Farwell Distinguished Lecture: “Good and Mad”


Thu Pham ('20) Photo Bureau

Rebecca Traister spoke about the power of womens anger.

Author and journalist Rebecca Traister gave the 2019 Farwell Distinguished Lecture titled “Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger” on Oct. 10 in the Center for Faith and Life. Traister’s lecture was based on her book of the same title, in which she explored the political significance of women’s rage throughout American history. Traister is a writer for New York Magazine and a contributing editor at Elle.

Traister informed the audience about women from history who used the power of their anger to create change, such as Elizabeth Freeman, or Mum Bett, the first enslaved African American to file and win a freedom suit in Massachusetts. Traister argued that women’s anger has been erased from historical curriculum because angry and loud women are viewed as chaotic, unstable, and inappropriate.

“Women’s anger is never heard as brave or strong,” Traister said. “It is always a disruption, something that needs to be quieted down. What angry women represent is the making loud of that which should be kept silent.”

Traister believes that while women’s anger is repressed, men’s anger is culturally perceived as revolutionary or righteous. She described how the men who founded the United States were motivated by their anger.

“There is a kind of political rage that we are raised to value, to admire, and to understand as formative to this country,” Traister said. “It is the rage of the white men beginning with our founders, the men who, in their ire over being taxed and policed without government representation, dumped tea in a harbor, and are credited correctly as revolutionaries.”

Traister explored how women’s anger is gaining some acceptance and power in politics today through examples such as the Women’s March, the Me Too movement, and the record number of women running for office in response to Trump’s presidency. Traister believes that these movements mark a significant change in how angry women are perceived compared to when she started her career.

“I was made to understand, basically from birth, that when things were bad, a non- confrontational approach was preferable for strategic, aesthetic, and perhaps even moral reasons,” Traister said. “So, in my work as a feminist journalist, I tempered my fury. I made sure that in my writing I was funny, and playful, and cheeky, and ironic. I worked to make it clear that I was a fun person… To full throatedly express my ire at injustice would have been alienating and tactically unsound.”

During the question and answer period that followed Traister’s lecture, Anna Lavender (‘21) asked about how to respond to online misogynist hate groups and whether Traister sees the rise of internet misogyny as a response to women’s anger. Traister said feminists should not be discouraged by backlash they receive.

“Any time you have marginalized people fighting for an expansion of their rights and opportunities, what you get is the group that had those rights and protections and have gone unchallenged for a long time basically threatening, ‘if you push us on this we are going to push back against you,’” Traister said.

“Women’s anger is never heard as brave or strong. It is always a disruption, something that needs to be quieted down. What angry women represent is the making loud of that which should be kept silent.””

— Rebecca Traister

Professor of History Victoria Christman appreciated that Traister was critical of the way our country was built and how the current system leaves out women.

“Traister was particularly critical of the structural patriarchy on which the U.S. was built, and which is still inherent in our society,” Christman said. “She outlined the contours of that system and argued that we need to listen to the voices of women, who have for too long been excluded from power conversations in this country.”

Ilsa Knivsland (‘20) was encouraged to attend the lecture by women in her life. It informed the way she will think about the female candidates when she decides which one to vote for in the upcoming presidential election.

“I think I’ve taken away that there’s a lot of suppression of women’s voices even into history that I never realized occured,” Knivsland said. “And anger enacts strong speech.”


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