.
The same day Traister’s article appeared in the Times, I bought her book. Writers need to be supported, especially those that are making arguments against the darkening power structure in this alarmingly regressive time. Good and Mad covers the same ground as the article that inspired my commerce, but with greater depth and more expansiveness. Although Traister is obviously energized in the claiming of her own anger in the wake of the disastrous administration haphazardly assembled by second-place finisher in the country’s most recent presidential election, she doesn’t resort to a purely polemical diatribe. Without giving an inch on her right to be honestly aggrieved, Traister offers a considered, meticulous accounting of the long history that’s brought women to this point, including the progress that has been made, the victories won and lost in the past, and, more importantly, acknowledgment of the yet tougher judgment rendered upon women of color who dare to show their justified rage. She owns her notches of privilege, too.
Especially in recent years, I’ve tried to look past my own blinkered existence to learn the discomfort and hardship of others, particularly those who carry with them some signifier — of skin color, of gender identity, of religious belief, of familial heritage — that makes them an automatic target in this place and time where instinctual uncertainty about difference is weaponized by a ruling class fearful of citizen unity. My education has been just successful enough that I wasn’t surprised by much in Traister’s writing, but I was still grateful for its thoroughness and vivid sense of purpose. I’m prepared to celebrate the fury.
Previous entries in this series can be found by clicking on the “My Writers” tag.