All the Rage That’s Fit to Print: Four Books on Female Fury

Anger is the least celebrated emotion—especially for women. A quartet of recent books pulls back the cultural curtain hiding feminine wrath.

A bumper crop of new books addresses women's rage, its importance for health, and its political uses.

Anger is having a moment. Not just the male anger that we saw in U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation testimony, Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham’s defense of him, or from Trump supporters regularly.

Women’s anger is making itself known. We’ve seen it in Ana Maria Archila, co-executive director of the Center for Popular Democracy, and recent college graduate Maria Gallagher confronting Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) in a Capitol Hill elevator to demand he believe Christine Blasey Ford’s allegations of sexual assault at the hands of Kavanaugh. We’ve seen it in Rep. Maxine Waters’ (D-CA) ongoing critiques of President Trump and, of course, in the #MeToo movement.

Women’s anger has always been here, though centuries of dismissing, silencing, erasing, ignoring, and laughing off women’s anger means that it has not been explored to the degree or with the nuance it warrants.

But four recent incisive and revelatory books go a long way to chronicling the root sources of women’s anger and the vital role it plays in grassroots movements.

Road Map for Revolutionaries: Resistance, Activism and Advocacy for All

This book by Elisa Camahort Page, Carolyn Gerin, and Jamia Wilson dubs itself a “tactical field guide to understanding, using, and defending the rights we have and to fighting for the justice that we still need to achieve.”

The fury and rage here is in motion, fueling rallies and protests, giving rise to specific causes of liberation. This is a new-to-organizing handbook, though even veteran activists will appreciate its detailed and efficient assessments about how to tackle seemingly insurmountable, complex and complicated issues.

The book breaks down revolutions into their smallest, most manageable units, with one-page glossaries that define crucial terms and resources that offer specific “visible, intentional, and reachable” actions. A chart entitled “Protecting Yourself in the United States as a Noncitizen,” provides information about one’s rights and suggestions for how to move about the country as a noncitizen depending on one’s residential status.

For the reader not convinced that marches and protests make a difference, a colorful centerfold traces three movements through the years: the anti-lynching movement, the Montgomery bus boycott, and Black Lives Matter. What’s more, in “Taking Down an Oppressor—The Bill O’Reilly Timeline,” Road Map offers abstracts of the eight events (fittingly transposed over an illustration of a snake) that ultimately led to the television host’s termination from Fox News. Here’s how to take down a Goliath, one small slingshot stone at a time.

The book’s tips for social media as a tool for activism are particularly enlightening. “Tools for the Task” compares how five social media platforms allow users to broadcast live video.

To drive the book’s points about social media home, Patrisse Cullors, co-founder of Black Lives Matter, explains how the hashtag metamorphosed into a movement. “When we saw people holding signs saying ‘#BlackLivesMatter,’ standing in front of the tanks in Ferguson, Missouri, after Michael Brown was killed, we said, ‘Whoa, we created something.’”

In a world overrun with think pieces published hours after the most recent breakdown of democracy, Road Map is a lucid, refreshing, and concise guide that astutely demonstrates how to transform rage into productive, long-term resistance.

Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger

In 2000, journalist Rebecca Traister ran into Harvey Weinstein, the movie executive whose career would eventually implode when dozens of women actors accused him of rape, sexual harassment, and assault.

When the #MeToo movement hit full force, Traister found herself with a rage that had festered for two decades. Last fall, she divulged her own experience with the belligerent, out-of-control Weinstein, who in 2000 insulted her, physically assaulted her colleague, and seriously injured a bystander. The following month, she penned a penetrating essay excoriating the rampant predatory behavior of men. “The anger window is open,” she stated plainly.

The essay was the precursor to her latest book, Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger. “This is not an emotional exploration of women’s anger,” Traister writes. “This is about the specific nexus of women’s anger and American politics, about how the particular dissatisfactions and resentments of America’s women have often ignited movements for social change and progress.”

Indeed, Traister maintains that while women’s fury has reached nearly apocalyptic levels since the 2016 presidential election, it has a deeply rooted history in American politics.

Women in politics, Traister argues, must engage in an impossible dance between seeming too enraged, where they will be characterized as hawkish and monstrous (Secretary Clinton enlisted the help of a linguistic expert to make her voice sound more appealing during her presidential campaign) or too cute to be deemed competent.

The public’s newfound adoration of women’s displayed outrage has its downside. When Waters and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) harshly criticized President Trump, white and non-Black people of color reduced the politicians’ decades of skill and advocacy to memes and GIFs in “digital blackface.” Says Alicia Garza, another co-founder of Black Lives Matter, “black women’s anger can get fetishized, yet never really taken to heart.”

Even when women in politics carefully disguise their furor to avoid being cast as aggressive or hysterical, they are still sideswiped by the calculating tirades of men. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) achieved the impossible in the summer of 2017, when she rallied enough support from both Democrats and Republicans in the powerful House Appropriations Committee for an amendment to repeal the Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF), which grants the president the ability to go to war without congressional approval. (Lee was the only member of Congress to vote against it a few days after 9/11.)

After Lee spent 16 tireless years attempting to repeal it, Congressman Paul Ryan unceremoniously stripped her amendment from the defense bill, blocking it from coming to the floor for a full vote. Lee was livid, not only because of Ryan’s actions, but because of her colleagues’ response. “They were applauding me for not being the angry black woman, and I wanted to cuss them out. Because that was the implication: you were so cool, you were so restrained, you handled it so well, and toward the end you were a little emotional but you were great.”

This may be the most crucial message of the book. If the pains women endure to hide and minimize their own anger don’t pay off, why bother making the effort? “Being mad is correct; being mad is American; being mad is joyful and productive and connective,” Traister concludes. “Don’t ever let them talk you out of being mad again.” [250]

Unladylike: A Field Guide to Smashing the Patriarchy and Claiming Your Space

“Where we find out what happens when women break the rules,” is the motto for the podcast Unladylike by Cristen Conger and Caroline Ervin. Conger and Ervin have a new book out with the same name, Unladylike: A Field Guide to Smashing the Patriarchy and Claiming Your Space.

This bold, brightly illustrated compendium shatters the traditional notions of gender and sexuality by employing “intersectional binoculars” to acknowledge multiple layers of identity, privilege, and inclusion. Ladyhood, a product of the patriarchy, is the target of Conger and Ervin’s anger. “We’ll reveal modern patriarchy’s many disguises and what to do when its influencing, privileging, and profiteering slithers into your home, school, work, and even your mirror.”

“Claim Your Space Like” devotes a single page to a woman or femme in history. These include Raichō Hiratsuka, a Japanese woman who founded the first literary magazine in Japan run by a woman, and Pauli Murray, a civil rights activist and attorney who coined the term “Jane” Crow to reflect the “double discrimination” faced by Black women. Despite the witty, irreverent and occasionally tongue-in-cheek tone, the book does deep dives on a range of topics from ableist body politics and polyamory to the misogyny of trans-exclusionary radical feminists (TERFs).

Moreover, Unladylike is hellbent on decolonizing feminism, and the book goes a long way in attempting to rid feminism of its whiteness and Eurocentrism. After flipping through pictures of mostly brown and Black women, readers unfamiliar with the authors may be surprised to learn that they are white.

Part self-help, part instructional manual, part history book, Unladylike is a coherent, spirited, and fascinating guide that lobs a grenade at traditional notions of gender and sexuality. “So long as we’re gutsy enough to get loud, loose, and livid, unladylike witches do what it takes to smash the patriarchy that stands in our way.”

Rage Becomes Her: The Power of Women

Soraya Chemaly was a little girl when she first heard the story of her beautiful, blue-eyed great-grandmother, Zarifeh, born during the decline of the Ottoman Empire. Zarifeh was 14 when a 40-year-old man riding by on a horse picked her up, took her away, and married her.

Chemaly’s relatives passed down Zarifeh’s seemingly romantic story through the generations. But when Chemaly looked at a photo of her great-grandmother, she saw her ancestor for what she was—a “haggard” woman who appeared utterly exhausted, who had been kidnapped, raped, and impregnated many times before giving birth to seven children who survived. Zarifeh had been furious, and the myth about her life erased this fury.

Women have a lot to be enraged about, says Chemaly in her recent book, Rage Becomes Her: The Power of Women. This rage stems, for the most part, from men’s bad behavior and their sense of entitlement. Women are abused and not believed when they speak about their abuse. They are denied access to abortion and affordable birth control, and in the United States, they face the highest maternal mortality rate in the industrialized world—about 26 deaths per 100,000 live births, but nearly 40 per 100,000 for Black women. (Chemaly’s cousin died while giving birth to her third child in a major U.S. hospital.)

And yet, “there is no time of life when our anger is acceptable. Teenage girls are spoiled, silly, or moody for standing up for themselves. Older women, fed up and saying so, are bitter castrators.” What’s more, women fear the repercussions of their anger, so much so that they use safer, more acceptable code words to describe it. “How many times does a woman say, ‘I’m so tired,’ because she cannot say, ‘I am so angry!’” Chemaly asks.

Repressing rage harms women. Literally. “By the time a woman reaches midlife, the most significant predictors of her general health are her levels of stress and where she ranks in terms of keeping her ‘anger in.’” And like women’s pain, their anger is belittled and ignored.

What Chemaly ultimately argues is that being outraged is healthy, natural, and vital for a full and satisfying life. Women have spent far too much of their lives, to their detriment, attempting to control it. “Contrary to the idea that anger clouds thinking,” she assures us, “properly understood, it is an astoundingly clarifying emotion.”

The Takeaway

All four of these timely books offer crucial lessons for women to achieve both political and personal liberation through fury, the least celebrated emotion. And though the goal is for women’s anger to be accepted and respected, this can’t be the only end game.

As a Garza quote says in Rage Becomes Her, “[anger] is not a sustainable emotion in and of itself. It has to be transformed into a deep love for the possibility of who we can be .… That’s why love is important: love connects us to what we most care about, what we yearn for.”

In other words, stay mad. But love yourself, too.