A Woman’s Anger with Rebecca Traister

Published October 5, 2018.

Aminatou: Welcome to Call Your Girlfriend. Ann: A podcast for long-distance besties everywhere. Aminatou: I'm Aminatou Sow. Ann: And I'm Ann Friedman. On this week's agenda we talk about women and rage with Rebecca Traister, tight, tight, tight friend of the podcast and author of the new book Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women's Anger. [Theme Song] (1:30) Aminatou: Hey Ann Friedman! Ann: Ugh. Aminatou: Do you have your tickets to come to the Call Your Girlfriend tour? Ann: Listen, you mean my plane tickets to fly to all the dates on the Call Your Girlfriend tour? [Laughter] Let me tell you I just downloaded like every airline app. You'll be so proud of me. Aminatou: Perfect. Ann: I'm getting into the head space with my many tickets. The question is do our listeners have their tickets? Aminatou: Well, you know what they say. This is America. You lose by the way you choose, so . . . [Laughs] Some places are sold out, some places are not. Hopefully you live by a place that is not sold out. I'm super excited about going on tour this year. I think it's going to be really fun. There's so much to rage about in real-time, so close to the midterms. Ann: Oh my god. Aminatou: Also like CYG tours are always fun. Our listeners are babes. It's the best. Ann: So get your tickets at callyourgirlfriend.com/tour, and I just want to do a special shout-out to I know that there are besties out there that are the more Internet-organized of the pair who are like "I bought us tickets, don't worry about it." Meanwhile their friend is like "Oh shit, I completely forgot to get tickets. What if it's sold out?" And your bestie has got you. Shout-out to the organized bestie who bought tickets in advance. We see you. And even if you are not the organized bestie in your friend pair we are excited to see you too. Aminatou: [Laughs] See you on tour. Okay, I am very excited about today's episode. Ann: I'm shaking with anticipation. Aminatou: Personal shero Rebecca Traister is on today. Ann: I'm so thrilled to have her here today. Aminatou: She's on today to talk about her new book Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women's Anger. I've been waiting for this book since the day Hillary Clinton was robbed of winning at the election. Ann: Rebecca is one of my favorite thinkers and writers for her ability to connect the dots between disparate things happening in culture, in politics, in feminism, to root them in history, to do that with like a really nuanced and complicated understanding. This is not just a MeToo movement book. This is not just a stolen election book. This is not just a women's rights being stripped away by courts and legislatures book. This is a holistic what is going on and why are we so angry all the time kind of book. (3:50) Aminatou: Right, it's literally about the history of female anger as political fuel. Everything from suffragettes to the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearing to the confirmation hearing that we are gong through now with a certain Judge Kavanaugh and how women's anger tracks to all of this and this historical endeavor that patriarchy's always had to de-legitimize female anger because women's collective fury is how we get shit done all over the world. This book will make you think so much about what is going on today in this current political moment. But also I think for a lot of people it will connect the dots about a lot of how anger has manifested itself in their own lives and the impact that it's had and the repercussions that they've had at being angry. Another very feminist, nerdy point about Rebecca's book, the top blurb is by Vivian Gornick. Ann: Wow. Aminatou: You know what I mean? Vivian Gornick could blurb a Trader's Joe pamphlet and I would buy it. It would be the best blurb ever. Ann: Vivian Gornick could be like "Pick up the fearless flyer" and you'd be like "Get me to a Trader Joe's." [Laughs] Aminatou: I'm like yes my general, I'm here! [Laughs] That's your nerdy feminist history thing. But I'm super, super, super excited to talk about Rebecca and about how harnessing our anger is what changes history. Ann: I have a personal question which is what do you do when you feel that intense rage feeling at something that is big and systemic and beyond your control? What is your most common reaction? Aminatou: I always felt like I was not allowed to be angry for two very specific reasons. Like one, in my family, I think I broke a glass one time and forever . . . you know, I dropped something and I was deemed clumsy, then I probably yelled one time or I had a tantrum one time and then I was angry. Like in my family my story is that I'm a very angry person. Ann: Ugh, family tropes. Aminatou: I don't know, maybe my friends agree, but I don't think I code as a generally very angry person. So my whole life has been about really putting all the anger in the trash compactor. And now recently it's the first time that I've allowed myself to be angry and I cry a lot about it and that has been really instructive for me, where I was like oh, this is why these other women that I know have been crying for so long -- like sometimes you're so angry you cry, that's the powerlessness of it -- but you know the other thing is that I've been channeling it into other places. I can feel the rage build all of the time, and instead of feeling like it's a feeling that I need to get rid of immediately I'm okay having low-key simmering anger for a long time. And so I'm probably the angriest that I've ever been but I'm also having a blast. It's fine. It's fine to be angry. Ann: You're like you're fully self-expressed. Aminatou: Yes. I am fully self-expressed and it feels amazing. It also feels a little dangerous but I just -- I like it. I was like this . . . I have entered my season of rage and I really hope to be here for a while. Ann: Ugh. I mean I think that it is hard to not be having a season of rage just given what is happening in the world all around us. Like I can't even imagine the state of not being in a rage right now. Aminatou: What are you raging about right now? Ann: You know, the rage that I'm feeling particularly with the Kavanaugh confirmation hearings is the kind of futility that I feel about oh god, you weren't listening 20 years ago. You weren't listening 20 months ago. You're still not listening now. What does it take? And I don't know, I say this as someone who deals with most of my feelings be they anger or sadness or shame or whatever by trying to do a thing that is action-oriented, much to my detriment, like I'm kind of that person who when a friend tells me about something that's hard I'm immediately like what can we do to strategize about it? When I should often just be like I'm so sorry, let me sit with that with you, you know? So I think that is my issue is I'm really struggling to continue to be like a person who is action-oriented when it feels like in this moment not a lot of progress is happening as a result of rage and action so far. So I turn to Rebecca a lot as one of the wise sources for historical precedence for times when rage has resulted in action that has made a measurable impact. I mean it sounds really facile to be just like I'm raging at the news, but I'm raging at the news. (8:25) Aminatou: Oh, I'm raging at the news. I'm just learning to rage. Like I'm grateful for that alone. Like if that is the only thing that I get out of this season of my life is really just knowing that it's okay to be angry and that I can express my anger and it's not the end of the world, that's like that means the world to me. Ann: Right. Aminatou: The other thing I want to talk about too is we haven't done the full de-brief of the Kavanaugh hearing, and part of that is because we've been traveling, and part of it too is because the news is coming so fast I need -- I feel the need to fully digest what is going on. So I'm excited that when we're finally back together we will sit down and we will do a full episode on this. Ann: Right. Aminatou: But it is wild what is happening right now. Ann: Right, and we are a weekly -- like our rate of metabolism is not daily for a reason. This is not like rage NPR. This is a weekly, and sometimes less frequently than that, discussion and digestion of the news. So yeah. Aminatou: Yeah. Yeah, and it's also like -- and I'm going to be very honest too -- this particular round has been really hard for me and very triggering, and part of not feeling like I have to have a public response to everything is taking care of myself. Ann: Right. Aminatou: Everybody is telling on themselves but I've been really shocked at hearing the response to this. If you are like me and you need some time to process that, that's okay. You don't have to have something to say. You don't have to share your story for the world to hear, to feel like you're some sort of instructive moment for everyone. There's no guilt about taking some time to metabolize all this news. It's fine. (10:02) Ann: Completely. So that is just a comment about maybe why we are not -- like the two of us going super-specific into the horrors of the news every week, it is not because we are not raging; it is not because we are not sad; it is not because we're not affected. But I mean and this is also why we turn to experts like Rebecca. Frankly she has taken on this -- I can't even imagine what it is like to have accepted the mantle that she has of being one of the foremost people who's kind of interpreting the rage of this moment. Aminatou: Right. And somebody who's been writing about this for so long. But if you want to -- if you are on the Internet and you want to read from really smart people who have been writing about this, you know, Rebecca Traister has been writing about this. Friend of the podcast Irin Carmon has been writing a lot of amazing things. You can follow Jenee Desmond-Harris who is an editor at the New York Times Opinion who shares really great pieces on the Internet that you can read about this. Friend of the podcast Laura McGann has been writing about this at Vox. Ann: Brittany Packnett is someone I've been following. Aminatou: There are a ton of places that you can go to, like so many smart women who have been writing and amplifying voices right now. Ann: Yeah. But now Rebecca. [Interview Starts] Aminatou: Hi Rebecca Traister. Rebecca: Hi Amina. Aminatou: Thanks for coming back on Call Your Girlfriend. Rebecca: I couldn't be happier to be on Call Your Girlfriend again. Aminatou: You have a book out, Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women's Anger. I have to tell you I read it twice now. Rebecca: You've read this book twice? Aminatou: I've read this book twice because remember you sent me the manuscript? Rebecca: No, no, no. I know you read it very early. Aminatou: But I can't tell you how just cathartic it left me. I definitely put it down and I was mad all over again but also just really galvanized for change. Can you tell me about why you wanted to write Good and Mad? (11:58) Rebecca: Well I'm really pleased to hear that when you stopped it you were both mad but energetic. That's the idea. It's not a book that's intended to make you mad; it's a book that's intended to take your anger seriously and recognize in it its potential for political and social change. Aminatou: Right. It's not a self-help book. Rebecca: No. Aminatou: It's not some sort of like psychology of why women are angry book. Rebecca: Right, and it's not trying to gin up anger where there wasn't any. Aminatou: Oh, there's plenty of anger. We don't need to gin any more up. [Laughs] Rebecca: Right. It's definitely more -- because feeling the anger that bubbled up in the wake of the 2016 election, and it wasn't as simple as like "We elected Donald Trump." I've been angry about the possibility that we were going to elect Donald Trump for a long time preceding November of 2016. How I felt like I couldn't be as angry as I was inside, like it was going to go badly for me if I expressed the intensity of how angry I'd been in advance of that election, that anger wouldn't have been heard or really taken seriously or would've been seen as performed or like about some kind of Hillary fan girl thing when in fact it was anger . . . Aminatou: A Hillary acolyte. [Laughs] Rebecca: Yes. Yeah, yeah. Part of what I wanted to begin to explore was like wait, I think a lot of people felt fury and anger from a lot of different directions but just the open expression of that anger is so profoundly discouraged one way or another, especially coming from women, that I wanted to sort of make sense of now it was all bubbling forth. And we've seen that the past two years has been a period in which there has been a lot of anger coming from women, and so I was sort of struggling to make sense of that. Like what are the limits put on the expression of fury from women? How is it discouraged? How is it treated? How is it heard? And what forces are we dealing with when we feel fury at injustice and fury at inequality? And what are the various points at which we are mocked or discouraged from expressing that fury? Or simply when we do express it why is that rage not taken seriously politically when in fact -- and this gets to some of the meat of the book -- women's rage has been at the heart and a catalytic, crucial element at the heart of nearly every transformative social movement this country has ever been to? (14:20) Aminatou: Right, and I think that's the thing that I was most struck by, right? Is that also at its heart this book is a love letter to feminists. Like you chronicle so many women whose history is either not taught at school or is taught wrongly. Rebecca: Right. Aminatou: I think about Flo Kennedy which everybody should know more about and you write really beautifully about in this book. I think about Rosa Parks whose, you know, entire story is taught in schools as if she's some sort of meek lamb and really being angry is one of the core motivations to the work that she did. I wonder if you could talk a little bit more about that, about how not knowing the true history of a lot of the women's movement throughout -- throughout generations is part of why our anger is so . . . is quelled. Rebecca: And I think it's not accidental that we're not taught the history, right? It's not accidental that we're not taught the history or where we are taught it we are taught it in a way that obscures what anger was and what that anger did. So Rosa Parks is probably the most obvious example and I do write about her in the book. When I was taught about Rosa Parks in an elementary school in the 1980s, and I think this extended well before and well after this, I was taught about Rosa Parks as an exhausted stoic who was demurely dressed and just didn't want to give up her seat on a bus in Montgomery in 1955 because she was tired. Aminatou: She was so tired. (15:50) Rebecca: She was so tired. Now let's preface this by saying yeah, she probably was tired. She was also sick and tired and livid about racial inequality in this country and she was a lifelong fiery, furious activist and organizer who worked as an investigator for the NAACP, who investigated rape claims made by white women against black men that were often used to justify lynching and racial violence against black populations in the Jim Crow south. She also investigated the rape of black women by white men including Recy Taylor's rape. She was trained in political resistance. Sitting on that bus was a political act. So this history has recently been popularized and I recommend Daniel McGuire's At the Dark End of the Street. We've just in the past couple of years begun to get this clearer view of Rosa Parks and what motivated her, but what we have to remember is this obscuring of the anger and tension and energy and deliberate expression of political resistance that undergirded Rosa Parks' choice to not give her seat, the way that all of that stuff was hidden behind this version of her that was just super-tired and very demure, was done on purpose within the movement at the time. Right? There had been other women. Pauli Murray had refused to give up a seat on a train going . . . Aminatou: Before Rosa Parks. Rebecca: Years before, and in fact she'd been arrested for it. Claudette Colvin had refused to give up a seat and it had not provoked the boycott of the bus, right? Rosa Parks was chosen in part because she could be cast persuasively as non-threatening and the very movement that she helped to kickstart worked to not highlight the active and energetic dissent that she was participating in, the way her anger had helped to motivate her, and there was critique within that movement. A lot of the women who were in the civil rights movement alongside Rosa Parks were angry at the time at the way her role was minimized and sort of used in this one way that was performative, suffering, stoic femininity. Aminatou: Mm-hmm. (18:00) Rebecca: And not political intention, energy, and anger, right? Within the movement at the time there was anger at the March on Washington that Rosa Parks wasn't -- no women were actually offered speaking roles even though they were the organizers. They had brought . . . Aminatou: They were the ones that had brought everyone to come to Washington. Rebecca: Right. Anna Arnold Hedgeman, Gloria Richardson, Pauli Murray, Dorothy Height. All of these women were angry about that at the time, right? Angela Davis has gone on to critique the way that Rosa Parks was held up as part of the narrative of the civil rights movement as somebody who was sort of almost passive. Aminatou: Like this meek grandma. Rebecca: Right. Aminatou: Who is a respectable person. Rebecca: A seamstress, like there's nothing threatening about the way she was presented, when in fact her politics were always the politics of threat and dissent. She was working to upend power structures. We were never taught that. So that was sort of -- that's a starting point that I think a lot of people are familiar with and it can extend to all these other movements too. Because the thing about Rosa Parks is at least we know who she is, right? Aminatou: Right. Rebecca: But when we think about the labor movement for example when are we ever taught about the fact that some of the very first walkouts of what would become a labor movement over the course of centuries were staged by young women workers in the lull textile mills in New England in the 1830s? Those young women formed a union and held walkouts because of the terrible conditions that they were laboring under. They borrowed the rhetoric of the American Revolution. Those were kind of the seeds of the labor movement. 80 years later in 1909 it's women garment industry workers. Clara Lemlich who is . . . Aminatou: Who was 23 at the time. Rebecca: Yes, and she's the person who calls for the great uprising of 1909 which is 20,000 workers in shirt-waist manufacturers, and shirt-waist was the kind of shirt that was worn at the time by shop girls, and the working conditions in these shirt-waist factories were incredibly dangerous. I mean in addition to being terribly low-paid and economically abusive conditions for often very young women, women who were using their wages to support families, many of them immigrant families in New York's lower east side, but also terribly dangerous conditions. Flammable material everywhere, doors locked to keep the workers inside, no bathroom breaks permitted. (20:20) Aminatou: Everything you know as a labor win . . . Rebecca: Right. Aminatou: It was catalyzed by the work of these women. Rebecca: In part the work of these women, they understood and were livid about the conditions in which they were being told they had to have their only opportunity to make wages and find some degree of economic security which of course was not particularly economically-secure. Clara Lemlich advocates for this strike. 20,000 shirt-waist workers go on strike. They actually reach deals with all but a couple of the shirt-waist faculties. One of the shirt-waist faculties that does not come to terms with the strikers is the Triangle shirt-waist faculty and of course in March 1911 it burns and kills 146 workers inside, nearly all of them women, most of them young, unmarried women. The doors were locked. There's material everywhere that's incredibly flammable. The blaze is so bad that many of the women are incinerated and many of them jump to their deaths outside on the sidewalk. In the days after that there's a memorial service for the dead at the Metropolitan Opera House and Rose Schneiderman who is an activist and an organizer, Rose Schneiderman is at the Metropolitan Opera House and she gives one of the fieriest political speeches that I've ever read calling -- saying to the mourners who are there "I can't look to you for solidarity. Women have been burned alive for years in this city and none of you have ever done anything to change it." Rose Schneiderman goes on alongside Francis Perkins and Al Smith to write some of the workplace safety regulations that are still in place today. So as you say when we look at what we -- some of the assumptions we make about what work . . . and it was pretty bare minimum, but what work places are forced to do to keep workers safe, a lot of . . . Aminatou: Right. Points of egress, windows, breaks, weekends. Rebecca: Right, right. Aminatou: Things that we take for granted. (22:05) Rebecca: A lot of those rules were written thanks to the movement that in part was catalyzed by these women who were livid at injustice, and yet we are -- our eyes are never trained to look at those women and understand their anger as crucial, political, patriotic, righteous, and fundamentally change-making and transformative. Aminatou: Yeah. You know, one of the points that you made earlier and a thing that is really an undercurrent in reading this book that was really -- it was really eye-opening to me -- was how throughout all of these movements, anywhere from suffrage to temperance to the labor movements to the civil rights movement, everybody borrows from the language of the founding fathers and of the great American man revolutionary who fought England and claimed their dignity. And it was such an eye-opener for me to realize that yes, that is a kind of anger that publicly codes as dignified and righteous and glorious is what the founding fathers did, like that is revolution. And in that same vein those are all the same sentiments that are denied to other people who are fighting for their rights, like anybody who is close to the margins. That was really eye-opening for me to read about and really realize that, you know, this has been going on since time immemorial. There is a kind of person that is allowed to be angry and fighting the king and be -- you know, and turn into a hero. And everybody else just kind of, you know, the assumption is you'll just take it. You'll just take the injustice that you're living with. (23:50) And when I think about even in my own life the ways that I've been -- I've really repressed my anger -- it now sounds ludicrous. It's like you should be livid and furious at injustice every day of your life. Rebecca: Every second of every day, yes. That's exactly right. But it is -- it's true, we are just tough . . . it's in our bones. The messages are sent to us everywhere in pop culture, in the books we read, the television, the political narratives around us, that first of all it's that fetishization of that rage of the founders. That's patriotism. That's righteous anger. That's our great American history of equality and liberty and individual freedom. And we are constantly asked to ignore the fact that in this fight for representation, for political representation, well the founders' vision is one that replicates the inequities that they rebelled against. It does not enfranchise anybody but white men, white property-owning men at first. Aminatou: Yeah. Rebecca: It leaves a massive population in this country enslaved, owned -- economically owned. It bars women and enslaved people from anything like economic, civic, political participation, full social participation. And those white men whose righteous rage we are constantly asked to celebrate and look to as a guiding force in our nation and its progress, those men are permitted to build all the institutions: the governments, the courts, to make the laws, to build the businesses. And they're doing that not only while shutting out the majority of their country from representation but while profiting from their labor. So we know -- right, and these things, this is stuff that we sort of know but the full picture of how fucked up this is, sometimes it takes a while to come into full focus. Of course enslaved people are doing the labor that is creating the wealth in the country that is growing in which the white men who are running it, they're creating, they're profiting. They're building the buildings; they're building the roads. They're doing it all on their own behalf. (26:04) Aminatou: You mean the institutions, and they're building nations . . . Rebecca: On the labor of enslaved people and on the labor of women who are not enfranchised, who do not have any shot at economic equity. The women are doing the domestic work. They are taking care of the children. They are feeding the men. They are clothing the men. They are doing the work that enables the public and political participation of the white men who are profiting off of that without having any representation of their own. And so this is the story of the country for a really long time until those equities are so baked into the institutions, the laws, how the highways are built, right, and around whose neighborhood they're built, and who the businesses profit, that even the transformative movements -- and they have been transformative, I don't want to undersell them -- we're still not anywhere near the kind of equality that is what the founders insisted on for themselves. And so we have to ask why are their calls for that kind of equality the thing that we can obsess over politically without ever really looking at why those other voices, which take pains as you say, to mimic the language of the revolutionary rupture, right? The declaration of sentiments which is what is written in 1848 in Seneca Falls is a riff on the Declaration of Independence. Those lull mill workers used the language of their forefathers. MumBet, who is an enslaved woman in Massachusetts . . . Aminatou: Who you write about in this book. Rebecca: Who I write about in the book. MumBet is an enslaved woman who is abused horribly in the household in which she lives by the wife of the husband who is in fact involved in revolutionary politics in the 18th century. And she is hit with a fire implement by this woman. She is furious, and she's hearing the revolutionary rhetoric coming from the man who owns her and she hears it and she applies it to her own situation. And she says "I'm hearing you talk about liberation and equality and this is my condition." And she petitions for her own freedom. She finds a lawyer, and her case is instrumental to what will ultimately be the outlawing of slavery in Massachusetts in the 1780s, I think in 1783. (28:12) So there's the fury of a woman again using the anger -- the angry rhetoric of the revolution on her own behalf and it fundamentally altering the laws of her state, you know? But we are still trained all these centuries later to hear the anger of white men differently than the way we hear all kinds of other anger. And you can look at the 2016 election as a perfect example of this in that if you think about the three biggest candidates who we talk about in terms of how they communicated, and you have Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders, and Hillary Clinton, and two of those candidates were lauded by political media and I think by many of us individually, whether we despite their politics or whether we love their politics, their success is attributed to their ability to channel anger. Now which two candidates really channeled anger beautifully? Aminatou: Well according to the general public, you know, your president Donald Trump. And Vermont's president Bernie Sanders. [Laughter] It's so interesting because viscerally these are obviously things that I knew but to see it chronicled in this book, and it is really a historical timeline of women's anger which is both exhilarating and depressing and exhilarating all over again, to see that in the 2016 election the two men, they get to be angry and they get to promise people the world and call for revolution . . . the idea of a millionaire calling for revolution is laughable. Rebecca: Right. Aminatou: Thank you GOP. You know, it's like I remember so much in the -- was it in the 2008 election when Hillary Clinton got fed up enough that she emoted. I won't even say that she cried. I won't say that she . . . (30:00) Rebecca: Oh, that's the same weekend. There was one weekend where she actually emoted all over the place. It wasn't just the crying. Aminatou: Yeah, you know, it was like is she crying? Her voice got an octave louder here. And the amount of analysis and scrutiny that went into that . . . Rebecca: Oh yeah. Aminatou: It was like well if she's crying she's playing the woman card. Oh, now she's a shrill woman and she's yelling. And just realizing that there is no range of female emotion that is actually acceptable in public . . . Rebecca: Right. Aminatou: Was something that was very instructive to a lot of us, you know? There is a very narrow cat walk that you can be on. Rebecca: I'm so glad you bring up that 2008 instance of Hillary crying, which by the way, just for anybody who doesn't remember . . . Aminatou: We're all doing ginormous bunny ears here. Rebecca: Here's the thing, for anybody who doesn't remember who might be listening, she got congested. [Laughs] She welled up. There is not -- I have watched that thing a million times. Aminatou: Played the woman card. [Laughs] Rebecca: Not a drop of water fell just to be clear. But truly I remember I was a young reporter when this happened and a news alert came across my desk that said "Hillary breaks down and sobs." And I was like oh no! But then I looked and I'm like she didn't cry but she did get congested. The amount of -- what pundits said afterwards, because then she did an upset, okay? She was about to lose in New Hampshire. This is critical context. Aminatou: She won because she cried. Rebecca: She won because she cried which is what everyone including CNN said. Aminatou: She won because she cried. Rebecca: And they all sort of had this vision of a soggy sisterhood where we were all like "She's a human being and I love her!" Aminatou: If somebody cries we will elect her to office one thousand percent. Rebecca: Because that has happened so many times in the past. But I thought at the time, before I'd even begun to think about this anger thing, and there's a portion in my book here where I write at some length about how many of us cry when we're angry and it's so profoundly misunderstood. (31:55) Aminatou: Yeah, this is actually the point I was going to make is that I . . . this gave me an entire new relationship with tears. Like you know me, I'm an emotionally constipated person. It takes a while. Rebecca: [Laughs] Aminatou: And really reading through a couple of these incidents like, you know, the Barbara Mikulski incident that you talk about here and having a legislator get so fed up that they're borderline in tears. It really made me realize that part of that display of emotion comes from a deep-seeded frustration as opposed to from some sort of female manipulation tactic that you're trying to work on. Rebecca: Well the way that we regard women's tears is also really interesting and there are a couple different angles to look at this from, because women's tears are broadly understood as a sign of vulnerability which is why when Hillary Clinton cries in New Hampshire . . . Aminatou: She wins. Rebecca: Everybody says she wins. I always believed -- and it was before I'd actually done any of this research about tears and anger and before I had really thought about it this way -- I always thought that the fact that she won and she won women in New Hampshire even though she was down like ten points in the polls the day before, and everybody was like "She cried and everybody loves weepy ladies so they voted for her." And I thought at the time that this reading was completely wrong, that actually women were incredibly furious, because she'd been -- like people had been dancing on her grave in the media for a week after she hadn't won Iowa. And I thought women were really mad and she was probably mad at some . . . and she was, that was also a weekend where she yelled at Chris Matthews which she never does. So anyway, I thought at the time that whether she was crying because she was angry or whether what that provoked in a lot of women in New Hampshire was a kind of anger, that it might've been more about anger, because I knew at that point in some visceral way that tears were about anger. But tears are very palatable in women in part because they signal weakness, vulnerability, like not strength. And I think it's profoundly misunderstood that so often those tears are tears of absolute inexpressible fury. Aminatou: Yeah. (33:48) Rebecca: And that's true whether you're crying at work because something shitty just happened. It's true maybe if you're crying in public. Male politicians, including Ronald Reagan -- look John Boehner just cried through his entire . . . Aminatou: John Boehner cries all the -- he cried the entire time. Barack Obama cried in these ways that everybody always lauded him for. Rebecca: Right. And you know the one guy who really paid for crying was Muskie in New Hampshire. Aminatou: [Laughs] Rebecca: And you know why? He was crying on behalf of his wife. This is something that enrages me and people never point it out. Aminatou: It's true, I never thought about that. Rebecca: Because there'd been an attack on his wife and he was so mad about it that he cried and that's the one guy in politics -- and he had to drop out of the presidential primary in 1972 because he cried in New Hampshire. Aminatou: On behalf of his wife. Rebecca: And it was all these other men cry all the fucking time. They just are like "Well he's so sensitive and he cares a lot about America." But the guy who cried about his wife had to leave politics. Anyway, there's another dimension of tears that I don't want to talk about tears without getting to which is the white woman tears situation because it is also true that because tears from some women elicit certain kinds of positive responses including sympathy, an affirmation of them as fundamentally vulnerable in a way that might be appealing as opposed to invulnerable in a way that might be threatening, tears have been used historically -- and continue to be as white women -- as a means of leveraging sympathy in ways that often go down very negatively to non-white people. And so the tears of white women, especially when in difficult conversations around race, or tears of white women that signal vulnerability when they are making claims about having in some way been impinged upon by non-white people, are actually used as a mechanism to garner not only sympathy but support and sometimes defense that often winds up being a defense against blackness or non-whiteness. And that's a huge range of examples whether you're talking about the woman who claims falsely that a 14-year-old boy made a pass at her at a story and that 14-year-old boy Emmett Till winds up beaten to death and left in a river in 1955, that's the tears of white women have often been used as a justification for racial violence. (36:00) But it's also true if you look at the way that some of the conversations were had around say the women's march where the very frank and angry conversations about racial inequity within feminism and within the women's movement that were aired I think very beneficially during the planning of the women's march . . . Aminatou: Yeah. Rebecca: One of the major stories about the women's march in the Times was the chronicle of the white woman who had been made -- because she had been made to feel unwelcome because . . . Aminatou: Yeah, she wasn't coming anymore. Rebecca: She wasn't coming anymore. That's . . . I mean and that's not tears tears, it didn't have her crying or anything, but it's a similar impulse of like I'm being damaged. I am somehow being victimized here. And because black women's tears aren't afforded the same kind of value and black women's suffering and vulnerability isn't -- and black women's lives are not accorded the same kind of value in this white patriarchal capitalist system it is white women's tears that are often the most able to be manipulated for political effect. [Music and Ads] (40:18) Aminatou: Well, you know, one amazing feat of social engineering that you've pulled is that your book is coming out at the same time as the Kavanaugh hearings in the news. [Laughter] Rebecca: I've got to tell you the marketing department was on it. Aminatou: I know. Simon and Schuster, they just make magic happen. So this is fascinating. 27 years ago, almost to the week I want to say, it's like very close, Clarence Thomas gets confirmed to be a Supreme Court justice. And if you don't know the story of Professor Anita Hill I suggest you read many books. Rebecca: Many books. Start with Strange Justice. Aminatou: Yes, Strange Justice is amazing. And I think about, you know, how that episode specifically, the Anita Hill moment in our politics, is in modern -- I would say in the modern imagination. Like I was very young when that happened but I was still very aware. That was a catalyzing force for the number of women that we have in Congress today. It is a very small number of women. Let's not get carried away here. Rebecca: Right. Aminatou: The 1992 year of the woman yielded like four people. Rebecca: Four ladies. Four ladies in the Senate, which was doubling the number . . . Aminatou: But it was ground-shifting. Rebecca: It was ground-shifting. And by the way those four included Carol Moseley Braun who in 1992 was the first ever black woman elected to the United States senate. That is horrifying and humiliating, and as we've probably talked about this on here before, the next black woman to be elected to the United States senate was . . . Aminatou: Kamala Harris. Rebecca: Kamala Harris who sat in this chair on this show not long ago. Aminatou: Right, like decades later. (42:00) Rebecca: So right. Patty Murray who is still high in senate leadership, she's had a tremendous impact on the United States senate. She was also elected in 1992. Barbara Boxer from California just recently retired. Actually it's Kamala Harris in Barbara Boxer's old seat. And that's not probably accidental, like you elect a woman and it's vastly more likely you might elect a woman next for that same seat. Aminatou: Right. Rebecca: And interestingly, and I don't even know how I feel about this right now, Dianne Feinstein was the fourth woman who was elected in 1992 and depending on who you're reading, and I'm still finding out more about this, her handling of this sexual assault claim made against Brett Kavanaugh is obviously crucial to how this story unfolds. Aminatou: Right. Rebecca: And there was a period where I thought that she'd handled it very badly. I now increasingly think maybe she did the right thing. I don't know what I think about that yet, but obviously this is part of what it means to have people come into government is they exert influence in many cases for years -- decades -- later. Aminatou: Yeah. And we're also in this time where everybody keeps telling us there are more women who are running for office for this midterm than we've had ever probably, right? But it's also not lost on me that it takes like eight women to make that. [Laughter] Rebecca: Right, right. Aminatou: We have hundreds of women around the country who are running but it is also true that statistically it takes very little women to make a shift. Rebecca: You know what's horrifying? Almost all the primaries are done. The jaw-dropping statistic is that amongst non-incumbent candidates going into the midterms -- I think this is probably just in House races -- amongst non-incumbent candidates on the Democratic side . . . Aminatou: I'm going to scream. How many? Rebecca: Women are 50%. Aminatou: Wow, okay. Rebecca: Okay, now . . . Aminatou: How many people is that? 12 people? [Laughs] Rebecca: No, no, no. It's not that. It's just that . . . Aminatou: That's pretty good. Rebecca: It's that should be the norm. The thing that's jaw-dropping is I've never seen a number near 50% before. Aminatou: Yeah, you're like parity. Parity doesn't exist. Rebecca: Parity. But amongst -- again it's not even amongst candidates. Amongst candidates it's more like 43%. Non-incumbent candidates, the new candidates, it's 50%. So those women aren't all going to win, right? In fact we need to sort of be prepared for the fact that if they don't then there's going to be a whole bunch of messages about "We can't take chances on these kinds of women." (44:10) Aminatou: Which is also a lie. You actually have to lose elections before you win. You know, I'm remembering this small-time senator Barack Obama for example. Rebecca: Right, right. Aminatou: Getting trounced in his first races. Rebecca: Right. Aminatou: Went on to do big things I hear. Rebecca: Right. Yeah. Aminatou: Yeah, in order to win you probably have to lose a couple times. Rebecca: You do have to lose. You do have to lose a couple times. Aminatou: But the stakes always feel higher. But, you know, it's like thinking about the panel of people who interrogated really Anita Hill, and I can't believe Orrin Hatch is still alive. Like that's wild. Rebecca: Three of those guys. Grassley was on that committee, Hatch. Hatch was one of the worst. Aminatou: Oh, he was one of the worst and he continues to be one of -- you know? Rebecca: He's the one who started on the . . . Aminatou: He's called Professor Ford -- keeps calling her lady. He doesn't refer to her by her credentials. Rebecca: He said she's mixed up. And that also speaks to how long these guys have . . . Aminatou: Have power. Rebecca: Have power, right? And this is -- we're talking about a lifetime appointment. Aminatou: 27 years ago. You know what I mean? Rebecca: Yes. Aminatou: These guys are all in their 80s. Rebecca: Exactly, right. Aminatou: They're all in their 80s. They were already in their 60s. Rebecca: And they're relatively unchallenged. That's the thing. We quell dissent in part by quelling women's anger. So Hatch's characterization of Dr. Blasey Ford as a little mixed up, okay, make no mistake. What he is saying is he's calling her crazy. He's -- and I saw other Republican hysteria. Aminatou: Hysteria and anger go hand in hand. Rebecca: And in fact in the same hearings Ben Sass, a far younger disgusting man, referred to the protesters before we even got to the allegation of assault, there were really angry vocal protesters in those hearings. I was really moved by the energy and the willingness of women to scream even when everyone was telling us this is a done deal. This guy is going to sail through 100%, right? And those hearings, first of all you had Harris, Klobuchar, Booker, Blumenthal. Like a lot of the Democrats actually challenging him in ways that I was gratified by. But also you had the protestors. You had Linda Sarsour and Bob Bland who were two of the women's march co-founders as two of the first people to get up and scream. But then you had all of these other women dressed as handmaids in the senate office buildings and women standing up in the middle of the hearings screaming and a woman getting up and screaming about how if healthcare reform were overturned by the court, which it likely will be in the hands of the right-wing court, she will die. And what is -- I think it was Orrin Hatch who responds "Get this loud mouth out of here. We don't have to deal with this." So this is the idea that women's anger is something we don't have to listen to. We shouldn't . . . what he said is we shouldn't . . . Aminatou: These women are hysterical. (46:35) Rebecca: And Ben Sass said it was performed hysterical. "Oh, for 30 years I've been hearing women scream that they're going to die. It's hysteria." Aminatou: Women are dying! Rebecca: Of course women are dying all over the world where abortion is not legal and they have died . . . Aminatou: They've died here. Rebecca: They have died here, they will die here again, and they will be imprisoned here when abortion is made illegal which it's quite likely will happen in coming years because we're going to have a court that's shaped by Donald Trump and by the part that elected him, supports him, and defends him. So make no mistake that when Hatch characterizes her as mixed up he is tapping into the ways that we marginalize and disregard women's challenge to authority, dissent, anything that impedes men's power by expressing fury or an unwillingness to accept their abuses of power. All of this is stuff that gets written off was crazy, hysterical, laughable. And Anita Hill was written off. They said that she had erotomania, like she was sexually obsessive. Aminatou: And if you watch the footage . . . Rebecca: Yes. Aminatou: She is so cool, collected. Rebecca: She's brilliant. She should've been on the Supreme Court. [Laughs] Aminatou: Exactly, it's like brilliant. It is so wild to me that she can be characterized that way. (47:44) Rebecca: I was in tenth grade for the Hill hearings, and it's interesting, I actually watched them a weekend that I was at the farm in Maine where my mother grew up with my very Republican grandparents. And I was watching them in the context of being with people who thought she was lying. I believed her but it was such -- I was just by myself in my own head believing her. Had I been with my parents watching them it would've been very different because they believed Anita Hill, but my grandparents surely didn't. And so my experience of originally watching those hearings was one of intense solitude, like in my own brain, that I was seeing as a whatever it was, 16-year-old, what I believed to be happening, and wondering am I right about this or is everyone around me right? Those hearings when I later -- certainly ten years or more later when I started to work as a feminist journalist and to think about politics sort of professionally and spend so much of my energy and time trying to tease out the stories and the history that I think got us here, and that's been a project that has changed for me over the years but that I've been doing for a lot of my career as a journalist, I have always thought that the Anita Hill hearings were the fulcrum of my adult lifetime's worth of history around women, race, gender, power, and politics. And it's so strange to me, I wrote about -- my first book was about the 2008 election. I wrote about the Hill hearings when I wrote that book because they were critical. They proceed in 1992, the year of the women, when so many women were elected. It's also the year that Bill and Hillary Clinton came to the White House. I believe that Bill's own sexual power abuses derailed the feminist conversation around sexual harassment that had really come into the popular lexicon following the Hill hearings even though Thomas was confirmed to the court. It really altered the way we -- her testimony altered the way that we understood what sexual harassment was in the popular consciousness. It had been decided in 1986 by the Supreme Court that it was a form of sex discrimination that was barred under the civil rights act, Article 7. But it wasn't until five years later with Hill's testimony that so much of America saw that we began to understand harassment as a behavior that did harm to women -- mostly women, not exclusively -- but largely to women as a class. Not just an individual quirky behavioral thing that happens in some offices. (50:10) But then that was derailed, and this has to do with the power of white men, which is not just as the bad guys but sometimes as the leaders of the party that you believe in. So many feminists wound up defending Bill Clinton against charges by Juanita Broaddrick, charges by many women who claimed that he had harassed or assaulted them, and then of course after the Starr Investigation when we learned that he'd had a relationship with Monica Lewinsky all kinds of feminists defended him. And the politics of why are very complicated and there's a very real thing of dependency. It had been 12 years of Reagan and Bush and there were a lot of feminists who were depending on the leader of the Democratic party who at that point was Bill Clinton to appoint the Supreme Court justices. He appointed Ruth Bader Ginsburg. To, you know, pass the Family and Medical Leave Act, our very meager version of supporting anybody who needs to have a baby. If you work in a company that has more than 50 people and you've been there for more than a year sorry you won't be paid. Right. But yay! Aminatou: Right. Rebecca: So some of the fights within feminism around sex and the porn wars that had happened in the '80s that led a lot of feminists to be very invested in thinking about not wanting to cast Monica Lewinsky as a victim. All very complicated conversations but it derails the post-Anita Hill conversation around sexual harassment. You can draw a direct line between Clarence Thomas sitting on the Supreme Court and the decisions he's been a part of which by the way include decisions on sexual harassment law. But also the gutting of the Voting Rights Act, the Citizens United decision. These things that paved the way for the growth of the Republican Party and the ultimate election of Donald Trump who's now nominated Brett Kavanaugh. The fury at Donald Trump being Hillary Clinton whose presidential campaigns were deeply complicated by, from a feminist perspective for a lot of reasons, including by residual anger about her husband's sexual misdeeds. Aminatou: Yeah. (52:10) Rebecca: But the anger at her loss is part of what prompts this furious uprising that includes the MeToo movement that once again returns sexual harassment and assault to the public conversation and that I think probably gets us to a place where Dr. Blasey Ford winds up telling her story and we're hearing it differently than we would have. So Anita Hill is one of the most politically, socially defining nation-reshaping events of any of our lifetimes and so it is such a remarkable symmetry or narrative that this is where we are. Aminatou: Yeah. And I hate that that's probably going to be true for Dr. Blasey Ford also, you know? For . . . Rebecca: Yes. Aminatou: For a different generation. I know that the book is not -- you know, it's not some sort of prescriptive "Here's what you should do. You should train more. You should . . ." Even though you've written about and you and I have talked about how we're sleeping the best we've ever slept. Rebecca: Right. Aminatou: And we're having the best sex of our lives and we're the angriest we've ever been so there is something about that. Rebecca: Right. Aminatou: But I was wondering if you could leave the CYG listener with one piece of advice whether it's political or personal or something to look forward to in these tumultuous times that we're living in? Rebecca: So I guess I'm going to go with a piece of advice about anger but it's not the thing that's like "Get a great sex life by being openly angry." Aminatou: [Laughs] But do, really. (53:50) Rebecca: Well if you can. I mean this is the thing, that path is open for certain people. Aminatou: There's so much privilege. Rebecca: And this is because the system is still designed to penalize women who express anger, and you and I are in positions. We're on a podcast. Your listeners care that we're angry and I think there's a chance that they're taking this conversation seriously, right? Do you know how remarkable that is that somebody wants to know why you and I are angry, right? Aminatou: Oh, it feels like a fever dream. Rebecca: It's a fever dream. Aminatou: It's a feminist fever dream. Rebecca: And that's true when I write my book for which I am literally paid and I have editors who want to know what I seriously think about anger. That experience that we have in that is so different from still the experience that so many women have if they are angry and they're penalized. They don't get the promotion. They don't get the raise. They get fired from their jobs. Their partners get livid at them for challenging them. If they're a woman of color and they get mad at being pulled over they take enormous physical risk in getting angry for being pulled over for no reason, right? There are costs and tolls placed on the expression of anger. And so I could not responsibly do that kind of lean into your anger. It's not an accident that I say lean into your anger. Aminatou: [Laughs] Rebecca: But I can't do that individualized recommendation as like "Let it out, ladies!" The thing that I think is incumbent on us is we work to alter the way that women's anger is received, essentially to change the system. Now how do you do that when you're talking about forms of expression? The way we can individually start to alter not just ourselves but our system is to start listening for women's anger. It's to start listening to how we are taught and we have internalized the ways we write it off, because we do. I do. She's crazy. Okay, yeah, sure, but she's a little nuts, right? Or oh god, don't say it that way; it's too much. Like there are all kinds of responses that we don't even think about that we need to start listening for how the system in which we have been raised and in which many of us -- all of us -- participate in one way or another devalues women's fury. (55:55) And so that can start in any number of ways. Being curious about why other women are angry. Asking them why women -- why they're angry. And then when they tell you, even if some of it is at you, thinking about it, it doesn't mean self-flagellation or like performative uh, uh, uh, but actually considering the value of women's rage, other women's rage, and start listening for it. Start paying attention and doing the thing that you and I get when the people who are listening take it seriously when we tell them why we're angry. Start doing that for other women. Take their anger seriously. Listen for it. Ask questions about it. Think about what it means. I think that's my piece of advice which probably should've been pithier but that's what it is. Aminatou: Perfect. I'm so happy we get to rage together. [Laughs] Rebecca: I know, keeps me sane. Aminatou: It does keep me sane. Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women's Anger is out October 2nd wherever you buy books. Thanks so much for coming Rebecca. We'll have you every week if you will come back. [Laughter] Rebecca: I will always come back. Aminatou: Thanks. [Interview Ends] Aminatou: You can buy Good and Mad anywhere you buy books, but especially at your local bookstores. My favorite thing is going to Bookstore Magic right now in my neighborhood so I'm very biased towards buying a book at a bookstore. But Good and Mad is available everywhere you buy books. Ann: Yeah. And also Rebecca shares a publisher with us, Simon and Schuster. Shout out to being -- I don't know, I feel weirdly . . . Aminatou: We're publishing sisters! Ann: I know, I know. I kind of love that. Aminatou: We're also publishing sisters with Bob Woodward. [Laughs] Ann: Oh my god, Bob Woodward. is not our publishing sister. Bob Woodward. is just a guy. Aminatou: Bob Woodward. is definitely our publishing sister. I read his book in one sitting. It's the trashiest thing I've ever read. Ann: I cannot even . . . if this were a journalism podcast, I cannot even -- like I can't. I can't. Aminatou: I'll talk to you about fear offline but wow, wow, wow, wow, wow. Ann: Oh my god. Aminatou: I was like I can't believe that people say Us Weekly is trashy. This is the real trash right here. It's wild. We'll talk about this. (58:00) Ann: I mean yeah. I mean I'm just stammering mad about it. Okay, we'll talk about it later. We'll probably talk about it on tour. Let's be real. Aminatou: You can find us many places on the Internet, on our website callyourgirlfriend.com. You can download the show anywhere you listen to your favs or on Apple Podcasts where we would love it if you left us a review. You can email us at callyrgf@gmail.com. We're on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook at @callyrgf. You can even leave us a short and sweet voicemail at 714-681-2943. That's 714-681-CYGF. Our theme song is by Robyn. Original music is composed by Carolyn Pennypacker Riggs. Our logos are by Kenesha Sneed. Our associate producer is Destry Maria Sibley. This podcast is produced by Gina Delvac. Ann: See you on the Internet.