- More Than AngryThe Year in the United States
Millions of women, trans people, men, and youth poured into the streets to protest Donald Trump's inauguration in January 2017. Estimates place participation in the Women's March at five million worldwide, including the largest single day protest in Washington, DC, with a crowd of over 470,000 (Waddell). In a social media follow-up in October 2017 to the Women's March, millions broke the silence about sexual abuse by sharing the hashtag #MeToo. Many participants describe rage as the connective tissue joining global street protest to social media activism. In both, lifetimes of grief and trauma were given public and angry voice. It is no surprise, of course, that women are angry. What is surprising is that so many publishers believed readers would be hungry for books, by and for women with complex lives and emotions, about what Audre Lorde called the "uses of anger." While the act of sharing #MeToo entailed writing, reading those words persuaded millions to join a community of survivors that was emerging from the shadows.1 Part "imagined community," part "intimate public," those who showed up for and shared autobiographical accounts of sexual violence represented a market for life stories by women.2 In addition to the narratives that emerged online, a wave of first-person books by feminist writers dominated bestseller lists, commanded high profile reviews, and generated speaking engagements pitched at politically liberal and progressive book-buying women. From Brittney Cooper's Eloquent Rage (2018) to Rebecca Traister's Good and Mad (2018), Soraya Chemaly's Rage Becomes Her (2018), and Lindy West's The Witches are Coming (2019), booksellers promoted and readers embraced the theme of women's anger. Cooper, Traister, Chemaly, and West are established scholars or writers of social commentary, and while their books are not memoirs per se, they all leverage a feminist fusion of the personal, political, and critical. They expose the failure of respectability politics to achieve anti-racist ends (Cooper), delineate the long history of women's protest and silencing (Traister), and argue for the need for an intersectional analysis of race, gender, class, sexuality, and injustice. [End Page 179]
Testifying to the reading public's interest in complex accounts of women's lives, new autobiographical essay collections on anger have emerged alongside single-authored books. Lilly Dancyger's edited collection, Burn it Down: Women Writing about Anger (2019), for example, joined Shelly Oria's Indelible in the Hippocampus (2019), whose title cites Christine Blasey Ford comment on the searing quality of traumatic memory during her testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when they were teenagers. When Sen. Patrick Leahy asked Blasey Ford what memories stood out from the assault, her answer drew on her research into trauma, brain science, and memory: "Indelible in the hippocampus is the laughter, the uproarious laughter between the two [boys], and their having fun at my expense."
When we talk about the centrality of anger in women's life writing, it is crucial to distinguish it from the self-righteous displays of white male entitlement that characterize Trump supporters. The neo-nazis who marched in Charlotte were angry. The white male mass killer who gunned down nine African American congregants during Bible study at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in South Carolina was angry. As was the gunman who killed seventeen at Stoneman Douglas high school in Parkland, Florida. To claim anger as a power for women in a time so disastrously shaped by toxic masculine rage and violence requires a feminist reframing along the line carefully laid out by Audre Lorde. In her 1981 essay "The Uses of Anger," she writes: "Anger is an appropriate reaction to racist attitudes, as is fury when the actions arising from those attitudes do not change" (282). Lorde puts anger in historical and political context. She distinguishes the anger of racists from her angry response to racism. Anger, for Lorde, is multiform, instrumental, and anything but simple. Life writing enables us to see that women's anger comes from lifelong experiences of violence, shaming, and injustice. As Lorde explained...