October 15, 2018

Rethinking Women’s Rage

“You would think there would be more literature about why men are so angry—the president, the mob in Charlottesville a year ago, the alt-right generally, the bar brawlers, the wife-beaters, the gay-bashers, the man who got more famous than he anticipated for screaming at a couple of women who were speaking Spanish in a Manhattan restaurant earlier this year. Add to this all the high-powered, high-profile men—the #MeToo perpetrators—who have been cruel and degrading to women, and the men who went berserk in early August when The New York Times appointed Sarah Jeong to its editorial board, slinging sexualized and racist insults at her because she had dared to criticize them. Anger is often entangled with entitlement—the assumption, which underlies a lot of the violence in the United States, that one’s will should prevail and one’s rights outweigh those of others.

Male anger is a public safety issue, as well as a force in the ugliest politics and social movements of our time, from the epidemic of domestic violence to mass shootings, and from neo-Nazis to incels. Because we normalize the behavior of men—and of white men in particular—the fact that a lot of far-right movements, such as the American neo-Nazi terror group Atomwaffen Division, are mostly male, is seldom noted. (Michael Kimmel’s recent book, Healing From Hate, which examines male fury in global politics, is among the valuable exceptions.) We have until very recently treated it as inevitable that women should adapt to these outbursts with Mace in our purses, self-defense lessons, and limits on our freedom of movement, tiptoeing around men who use their volatility to intimidate and control others.

Instead of a theory of male anger, we have a growing literature in essays and now books about female anger, a phenomenon in transition. Rebecca Traister’s new book, Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger, scrutinizes its causes, its repression, and its release in the last half-dozen years of feminist action, particularly in response to the treatment of Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election, and in the remarkable power shift that women demanded in #MeToo. Soraya Chemaly’s Rage Becomes Her: The Power of Women’s Anger focuses on the ways in which women’s (and by contrast, men’s) emotions are managed, judged, and valued in contemporary North American life, while Brittney Cooper’s Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower is a first-person narrative about power, solidarity, race, gender, and their intersections.”

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