"The Future Is Female. And She's Furious.
Is rage the future of feminism?
In October, a few days after Brett Kavanaugh was sworn in as a Supreme Court justice, The Washington Post published one woman's account of channeling her rage into half an hour of screaming at her husband. "I announced that I hate all men and wish all men were dead," wrote retired history professor Victoria Bissell Brown, entirely unapologetic despite conceding that her hapless spouse was "one of the good men."
While Brown's piece was more clickbait than commentary, it was an extreme expression of a larger cultural moment. 'Tis the season to be angry if you're a woman in America—or so we're told.
The storm of sexual assault allegations that nearly derailed Kavanaugh's confirmation was just the latest reported conflagration of female fury. The Kavanaugh drama coincided with the first anniversary of the downfall of the multiply accused Hollywood superpredator Harvey Weinstein. But this decade's wave of feminist anger had been building for several years before that—from the May 2014 #YesAllWomen Twitter hashtag, created to express women's vulnerability to male violence after woman hater Elliot Rodger went on a shooting and stabbing rampage in California, to the November 2016 election, in which the expected victory of America's first woman president was ignominiously thwarted by a man who casually discussed grabbing women's genitals.
While the "female rage" narrative does not represent all or even most women, there is little doubt that it taps into real problems and real frustrations. The quest for women's liberation from their traditional subjection is an essential part of the story of human freedom—and for all the tremendous strides made in the United States during the last half-century, lingering gender-based biases and obstacles remain an unfinished business. But is rage feminism (to coin a phrase) the way forward, or is it a dangerous detour?
The case for rage is made in two new books published almost simultaneously in the fall: Rage Becomes Her: The Power of Women's Anger, by activist Soraya Chemaly, and Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women's Anger, by New York columnist Rebecca Traister.
Traister's book is, despite its forays into the history of American feminism, very much of the current moment. It is dominated by the 2016 presidential race, the Women's March, and the #MeToo movement. Traister believes that Donald Trump's election woke the "sleeping giant" of female rage at the patriarchy. (Along the way, she seems to suggest that pre-2016 feminism was a mostly "cheerful" kind, with a focus on girl power and sex positivity—an account that airbrushes not only #YesAllWomen but many other days of rage on feminist Twitter and on websites such as Jezebel.) She wants women to hold on to this anger and channel it into a struggle for "revolutionary change," rather than to move on and calm down in deference to social expectations. "Our job is to stay angry…perhaps for a very long time," Traister warns darkly.
Rage Becomes Her provides a broader context for this anger. Chemaly, the creator of that #YesAllWomen hashtag, sets out to count the ways sexist oppression continues, in her view, to permeate the lives of women and girls in America. Her indictment includes inequalities in school and at work, ever-present male violence, rampant and usually unpunished sexual assault, the sidelining of women in literature and film, male-centered sexual norms, subtle or overt hostility toward female power and ambition, and a variety of petty indignities, from "mansplaining" to catcalls to long bathroom lines. Like Traister, Chemaly sees women's long-suppressed anger as a necessary driver of change.[...]"