A Master Class in Women’s Rage
Want to understand what all the women you know are so angry about? Here’s a syllabus
Women’s anger is having a moment. This year has already seen two and a half new books on the subject — Brittney Cooper’s Eloquent Rage and Soraya Chemaly’s Rage Becomes Her, plus the first U.K. and U.S. editions of Clementine Ford’s Fight Like a Girl — with Rebecca Traister’s Good and Mad and Gemma Hartley’s Fed Up coming right around the corner.
Meanwhile, in just the last few weeks, Serena Williams was penalized and pilloried for raising her voice at a referee; a bunch of men whose careers were supposedly ruined by the #MeToo movement were given high-profile comeback platforms; sexual assault allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh made women of a certain age relive our fury over the 1991 Clarence Thomas hearings; and Warner Brothers put racist, anti-Semitic abuser Mel Gibson in charge of the Wild Bunch remake.
Right now, every woman I know is a live wire, snapped and flailing, in a storm that doesn’t look like it’ll let up any time soon.
Adding sexist insult to injury, there’s apparently never been any research on misogyny. Certainly, there are no experts to consult, no Ivy League scholars who have published books on the topic in the last year. There’s no obvious way for a media outlet to find someone who can contextualize recent news in terms of structural oppression, because women’s and gender studies departments don’t exist; books on rape culture and toxic masculinity won’t come up in search engines; and women on Twitter are, to a one, keeping mum. LOL, j/k. In reality, everybody just keeps acting like all of this is brand new, because they don’t want to listen to women. Which is, in a nutshell, why we’re so angry.
Everybody just keeps acting like all of this is brand new, because they don’t want to listen to women. Which is, in a nutshell, why we’re so angry.
For those who would like to learn more about (chiefly, though not exclusively, North American) women’s anger — the reasons for it, the shapes it takes, the resistance to it, the energy it saps, and the energy it produces — I present The Rage Syllabus. I’ve kept the number of required texts to a modest 58, so completing all lessons shouldn’t take you much more than a calendar year of full-time study. Sadly, this means I’ve left out enormous amounts of history, including the entire First Wave and a great many important feminist publications from the mid-to-late 20th century. You have a lot of rage to catch up on.
In fact, I have focused as much as possible on texts published in the last few years, because the rage I’m talking about here is centuries old but also fresh as a girl child straight out of the bath, dancing like nobody’s told her how much the world hates her yet.
Lesson 1: Introduction to the Patriarchy
Bates, Laura. Misogynation: The True Scale of Sexism. London, Simon and Schuster UK, 2018.
Beard, Mary. Women and Power: A Manifesto. New York: Liveright, 2017.
Manne, Kate. Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny. New York, Oxford USA, 2017.
Bates gives us everyday examples, Beard situates it historically, and Manne breaks down how it operates. Welcome to Hell.
Lesson 2: Back to the Beginning
Bonner, Lucy M. What to Do When You’re Raped: An ABC Handbook for Native Girls. Lake Andes, SD, Native American Women’s Health Education Resource Center, 2016.
Deer, Sarah. The Beginning and End of Rape: Confronting Sexual Violence in Native America. Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press, 2015.
Nagle, Mary Kathryn. “Nasty Native Women” (in Nasty Women: Feminism, Resistance, and Revolution in Trump’s America. New York, Picador, 2017.
Washuta, Elissa. “Apocalypse Logic.” The Offing, 21 Nov. 2016.
First, read Lucy Bonner’s heartbreaking primer for “Native girls” on how to deal with the aftermath of seemingly inevitable rape; the kick-in-the-teeth design recalls a kindergarten picture book. Then, consider why Sarah Deer rejects the word “epidemic” to describe the breathtakingly high rates of sexual violence against Native American girls and women: to wit, because the image of a short-term, treatable contagion masks the important connection between rape as a means of social control and colonialist systems of oppression. See how Elissa Washuta picks up this theme in the personal essay “Apocalypse Logic,” and how Mary Kathryn Nagle connects it to “the trivialization of Native women’s identity and bodies” (#CancelYandy) in the dominant American culture and its laws. Discuss how sexual violence, as a function of white male entitlement, is baked right into the foundation of the United States. If you’re just putting that together now, please stop following this syllabus and go spend a year reading work by Native American women.
Discuss how sexual violence, as a function of white male entitlement, is baked right into the foundation of the United States. If you’re just putting that together now, go spend a year reading work by Native American women.
Lesson 3: The Personal Is Political, Sociological, Psychological, and Economic
Abdulali, Sohaila. What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape. New York, The New Press, 2018 (forthcoming).
Eltahawy, Mona. Headscarves and Hymens: Why the Middle East Needs a Sexual Revolution. New York, Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 2015.
Penny, Laurie. Bitch Doctrine: Essays for Dissenting Adults. New York, Bloomsbury USA, 2017.
Quinn, Zoe. Crash Override: How Gamergate Nearly Destroyed My Life, and How We Can Win the Fight Against Online Hate. New York: Public Affairs, 2017.
Serano, Julia. Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity. 2nded., Berkeley, Seal Press, 2016.
Many of our required reading texts use the author’s personal experience as a starting point for a discussion about larger societal issues. As Abdulali notes, this can make them difficult to categorize properly: “Essays? Not really. Sociology? Not Learned or Academic enough. Psychology? No, too opinionated. Research? Not comprehensive enough. Memoir? Heaven forbid.” Do you suppose that’s why nonfiction discussing the continued oppression of 51 percent of the world’s population frequently ends up stashed on the “Women’s Studies” shelf in bookstores, as opposed to, say, the “Current Affairs” display? Does interdisciplinary, reflective work suggest a peculiarly feminine form of knowledge production? Or do women feel compelled to begin with the personal — especially when the personal is traumatic and/or salacious — because the market typically responds well to the gory details of women’s pain, and to female focalizers who undercut their own authority with damaged vulnerability? Discuss.
Lesson 4: Corporations Are People; Women, Less So
Marçal, Katrine. Who Cooked Adam Smith’s Dinner?: A Story About Women and Economics. New York, Pegasus Books, 2016.
Moore, Kate. The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women. Naperville, IL, Sourcebooks, 2017.
Moore, Anne Elizabeth. Body Horror: Capitalism, Fear, Misogyny, Jokes. Chicago: Curbside Splendor, 2017.
Zeisler, Andi. We Were Feminists Once: From Riot Grrrl to Covergirl, the Buying and Selling of a Political Movement. New York, Public Affairs, 2016.
The Radium Girls tells the horrifying true story of women who worked in radium-dial factories in the early 20th century, literally being poisoned by their jobs — first because of ignorance and then, well after their male employers knew the risks, because of greed. Body Horror combines research and personal experience to illuminate the ways women, especially poor women and those with chronic illness or disabilities, suffer under capitalism. Who Cooked Adam Smith’s Dinner? demonstrates that “However you look at the market, it is always built on another economy” — specifically the unpaid and unacknowledged labor of women. And We Were Feminists Once looks at how the feminist movement that once defended women from exploitation has been co-opted by corporations, who sanitize our righteous anger and then try to sell it back to us. Based on your reading of these four texts, consider when would be the optimum time to burn it all the fuck down.
Based on your reading of these four texts, consider when would be the optimum time to burn it all the fuck down.
Lesson 5: (Speaking of Commodified Feminism) We’ve Come a Long Way, Baby
Faludi, Susan. Backlash: The Undeclared War on American Women. Anniversary ed. New York, Broadway Books, 2009.
Marcus, Sara. Girls to the Front: The True Story of the Riot Grrrl Revolution. New York: Harper Perennial, 2010.
Pollitt, Katha. “We Are Living Through the Moment When Women Unleash Decades of Pent-Up Anger.” The Nation, 11 Jan. 2018.
Povich, Lynn. The Good Girls Revolt: How the Women of Newsweek Sued their Bosses and Changed the Workplace. New York, Public Affairs, 2012.
Richards, Amy, and Cynthia Greenberg, editors. I Still Believe Anita Hill: Three Generations Discuss the Legacy of Speaking Truth to Power. New York, Feminist Press, 2012.
She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry. Directed by Mary Dore, She’s Beautiful Film Project, 13 Nov. 2014.
Solinger, Rickie. Wake Up, Little Susie: Single Pregnancy and Race Before Roe v. Wade. New York, Routledge, 1992.
Walker, Rebecca. “Becoming the Third Wave.” Ms. Magazine, Jan. 1992.
Watch She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry, then read, in this order: Solinger, Povich, Faludi, Richards and Greenberg, Walker, Marcus, Pollitt. Then call all of your over-40 female friends and relatives to tell them how much you love them.
Lesson 6: Pop Culture Puts Us in Our Place
Chocano, Carina: You Play the Girl: On Playboy Bunnies, Stepford Wives,Trainwrecks, and other Mixed Messages. Boston, Mariner, 2017.
Doyle, Sady. Trainwreck: The Women We Love to Hate, Mock, and Fear… and Why. New York, Melville House, 2016.
Petersen, Anne Helen. Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud: The Rise and Reign of the Unruly Woman. New York, Plume, 2017.
Scovell, Nell. Just the Funny Parts… And a Few Hard Truths About Sneaking into the Hollywood Boys’ Club. New York, Dey Street, 2018.
All of these books examine how our popular culture is driven by literal boys’ clubs and their corresponding ideas about the acceptable uses of a female person. Apart from “fuck toy” and “housekeeper,” what are some examples of these uses, as determined by extremely wealthy, mostly white men? List as many as you can think of. Extra credit to anyone who can make a credible argument for more than three.
Literature Needs Angry Female Heroes
Looking beyond Plath and Woolf (and their characters) for models of managing depression
Lesson 7: Black Anger, White Anger
McFadden, Syreeta. “Men Are Allowed to Rage. Serena Williams Has to Be Graceful.” Elle, 11 Sept. 2018.
Jamison, Leslie. “I Used to Insist I Didn’t Get Angry. Not Anymore.” The New York Times, 17 Jan. 2018.
Jerkins, Morgan. “How I Overcame My Anger as a Black Writer Online.” Lenny, 1 Aug. 2017.
Davis, Angela. Freedom Is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine, and the Foundations of a Movement. Chicago, Haymarket, 2016.
Khan-Cullors, Patrisse, and asha bandele. When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir. New York, St. Martin’s, 2018.
McFadden and Jerkins (whose 2018 essay collection This Will Be My Undoing is also recommended) write about the ways expressing anger can hurt Black women — socially, professionally, physically, mentally — while Leslie Jamison, a white woman, writes about the dangers of repressing female rage. How does race, specifically for Black women as opposed to white women, circumscribe the boundaries of acceptable female anger? What effects do those boundaries have on which forms of activism the dominant culture will tolerate, let alone support? Black women are welcome to skip this lesson if they don’t feel like it; white people will be required to write a 10,000-word essay on the above texts before speaking.
Black women are welcome to skip this lesson if they don’t feel like it; white people will be required to write a 10,000-word essay on the above texts before speaking.
Lesson 8: STEMinism
Saini, Angela. Inferior: How Science Got Women Wrong — and the New Research That’s Rewriting the Story. Boston, Beacon Press, 2017.
Dusenbery, Maya. Doing Harm: The Truth About How Bad Medicine and Lazy Science Leave Women Dismissed, Misdiagnosed, and Sick. New York, HarperOne, 2018.
Chang, Emily. Brotopia: Breaking up the Boys’ Club of Silicon Valley. New York, Portfolio, 2018.
Pao, Ellen. Reset: My Fight for Inclusion and Lasting Change. New York: Spiegel and Grau, 2017.
Wachter-Boettcher, Sara. Technically Wrong: Sexist Apps, Biased Algorithms, and Other Threats of Toxic Tech. New York, W.W. Norton, 2017.
The above authors explore different ways in which male domination of science, medicine, and technology has deleterious effects on women, both individually and structurally. In light of what you learn from them, consider questions like: What the actual fuck, even my phone has it in for women? What are the symptoms of heart attack in women, since nobody else is going to teach me? And, if your daughter or niece showed interest and aptitude in a STEM field, how would you talk to her about the future? Would you smoke a bowl first, scream into a pillow after, discreetly jam a needle into your palm, or what?
Lesson 9: Taking It out on Each Other
Chung, Catherine. “Yellow Peril and the American Dream.” The Rumpus, 12 Apr. 2013.
Lorde, Audre. “The Uses of Anger.” Women’s Studies Quarterly, vol. 9, no. 3, Fall 1981, pp. 7–10.
Shraya, Vivek. I’m Afraid of Men. Toronto, Penguin Canada, 2018.
Lorde asks, “What woman is so enamored of her own oppression that she cannot see her heelprint upon another woman’s face?” Vivek Shraya is afraid of men — both despite and because of being raised with the expectation that she’d become one — but also of women “who have internalized their experiences of misogyny so deeply that they make me their punching bag.” Catherine Chung writes of her increasing anger in response to racist microaggressions from white friends: “good people who have told me how they are outraged by racism, hurt by it, bewildered,” but who haven’t done the most basic work to understand their role in it. Looking back on the readings we’ve done so far, how do you think internalized misogyny and/or systemic racism make women dangerous to one another — especially white, cis women to trans women and women of color? If you are a white, cis woman, please try to answer this question without launching into a lengthy explanation of why you aren’t like that. If you are not a white, cis woman, three extra credit points will automatically be deposited in your imaginary student account every time one of us does that anyway.
Why Aren’t Women Allowed to be Angry?
Soraya Chemaly on the complex systems of social control that silence women’s rage
Lesson 10: Mansplaining and Whitesplaining
Fricker, Miranda. Epistemic Injustice: Power and the Ethics of Knowing. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2007.
Solnit, Rebecca. “Men Explain Things to Me.” Guernica, 20 Aug. 2012.
Rekdal, Paisley. “Biracial Rage.” diaCRITICS, 26 Jun. 2012.
In the essays listed above, Solnit and Rekdal describe having their own books explained to them by men who blithely claimed superior authority over their topics: respectively, the life of Eadweard Muybridge and the experience of being a Chinese-European-American woman. Ever since Solnit’s essay hit the internet in 2008, “mansplaining” and its intersecting cousin “whitesplaining” have become two of the most commonly remarked upon sources of present-day feminist rage. But before that, they were problems without names: irritations and humiliations many of us had experienced without necessarily being able to articulate the widespread patterns to which they belonged. In Epistemic Injustice, Fricker describes two forms of the titular offense: “Testimonial injustice occurs when prejudice causes a hearer to give a deflated level of credibility to a speaker’s word; hermeneutical injustice occurs at a prior stage, when a gap in collective interpretive resources puts someone at an unfair disadvantage when it comes to making sense of their social experiences.” Discuss how these two wrongs “done to someone specifically in their capacity as a knower” explain both the underpinnings of ‘splaining and our collective inability to discuss it as a phenomenon until recently.
Lesson 11: Judith Shakespeare in a Rape Culture
Dworkin, Andrea. “Terror, Torture, and Resistance.” Canadian Woman Studies/Les Cahiers de la Femme, vol. 12, no. 1, Fall 1991.
Elliott, Alicia. “CanLit Is a Raging Dumpster Fire.” Open Book, 7 Sept. 2017.
Friedman, Jaclyn. Unscrewed: Women, Sex, Power, and How to Stop Letting the System Screw Us All. Berkeley, Seal Press, 2017.
Gadsby, Hannah. Nanette. Netflix, 2018.
Gay, Roxane, editor. Not that Bad: Dispatches from Rape Culture. New York, Harper Perennial, 2018.
McGuire, Danielle. At the Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape, and Resistance — A New History of the Civil Rights Movement. New York, Knopf, 2010.
Valenti, Jessica. Sex Object: A Memoir. New York, Dey Street, 2016.
Woolf, Virginia. A Room of One’s Own. London, Hogarth Press, 1929.
Virginia Woolf asks us to imagine Shakespeare had a talented, intelligent sister named Judith — “as adventurous, as imaginative, as agog to see the world as he was” — and then consider the many ways in which her society’s treatment of women would have prevented her from achieving anything remotely like her brother’s success. If Judith Shakespeare were alive today, do you think she would become a famous writer — or would she give up after being sexually harassed by her M.F.A. advisor and a celebrated literary magazine editor she thought was genuinely interested in her work? How would her career trajectory be affected if she dropped out of college after being raped? Would prestigious outlets accept her poetry if she kept returning to the subject of her own victimhood, as if enraptured by it, because no matter how hard she tried to write about anything else — and she would try — it just kept demanding its place at the center of her work? Discuss how much women’s art, literature, and creativity has been sacrificed — is still sacrificed, daily — to men’s harassment and violence. Have Kleenex handy.
If Judith Shakespeare were alive today, do you think she would become a famous writer — or would she give up after being sexually harassed by her M.F.A. advisor?
Lesson 12: Feminism, Resistance, and Revolution in Trump’s America
Clinton, Hillary Rodham. What Happened. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2017.
Mukhopadhyay, Samhita, and Harding, Kate, editors. Nasty Women: Feminism, Resistance, and Revolution in Trump’s America. New York, Picador, 2017.
Yes, I am that professor telling you to buy a book I get royalties on, but in this case, I’m doing it because of the 22 other women in this anthology — including Nicole Chung, Randa Jarrar, Melissa Arjona, Meredith Talusan, and Alicia Garza — who explore questions like: How can undocumented women trapped between borders and 100-mile checkpoints access the health services they need? How can a transracial adoptee survive Thanksgiving with white family members who voted for Trump? What precautions does a fat, queer, Muslim woman need to take before road-tripping in this country? How can activists from different backgrounds work together without turning their righteous rage on each other? And when, if ever, is it time to stop asking politely for our human rights and start throwing bricks? Please reserve your answer to that last question until after you finish reading What Happened.
Lesson 13: Hear Us Roar
Chemaly, Soraya. Rage Becomes Her: The Power of Women’s Anger. New York, Atria Books, 2018.
Cooper, Brittney. Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower. New York, St. Martin’s, 2018.
Ford, Clementine. Fight Like a Girl. London, One World Publications, 2018.
Hartley, Gemma. Fed Up: Emotional Labor, Women, and the Way Forward. New York, Harper One, 2018 (forthcoming).
Traister, Rebecca. Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger. New York, Simon and Schuster, 2018 (forthcoming).
Congratulations, friend. If you’ve made it this far, you are officially what ye olde femynyst internette’s favorite Spinster Aunt would call an “Advanced Patriarchy Blamer.” Now read these last few texts to get fired up and ready to fight. Or crawl under a blanket and cry, because the news is a lot right now. It’s okay. The fight will still be there when you’re ready. The fight will be there until we win.
And one day, I promise, we will.