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Good and Mad

The Revolutionary Power of Women's Anger

By Rebecca Traister
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Good and Mad by Rebecca Traister

Good and Mad (2018) lists the many reasons for feminist political anger. This anger, though repressed for the past few decades, has recently reemerged, as evidenced by the 2017 Women’s March and the #MeToo movement. By understanding the historical, political, cultural and economic currents underlying these two landmark events, we can better understand history as it unfolds before our eyes.

Key idea 1 of 13

After erupting in the 1960s and 1970s, feminist political anger subsided in the 1980s.

Before diving into the questions of how and why feminist political anger disappeared and then reappeared, let’s do some stage setting. We’ll begin with a whirlwind history of feminist political anger in the modern era of the United States.

Our story begins in the 1960s and 1970s. These, of course, were turbulent times, charged with political anger over issues like the Vietnam War, racial injustice and gender inequality.

Feminists fighting against that inequality became increasingly vocal. They started throwing caution to the wind and expressing their anger in ways that seemed outrageous to their critics, who dismissed them as “freaks.” Some feminists gleefully embraced that word and dialed up their “freakishness,” donning strange costumes such as Mickey Mouse ears or scuba-diving masks while engaging in their activism.

They also pursued their activism in increasingly radical ways, such as committing acts of civil disobedience. For example, faced with the illegality of abortion at the time, feminists in Chicago set up an underground network called the Jane Collective, which enabled more than 11,000 women to obtain safe abortions between 1969 and 1973.

Fueled by political anger and organized around it, feminists gained many legal advances. These advances included the legalization of birth control and abortion, the creation of laws that made it easier for women to divorce and the definition by court decision of sexual harassment as a form of discrimination against women.

Then, the Reagan Revolution happened. With the ascendancy of Ronald Reagan, elected for president in 1980, and his fellow right-wing Republicans, the gains of the 1960s and 1970s began to be reversed. Abortion access was restricted. The social safety net was cut back, leaving many poor women without support.

Meanwhile, career-minded middle-class women were demonized by the conservative popular culture that followed in Reagan’s wake. In films like Fatal Attraction, Working Girl and Baby Boom, they were portrayed as overly sexual she-devils or cold-hearted shrews in need of a man to marry – or at least a man to cut them back down to size by rejecting them.

It was within this context that the feminist political anger of the 1960s and 1970s entered a state of hibernation. As we’ll see in the next blink, it briefly reemerged a few times, most notably in the early 1990s, but it mostly lay dormant until the beginning of 2017, when it roared back to life.

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