Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women's Anger by Rebecca Traister

Or: How to Domesticate Your Rage and Get In on a System That Exploits and Torments Women All Over the World

By Toni Redtree

| Revolution Newspaper |


Rebecca Traister is a commentator on politics from a feminist perspective.  In her book Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women's Anger, she exposes how anger works for men in ways that it does not work for women within the system—and how women’s anger has been the fuel often igniting movements for social change in the history of the U.S. Traister goes after the rampant misogyny that marked the 2016 election, and the more general and pervasive oppression that female political candidates and women in the professions and business must face. To be clear: there is valid exposure of this in her book including in the treatment of Hillary Clinton. But the election of the first female president would not have changed this, nor will Traister’s prescriptions do anything but keep the same machine that generates that oppression going.

Traister in Good and Mad posits the problem as government not being truly representative, prescriptively implying that if that representation can be wrested from these white patriarchal men the majority of women could be free from subjugation. She states in her chapter Let’s Get Elected: “In the wake of Trump’s defeat of Clinton, a gang of women were eyeing the aging cast of men who’d been hogging America’s political power ... forever, and imagining they might replace them. Replacement. It was a particularly charged concept...” [Emphasis ours]

Yes and no. Yes, in the sense that fear of being “replaced”—backlash against the relatively minor concessions made to women and people of color—has fueled the rise of the Trump/Pence regime and the fascist movement more generally. But—much more fundamentally—NO! Replacement—that is, changing the faces in a system that remains fundamentally the same—does not make it represent those groups this system continues to oppress. "Replacement" just means you want to get to the top of it and grab “your” share of the spoils too.

Traister’s Fantasies vs. Historical Evidence

While a constant refrain, it is one that is thoroughly refuted by a mountain of historical evidence that women (and oppressed people) can come to the head of oppressive governments while the majority of the people they supposedly represent remain locked in subjugated existences and change anything significant for those people over any length of time. Did Obama’s election and presidency fundamentally change the situation of the vast section of people in the U.S. who are Black? Nearly every single country in South Asia has had women in power, sometimes for decades, with no real change in the horrifying oppression of women. There is more than enough evidence that women are equally capable of being pigs—presiding over a monstrous system—from Hillary Clinton to Theresa May to Angela Merkel.

There is NO historical evidence that women being equally “represented” in government have been able to fundamentally change or “reform away” the basic functioning of the capitalist-imperialist system, the very functioning of which engenders and reinforces—every second of the day—the systemic oppression and worldwide subordination of women. To the degree legal rights have been extended to women and other oppressed groups, they have largely required tremendous struggle and sacrifice from “below,” from the people—they have not been merely granted from on high!

Along with slavery, patriarchal rule was encoded into the nation’s founding—something Traister recognizes—but the fact is that the oppression of women continues to be integral to this system’s ability to function and exist. Even while a vast majority of the world’s female population has been drawn into the labor force, forces of reaction that aim to reassert and reinforce patriarchy have gained ascendance. Mike Pence, a Christian fascist, now sits within a heartbeat of the presidency; someone who believes in the literal biblical relegation of women to a man’s authority, and won’t sit alone in a room with a woman. 

Revolution Does NOT Mean Old Wine in New Bottles

Anyone who gets into the halls of Congress must play by the rules required by the system’s functioning and learn to “compromise,” as we hear incessantly from the Democrats… and as their actions prove. The subordination of women in this system cannot be “reformed,” “elected” or “represented” away—it’s in the nature of the beast.

None of this—especially changing faces atop this monstrous system—is remotely “revolutionary,” despite what Traister may claim. An actual revolution means a DIFFERENT system, not just different people administering oppression. An actual revolution requires the OVERTHROW of the system. It speaks to the ignorance of this society that one can get away with using the word revolutionary in the service of women motivated by something as hideous as getting atop—or their fair share in—a system as predatory, monstrous and outmoded as U.S. capitalism-imperialism!

Hillary Clinton—Exhibit A for Traister… and an Exposure of the American Chauvinism Saturating Her Approach

If there is a single example of the logical outcome of the political solutions in this book, it lies in Rebecca Traister’s shameless apology and support for Hillary Clinton.

Let’s state what should be an obvious and indisputable truth: Hillary Clinton is NOT a standard bearer for the liberation of women—she is a woman who is a war criminal. Just to take two examples:

  • She is a woman who proved her hawk credentials as head of the Obama State Department—leading the charge to depose the Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, as part of U.S. efforts to dominate the region. Traister, who laments Clinton’s inability to show emotion, has conveniently forgotten her Hannibal-Lecter-worthy performance gleefully announcing the slaying of Muammar Gaddafi. As Libya plunged into chaos, Clinton’s “competent” fingerprints are all over the crime scene of the thousands dead and the refugees fleeing the collapse of Libyan society, drowning as they try to cross the Mediterranean to Europe.
  • Clinton’s fingerprints can also be found on the women and children stranded in squalid encampments at the U.S.-Mexico border. In 2009, the U.S. ambassador to Honduras told Secretary Clinton that the removal of the elected president, Manuel Zelaya, a left leaning liberal populist, would be an “an illegal and unconstitutional coup.” Despite this, and while issuing mild criticisms, Clinton lent legitimacy to elections that forbade Zelaya’s participation. The regime brought to power with the coup was openly fascistic and pro-U.S., plunging the Honduran people even more deeply into the grip of U.S. domination, state-sponsored political assassinations, and the intensified violence, poverty, and oppression that people are now fleeing by the thousands.

Hillary Clinton’s active support for the main policies of her husband, Bill Clinton, while he was President (and she was a major, if unofficial, member of his team)—policies of mass incarceration, of NAFTA and its devastation of Mexico, of the profoundly anti-woman and racist ending of welfare—were themselves criminal. Her role in the promotion of the slogan that abortion should be “safe, legal and rare” (thereby ceding the moral high ground to the Christian fascists) was particularly damaging.

Anyone who can put “Hillary Clinton” and “using your anger as a catalyst for change” in the same sentence—much less the same book—is automatically disqualified from using the word “revolutionary” in their book title.

Ultimately, the problem is Good and Mad not only reinforces “let’s get elected” as the horizons of what is needed, but it’s fundamentally not really all that madcommensurate with the depth, the scale, the intensity of women’s oppression all around the world. The fury of women can indeed be a catalyst for fundamental and radical social change—one that gets to the roots of the problem through an actual revolution. But Traister’s outlook and program can only channel that fury into futility or, worse yet, becoming a cog in the machine.

(Next week: Traister on #MeToo—And what happens when “me” eclipses “too”)


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