On our premiere episode, Ashley Nicole Black welcomes guest co-host, Rebecca Traister to try to answer every woman's pressing question: "What am I supposed to do with all this rage?"
We urgently need your help. DAME reports the stories that need to be told, from perspectives that aren’t heard enough. In times of crisis it is even more critical that these voices are not overlooked, but COVID-19 has impacted our ability to keep publishing. Please support our mission by joining today to help us keep reporting.
After everything women have been through the past two years—centuries, really—we’re rightfully furious. But anger is not the same as despair. Listen in as Ashley Nicole Black and guest host Rebecca Traister, author of Good and Mad, give helpful, purposeful advice on how to harness our rage for good.
Sip On This is presented by DAME and produced and distributed by Critical Frequency. In our first season, host Ashley Nicole Black is joined by a lineup of insightful, activist-minded guests like Martha Plimpton, Samantha Bee, Ijeoma Oluo, Amber Ruffin, Robin Thede, Amber Tamblyn—and even Ashley’s mom!—to offer candid and compassionate advice. You can subscribe and listen to the full season on all platforms including Stitcher, Apple, and Spotify.
EPISODE 1 TRANSCRIPT
Ashley Nicole BLACK: I’m Ashley Nicole Black and this is my new advice podcast, Sip On This with Ashley Nicole Black. Back in April, I tweeted that I wanted to write an advice column. An editor at DAME magazine got in touch and by May, I had a column. Now it’s a podcast! So, I’m basically Oprah and The Secret is real. I get to bring on all sorts of smart people who I love to get advice from, too. Welcome to Sip On This, presented by DAME Magazine.
Rebecca Traister is an author, she’s written three books, the latest of which is called, Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger. Her second book, All the Single Ladies, is probably the book I recommend to people most. If I had to describe Rebecca to a stranger, I’d say, she’s an ethnographer and historian of women’s anger, which is why we’re here. (Laughs)
Rebecca TRAISTER: Oh, my God, that’s like the best description of me I’ve ever heard.
BLACK: You can have it.
TRAISTER: Ethnographer is so professional sounding. (Laughs)
BLACK: You can get that on your business card. ‘Rebecca Traister: Ethnographer of Anger.’
TRAISTER: (Laughs) That’s fantastic.
BLACK: It also sounds like a good name for an album.
TRAISTER: (Laughs) ‘The Ethnography of Anger.’ That’s like a novel that if a man wrote it, it would be taken very seriously.
BLACK: Yes. It would be about driving alone in a car for a really long time. (Laughs)
TRAISTER: Exactly. Somewhere in like, the bleak Midwest.
BLACK: Yeah, thinking about all the ways that women have wronged you. We just wrote it.
TRAISTER: There you go.
BLACK: Call up Simon and Schuster (publishing company). (Laughs)
TRAISTER: Give us millions.
BLACK: I’m asking everyone for some advice that I actually need for myself. And that is, how do you write a book? You’ve done it multiple times. I would love to do it. It seems like an impossible task. People ask me a lot about my writing practice, but the thing that’s different about our writing is I write things that are meant to go away. You know, you watch the episode this week and that’s the end of it. The idea of writing something lasting is very daunting to me.
So, how do you do it? You wake up in the morning and…
TRAISTER: I sit in paralyzed self-loathing for eight to twelve hours, at which point I eat some dinner, think about how little I accomplished during the day…
BLACK: So far, we have the same writing process.
TRAISTER: (Laughs) Go to bed and then get up the next morning and do the same thing. That’s pretty much my routine for, depending on what my deadline is, some number of days or weeks. And then there’s a night where it begins to change, where I begin to feel the intense panic of failure and not getting paid and never producing another word, and it begins to grip my heart in a tight vice. And then that night I don’t sleep and when I wake up in the morning, I write ten thousand words.
BLACK: Okay, you know what it is, it’s the exact same process but mine has to take place over one day, because that deadline is 5p.m.
TRAISTER: That’s true for me and my journalism, too. I should say it depends on the deadline. The same process for me happens. And people told me before I had kids, ‘Oh, when you have kids, writing actually gets easier because you have this compressed…’
BLACK: That’s a lie.
TRAISTER: It’s such a lie. It’s such bullshit. Please, no one who’s ever told, ‘You’ll be more efficient.’ It’s a fucking lie. I was told this by many people. ‘Once you have kids, you’ll only have this number of hours with childcare, so you’ll be forced to be more efficient about your writing.’ And this always goes hand and hand with those chipper things about men who wake up at five the morning and write for two hours and then they go and play tennis for the rest of the day or whatever it is, because they’ve done the thing they’re… right. All of that shit, none of it has any application in my actual life. When I had kids, I just was more miserable because, it’s true, there was a limited amount of time with childcare and I didn’t do anything during that time and I would feel worse for more periods of the day.
BLACK: Also, I’d imagine, all of your work is about things that are very dark. I would imagine, having kids, it just increases those emotions. Because you’re like, ‘Now there are these little people that I care about and I want the world to be better for them.’
TRAISTER: Yes, I guess that’s true. I think that is true. I think the thing, sometimes the darkness helps the writing come along. I will say that this… So, I’ve written three books and I actually very strongly dislike the process of writing books. I don’t think I’m alone in that. Before I’d ever written a book, I used to think, ‘This is the great thing. Imagine.’ And there are things I appreciate about this. You’re working for yourself. For a period anyway, you’re your own editor. You are determining the shape and the content of what’s in this book. And that is terrific, that’s very freeing, especially if you’re a journalist and you’re used to being assigned things. You used to have go cover this story that you actually don’t have anything to say about but you’re going to be forced to meet a deadline. If you’re writing a book and it’s one that you feel passionate about then presumably you’ve pitched it, this is a thing. You’re really committed to spending often years of your life working on it.
My first two books were this just hellscape of, it took so long. I couldn’t make a single sentence come out right. A productive day might entail getting a paragraph done. In my journalism, I’m forced to write quickly, as you say. It’s not, sometimes it’s every day, sometimes it’s some big story connecting historical events and contemporary politics that I have to get written in one afternoon and it goes online or goes in a magazine. With a book, there’s no deadline looming.
BLACK: But there is someone sending very polite but insistent emails. ‘Hey. Haven’t heard from you…’
TRAISTER: ‘How’s it going?’ It’s like a study in passive aggression.
BLACK: ‘Hey, girl.’ (Laughs)
TRAISTER: ‘Just checking in.’ No, you’re not. You want to know if I’ve written anything. No, I have not written anything.
BLACK: The answer is no. (Laughs) You can see my Instagram. You know I got drunk last night.
TRAISTER: Right. I made an extremely elaborate Indian meal. That’s what I did. (Laughs)
BLACK: ‘It’s part of my process.’
TRAISTER: There were sauces, I made sauces. (Laughs) Right.
So, with this book, this is a totally separate experience because I signed up to write this book about the political consequence of women’s anger at the beginning of 2017. Actually, I wrote the proposal for it right before the Women’s March. And it was going to be something I did over years. I was going to extend my hell over the first three years of the Trump Administration. Examine the contours of women’s anger, the past and contemporary, and publish in 2020. Then the year was so bananas.
BLACK: The year was four years long.
TRAISTER: (Laughs) The year was four years long. And the waves of rage did not let up. I was like, ‘Oh, my God, what’s happening? What’s happening?’ I said, ‘I have to write this book about women’s anger, there’s a women’s march, there’s women flooding the airports protesting the Muslim ban, there are women running for office in historic numbers. Oh, my God, there are women flooding the inboxes of senators and making them vote against healthcare reform.’ And then it was #metoo and I was like, ‘Okay, I have to write this book right now.’
So, actually for this book, it was a much more compressed process. I wrote my third book in four months and it was definitely the most pleasurable writing process I’ve had because it was about rage and it was like uncorking a bottle of champagne, honestly. I was just like, ‘Oh, wait. You want me to write about anger? I can do that quickly. I have a lot to say about that. It just kind of exploded I have to say, in four months.
BLACK: So, when people ask me, ‘Doesn’t Trump make your job easier?’ I’ll just refer them to you. (Laughs)
TRAISTER: In this one instance. (Laughs) There’s one person.
BLACK: Okay, so people wrote in for advice.
TRAISTER: Great. By the way, I give notoriously shitty advice.
BLACK: Oh, if it’s bad, I’m just going to tell you.
TRAISTER: That’s good.
BLACK: (Laughs) Okay, let’s do the second one first because this ties into what we’re talking about. This is what they wrote:
“I’m so freaking furious all the time. I vote, I donate, I make calls and send emails but it isn’t helping me. How do we sustain the long game when it feels like we’re losing all the time.”
TRAISTER: Okay, so I do have advice.
BLACK: And I think this is the most common question. I think this is where a lot of people are right now.
TRAISTER: I’m curious, is that the question that was sent in specifically for me coming on.
TRAISTER: Okay. But you hear that from other people who are not knowing they are talking to a woman who’s written a book about rage?
BLACK: No, also at my job, people find it very rage-ful. We have a good time actually. We’re having a good time but people watch it and they’re like, ‘We’re so angry.’ So, yeah, I get this question a lot all over the country.
TRAISTER: So, I have a couple of responses to it. The first is that all this stuff that she’s describing about donating and protesting, that’s my first line of response, which is like, there are all kind of areas right now that will profit from your anger. There are candidates who will profit from your anger. There are protests that will profit from your anger. There’s organizing that needs to be done. There’s canvassing. There’s the stuff of making political change and anger has historically been wildly catalytic for mass movements to take shape. And should not just think, ‘Oh, my God, it’s not doing anything.’ That is the thing that’s doing something.
And it may be hard. Your candidate may lose and we have to look at the long game and that’s sort of what the bigger question is about. Long term, how do we sustain this. We have to understand that part of what feels like the pitched and horrifying battle that we’re in the middle of is a battle that has extended centuries behind us and is going to extend centuries in front of us. I know that that can sound daunting and depressing, but I actually find it deeply inspiring.
BLACK: It also doesn’t have to be – and sorry, I’m going to say it – white ladies. I feel like black women are very aware that this battle has been going on for a long time and that this is part of it. And I feel like a lot of white women woke up two years ago and were like, ‘Oh, my God. Something is happening and we have to fix it right now.’ No, no, no. You’re joining an army that has been marching. Come on into the ranks and we’ll continue to march for a very long time.
TRAISTER: Exactly. Which is why another part of this message and what I would say in response to that is, one thing to do with that feeling and if you’re new to this… And it does, it feels traumatic and, ‘Oh, my God. Things are so bad. I’m doing all this stuff but the things aren’t better yet. And I’ve been doing it for two years and it’s not better yet.’ That feeling is really bad and I don’t want to take anything away from it. But one of the things I recommend is looking back toward history. Whatever form is comfortable for you to enjoy, whether that means watching Eyes on the Prize or One Woman, One Vote. Or reading about some of the protest movements and some social movements throughout history. And I recommend it not out of like, ‘Well, everybody should read a book.’ But it actually is going to give some comfort and ballast to those of us who feel the exhaustion and the strain of working through anger in a way that we want to be productive but is often not immediately visible in how it’s productive and changing things. Because as we’ve looked toward history – and this is a lesson that I’ve learned, I don’t want to be chiding in this – this is something I, myself, has learned as a writer, as a feminist. I didn’t know this history. I wasn’t taught it in school. I didn’t take women’s history, I didn’t take protest history, this is something I’ve come to as an adult. I’m actually genuinely just recommending it as a way to rationalize what we’re going through and how we feel.
What we find when we look back is that the movements, perhaps, we even romanticize and we see as righteous. And we would like to think of ourselves as being part of right now, and it seemed neat in retrospect that decades long, miserable struggles where people got beaten and killed. They pushed for things that did not go through. They were defeated at every turn. The battle for women’s suffrage extended beyond the lifetimes of the most famous people who we think of as associated with that first round, like Susan B. Anthony, she died more than a decade before the Nineteenth Amendment was passed. And of course, then it’s another 45 years before the Voting Rights Act passed, which enfranchises women of all colors, right. And so, you’re looking at over a century of fighting for full enfranchisement. And of course, the Voting Rights Act just got gutted by the Supreme Court a couple of years ago which means we’re still part of that struggle that is now extending like, two centuries.
Again, if that seems deadening, that’s certainly not what I’m trying to convey. What I’m trying to convey is we are picking up the tools that have actually been wielded by women and men who’ve come before us and they’ve spent their whole lives using them and making change that we now understand as revolutionary change. And we don’t always see the picture of how hard those decades of work were.
BLACK: And how personally hard they were, because I think we look up to these people and we hear the big speeches. But I’ve been very lucky to interview some civil rights leaders and more recently I interviewed Gloria Steinem and the little petty infighting and being mad at each other, they did that, too. So. All the feelings you’re feeling now, that’s very normal.
TRAISTER: And that’s actually something that’s so important for example, within a women’s movement or however we’re loosely defining it right now, the anger between women – which is something I write a lot about in my book – about racial inequity, class inequity, whose perspectives are heard, who is co-opting what. This is one of the things that have gotten a lot of attention over the past couple of years as the women’s movement works to coalesce. The anxiety about white ladies. Fifty-three percent of us, I’m one of them – no, I didn’t vote for Trump (laughs), I’m a white lady – voted for Donald Trump. So, what’s the role of white women who are now suddenly angry about things that black women have been leading on throughout history? Those kinds of conflicts feel very painful and I hear from a lot of women who are like, ‘There’s so much antagonism in the women’s movement.’ Well, that is also part of our history.
BLACK: And it’s part of the work.
TRAISTER: It’s part of the work. It’s part of all movements, it’s not unique to the women’s movement. The women in the civil rights movement were livid a lot of the time about the way that the men were treating the women in the civil rights movement and the way that their roles as fundamentally catalytic, that Rosa Parks wasn’t given the credit that she deserved. This is something that women in the civil rights movement in real time were angry about at the time. There were always divisions and resentment and frustrations and legitimate address of real inequity within these social movements and it makes it hard. It’s really hard work.
It is hard to work in an office. It is hard to be in a family. We have all this stuff about, ‘How do you talk to the people who you’re most closely connected to by blood at Thanksgiving.’ It’s like, how are you part of a mass social movement, where everybody by human nature are going to have conflicts and differences and perspectives and resentments that are going to be worked out.
So, all of the hard things are hard and they are undeniably hard. But they are also part of what it means to do the work of trying to make the country a better place. So, if we’re feeling anxiety ad frustration, know that I hope we can look around right now, and say that the country and the conversation around gendered and racial economic inequality is fundamentally changed from where it was a couple of years ago. We don’t have the power to fix the things, right? The Supreme Court is going to be fixed for us and make all kinds of long term detrimental change to how masses are even able to resist. But the movement around resisting, that kind of power and challenging it and disrupting it… You know, we have ladies yelling at Senators in the elevator and it changes things.
BLACK: And it works. And the way that you know that it’s working, in your moment of feeling terrible – this works for me because I’m a petty bitch and I’m proud of it – but I think of the guys who were yelling, ‘You will not replace us, you will not replace us,’ they were chanting that because they are actually afraid of being replaced. That’s how you know it’s working.
I have people, who I swear don’t have jobs, and all they do all day is tweet at me. And it’s like, you would not be so bothered by me living my fat, black life unless something I was doing was really challenging you to the point where you have to sit all day and tweet at me.
So, when you’re like, ‘Oh, this feels so bad,’ maybe just have that petty part of you be like, ‘They’re only doing this because the change is happening.
TRAISTER: Exactly. And look at what’s happened since the ‘You will not replace us.’ Who has won primary elections? Who has actually, to some degree, already replaced some old white men. Now, we don’t know what’s going to happen in November and it’s crucial. And, by the way, a lot of women are going to lose in November, in addition to, I hope, a lot of women winning.
BLACK: And also, gerrymandering. So, don’t relax.
TRAISTER: And voter suppression. There’s no relaxation whatsoever. Also, please vote. Just vote.
There’s an enormous amount of structural work we have to do, but you’re exactly right. It’s because the threat is there. The reason there is this anger is because Barack Obama was the President and people were mad that a black man could have this job that was held by white men. Because people said that Hillary Clinton was going to inevitably be our next President. That was never true, right? Because there were lady Ghostbusters. (Laughs)
BLACK: And sometimes I think lady Ghostbusters upset people more than Barack Obama. They ability to control culture is really bothersome.
TRAISTER: Lady Ghostbusters, lady Jedis…
BLACK: Lady talk show hosts.
TRAISTER: Right, lady talk show hosts, lady gamers. These are the things that have set off the kind of white, patriarchal anger that has us in its grip right now and we’re trying to fight off.
BLACK: Yeah, that’s why I love, too, that you are talking about anger and that people are talking explicitly about their anger. I had a therapist once who told me… I kept describing myself as, ‘I’m upset, I’m unhappy. I don’t like this.’ And she goes, ‘You know, you never describe yourself as angry.’ And I was like, ‘Well, yeah. As a black woman, I have learned, you’re never allowed to be angry.’ And she goes, ‘The best thing you can do if you want to abuse someone is to take their anger away from them.’ Because anger is an active emotion. If you’re in an abusive relationship and you get angry, you get up and you get out and you pack your bags and do whatever you need to do. If you get sad, you sit on the couch and eat ice cream and you stay in that moment.
So, I think that feeling of like, ‘Oh, nothing’s getting fixed.’ You are angry. You’re already better than you were before because you’re activated and you’re angry and you’re doing something. And that means you have changed, even if you don’t feel like the country has.
TRAISTER: And it structurally matters, too. That’s such a fascinating point made by your therapist because one of the reasons that we discourage women in this country from expressing their anger is because it actually has a propulsive purpose. One of the things it does is it connects angry women to other women who are angry. So, if you are discouraged from expressing your anger or giving voice to it, then you might be sitting on your couch eating ice cream feeling sad and nobody knows your political ideas and what you’re angry about in terms of injustice or inequality. But if you yell, then you become audible to the lady down the block who might also suddenly be like, I’m yelling, too and then you’re like, ‘Let’s go to an organizing meeting.’ And suddenly, you’re canvassing or one of you is running for office.
And it’s not just a quirk or a coincidence that people who are not powerful white men are always discouraged in one way or another from expressing anger. They’re told regularly that it makes them annoying and unattractive. They sound hysterical or militant or aggressive. All that stuff is not coincidental. Because if they were encouraged to be angry, there’d be a far better chance that they would connect with each other and organize to overthrow the power.
BLACK: So, advice. Stay furious, freaking furious, all the time.
TRAISTER: And another thing is, find that communion. That’s my last piece of advice. It can be exhausting and one of the things that I heard from a lot of women when I was writing my book was incredibly rewarding for them was being in communication with other women who felt the same way. So, be curious about other women’s anger, in addition to taking seriously your own rage politically and personally. Be curious and actively interested. Ask other women, ‘Why are you angry and how are you dealing with it?’ And you might find connection that is rewarding and sustaining.
BLACK: And also, I think, a lot of the civil rights leaders that I talk to, they were like, ‘We also partied.’ Find that community and yes, work together, make your calls together, talk about the things you’re angry about together, but also go out and have a drink. Know that this is going to be a long battle so some of the parts are going to be celebrating successes, mourning losses, doing things as a community that bond you; some of that is also hanging out.
Okay, I feel like then what happens is that someone goes, ‘Ashley says hang out,’ and they stop making their phone calls and go hang out. What I’m saying is, hang out in addition to all the other things because part of it is about building a community.
TRAISTER: Right, and keeping each other inspired. Because one of the other things I feel like – I don’t know if this is a cliché in organizing – it’s not a sprint, it’s a relay. So, there are going to be moments where the woman who is asking this question, yeah, you may well be burnt out. Just about everybody I know, myself included who’s job it’s been to stare directly at the fire hose of shit that’s coming at us every day, has had to take time. Whether it’s a vacation or just a weekend, or maybe you cooked an elaborate Indian meal with many sauces. (Laughs)
BLACK: Or sometimes just a nap. (Laughs)
TRAISTER: But the thing you don’t want to feel is that you can’t take a break. Don’t turn away, don’t stop. Don’t let it burn you out. But that’s when it’s good to have a community of other people who are angry alongside you. You can say, ‘I just need to turn it off for a day or a week, or go on a vacation or a bender, or whatever it is. And you know that other people are there. And you know that you can come in and spell them when they need to turn it off for a minute. And it’s through those communities that you are able to find the energy to keep going through – honestly, I’m sorry to say, but I think it’s time we come to terms with it – what is going to be the rest of our lives.
BLACK: Yeah, this is a lifestyle now. And it probably should have always been.
TRAISTER: It should have been. The correction is in the renewed anger, again, for women who had not been angry. There are plenty of people who have stayed angry throughout and have been treated as kind of marginal cranks, or hysterics or crazy radicals who couldn’t let go and were borrowing their outrage from another era. Those people were the right ones. They were correct.
BLACK: ‘Hey, remember when you kept yelling about police brutality? Turns out it is a problem.’ ‘Welcome to the party. Have a hors d’oeuvres. We’ve been here for a while.’
TRAISTER: (Laughs) Right. The correction is in, it comes out of a period where there was tremendous disruptive change in the social movements of the late twentieth century. The civil rights movement, the women’s movement, the gay rights movement produced alterations in improvements. The kinds of things that we hope to do now, there were those disruptions and revolutionary changes for the better in this country. But what happened in the aftermath was kind of a vicious and brutal backlash that quelled all those instincts for a lot of people. That was the era where everyone was being told, ‘Okay, everything’s done here. There’s no reason to be angry anymore. We fixed it, it’s all done.’ And that’s where things went off track. It’s not that the anger that so many more people are feeling now is the thing that’s an aberration, this should be the norm, unfortunately. And we need to get used to it.
BLACK: And know that backlashes are always coming. And just be emotionally prepared for the backlash. For every success, there’s going to be a backlash.
Alright, next question. I feel this so deeply. This person signed their email, ‘A Tired Woman.’
“I’m having a problem taking out the anxiety and hurt over all of these sexual assault stories on my boyfriend. He tends to want to have an ‘intellectual discussion of the news’ and I find I’m not capable of discussing this without attacking him. I think he’s pretty great most of the time, nut on this topic he is not. Do I just make this a topic we don’t talk about? Or try to make him understand. We’ve been together a few years and live together.”
I’m really glad they put that clarifying last sentence in there because I would have been like, ‘Get rid of him.’
TRAISTER: (Laughs) Right.
BLACK: But okay, they’ve been together a few years and have lived together, so this is a relationship that is important.
TRAISTER: Right. So, that’s a complicated set of questions. First of all, between the two choices, do I just not talk about this or try to make him work to understand. I’m going to say, one hundred percent, I these feelings are crucial enough to her and enough a part of who she is, this is what she understands about what she’s hearing in the news and this is her response – which, by the way – is intellectual. The idea that there’s an intellectual response to the news as opposed to an emotional one is part of the way that we discredit women who are telling stories about their own experiences. Guess what? The experience of having been assaulted or harassed, or having lived in a misogynistic, patriarchal world, those are intellectual realities. No less reasonable or valid than your political horse race analysis.
BLACK: I think a lot of times ‘intellectual’ means ‘this doesn’t affect me.’ Because I get that a lot with race, too. Like, ‘Well, only white people can dispassionately discuss race so we have the more intellectual view on it. You have a vested interest.’ Well, first of all, you should have a vested interest in equality.
TRAISTER: And there is a denial that white people have race. So, one of the big challenges for me and my work is that we need to address work here and it’s not just talking about a black or non-white experience. It’s also talking about whiteness and what white supremacy entails. And that is part of what men need to understand, that they’re getting pulled into this, not just as allies or defenders, but as participants in a system. So, guess what? It does have to do with you. Whether or not you yourself have ever harassed somebody or assaulted somebody, you are living in a world in which those kinds of behaviors have been excused, covered for and propped up a lot of power that’s held by men. So, this is about men, too, systemically, structurally.
BLACK: And even if you don’t understand, systems thinking is new to a lot of people. I went to a lot of school so, I have that privilege. I went to all the school. So, if you’re not a person who thinks that way, if you start with, ‘People are being hurt and my girlfriend is upset because someone was hurt,’ that should be something that you can engage on, even if you don’t understand the whole system of it. People are being hurt.
TRAISTER: Right. And even starting with, ‘My girlfriend is upset.’ That should therefore be a starting point for, ‘This is something I should care about.’ It’s kind of hard to imagine an inverse and this is not about this particular couple. If a man in a relationship is upset, I think it’s much easier to assume that that is something we need to address, deal with and work through.
BLACK: I do think, right now, politics are so crazy and so coloring everything that there are a lot of things that people are doing that they would never do otherwise because in their mind it’s been pushed into the politics space. So, I do think regardless of gender, if you’re in a loving relationship with someone and they tell you that you’re hurting, you’re obligated to respond to that as a partner. And I think if you can push it into the realm of politics, that makes it easier for people to be like, ‘Oh, this doesn’t matter, she’s mad about politics.’ As opposed to, ‘My partner is upset and I need to do something about it.’ And I think that that’s true on all sides.
We need to remember that politics is people. It’s also, ‘Should I yell at my dad at Thanksgiving?’ Well, at the end of the day, if you and your dad can’t have a conversation during the holidays, that’s not a political thing. There’s something wrong with the relationship as well as the political problem.
TRAISTER: Right, within romantic relationships and friendships. One of the questions, just taking the politics aside, that I’ve always thought of in terms of my intimate relationships and that I advise my friends about is you want to be – ideally, I hope we all want to be – in relationships where we are our full selves. Now, there will be conflicts with the other person. We want to be fully known, right? That’s one of the building blocks of intimacy and what I find truly rewarding in intimate relationships, friendships, romance and sexual relationships is to be fully yourself.
BLACK: That’s what I use Twitter for but I understand other people have relationships.
TRAISTER: (Laughs) So, that’s why automatically when I hear a question like, ‘Should I just stuff this down and not talk about it anymore because it creates conflict, or should I push to make sure that we can air it? If it’s part of you and it’s an important thing in your brain and your heart and yourself and part of your experience and part of your perspective, again, on politics, the personal is political. And especially, that’s one of the things about a women’s movement always that’s hard is that the politics of oppression and subjugation around gender and sexism often come down to our relationships with our boyfriends and our dads and our brothers. It’s about very intimate relationships with people we love and depend on, even as we may be able to understand them or coming to understand them as part of an oppressive power system.
So, none of this is to say you should stay with your boyfriend or leave your boyfriend or whatever. I do think there has to be a question of, ‘Do I want to be fully known and fully myself with this person who is my partner, who I live with?’ And if that is the case and your perspective on the news is tied to your perspective as a human being is important to you, I am absolutely on the side of pushing to make it understood and to make yourself heard and known and seen. There may be fight and there may be conflict over it.
The other thing I’m going to say, and this is no way a recommendation, is that because of the personal and intimate nature of a lot of the relationships that get challenged whenever there is a movement around gender inequality, there are relationships that end. I’m not saying, ‘End your relationship.’
BLACK: Rebecca Traister said, ‘Leave him. You can move in with her.’ (Laughs)
TRAISTER: (Laughs) But it is not invalid. It is very common, in fact, in periods of disruption over gender and power for some of our romances, marriages, sexual affiliations to be dramatically altered in ways where it’s not, ‘I’m leaving you because I’m a feminist.’ It’s like, ‘The terms we entered this relationship on were entered in a period where we had different expectations with what we wanted this partnership to be. One of us is politicized or angry, or feeling things that have been brought up by a political moment that alter our desires for each other and for the nature of the bond that we had.’ Those bonds can be altered and sometimes relationships end.
BLACK: I feel like also, the key to that is, feelings that were brought up by the political moment, because I feel like people are like, ‘Well, I would never break up with someone just over politics.’ And it’s like, first of all, that’s a fine thing to do. But also, that’s usually not what’s happening. If what is happening in the political moment makes you feel something, you share your feelings with that person and they can’t help take care of you, then you’re not breaking up with them because of politics, you’re breaking up because you found out that they’re not a person who can help take care of you in this moment.
And that is a very normal reason to break up.
TRAISTER: Absolutely. And it returns us to the personal is political and the political is personal. That is part of what we’re talking about. When we have presidencies and Supreme Court nominations that are tied up with questions of whether it is okay to rape or assault or harass women, and those ‘intellectual’ news cycles make women and some men reflect on their own experiences of harassment and assault in ways that they need to bring into their intimate relationships in ways that perhaps have been stuffed down previously, it’s about politics. But the politics, you can’t separate that from the personal lived reality of your own body and what it has been through and what you have been through, and what your friends and compatriots have been through.
The inverse, I would say, about this moment’s ability to bring change to relationships is that it can also be a really strengthening moment. There are plenty of relationships that survive a political metamorphosis, and awakening of politicized anger, and relationships where that strengthens a bond where two people understand each other in new ways and you become more known to your partner. It can go either way.
My basic advice is to fall on the side of push the conversation and make your whole self known.
BLACK: Communicate, I think, is always the answer. I think it might be helpful to take it out of the politics space and say, ‘Hey. You seem to think we’re fighting about politics. I’m communicating to you that we’re hurting. Can we talk about that?’ Maybe that conversation will feel better. If it doesn’t, maybe that’s good information to have. Maybe a third party or therapist might be able to help with that conversation. But I think, ‘Should I just stuff it down?’ The answer to that is always, ‘No.’
Because if nothing else, it’s either going to explode in some other way or you’re going to get a pimple. Anything you stuff down, it’s coming out in some other way.
TRAISTER: I’m also thinking about how the question is phrased, too. I also want to emphasize the fact that you’re having this reaction, you’re not the problem person here. It’s not like, ‘I’m having this problem because I can’t see the news without thinking if this.’ It’s also his problem that he can’t see the news from your perspective. I think there’s a way, and I hear this from lots of the women that spoke to me about challenges they’ve had in their relationships since becoming angry after the election of Trump. ‘I’ve changed, so now I’m the problem dynamic. I spend all my time organizing or I spend every weekend knocking on doors instead of cooking meals.’ It always situates the woman who has become newly politicized or angry as the disruptive factor, but it doesn’t situate the inflexibility of an often male partner as the problem, too.
BLACK: I will say, this question aside, I have an extreme distrust for anyone who puts value on being removed and intellectual about politics. Because the people who get framed as crazy are the people who are affected by it. So, when Black Lives Matter started, people were saying, ‘Hey, they’re killing our children our teens. This is a real problem.’ It was like, ‘You’re crazy. You’re screaming.’
TRAISTER: ‘You’re thugs. You’re terrorists. You’re a hate group.’
BLACK: ‘You should not care about this like I don’t care about this.’ No, you are helping. You’re not doing the thing, but you’re definitely helping the people who are doing the thing by insisting that we can’t have a conversation about it with the people who are most affected by it.
And now, there are children being put into jails. Anyone who can sit back and watch that and be like, ‘Well, I have no feelings about this but here are my thoughts.’ I’m immediately distrustful of that.
TRAISTER: Right. It suggests that maybe the government or state hasn’t worked to limit your own bodily autonomy and that reality is only true for a small segment of the American population. For that segment, it’s real true.
BLACK: But also, it may not always be that way. One of the things about, for example, a police state is that yes, they’re going to target the most vulnerable most of the time. But that also means that when they target you, they also will not be punished for it. So, you actually do have a stake in helping people more vulnerable than you. Hopefully, you’re a human being with empathy and you want to do it even if it doesn’t affect you, but it does affect you.
I mean, if the government can tell women they can’t take birth control, then they can tell men. You’re along the spectrum and you’re way far on the other side. It may eventually get to you.
TRAISTER: It may have an impact on your life. You may eventually wind up having a child you didn’t intend to have, as a man.
BLACK: And by the way, we’re coming for that child support. (Laughs) If women can’t get abortions, we’re coming for that child support.
TRAISTER: (Laughs) We want tax credits and automated raises.
BLACK: (Laughs) Fight for us, fight for yourselves.
TRAISTER: Fight for your pocketbook.
BLACK: Those are our two questions. Do you feel like because people know that you’re the anger lady, people just come up to you with questions all the time? Are there questions that you get a lot?
TRAISTER: I get asked a lot, so far… In the past few years, before I became the anger lady… (Laughs) Before I hung up my anger lady shingle, my anger lady ice cream brand…
BLACK: Angry Lady would be a very hot ice cream brand.
TRAISTER: (Laughs) It’s my million dollar idea.
BLACK: Call Mark Cuban. It’s a great idea.
TRAISTER: (Laughs) The thing that I used to get, and I got it so much when I would talk at high schools and colleges – it was before I talked about anger, I was just angry when I talked – I write about this in my book. It really was shocking, the past couple of years. I’d go and I’d talk about politics. Often I gave speeches about Anita Hill, about the 2016 election, about sexism and racism and I’d be angry when I spoke. Cheerful, funny, but a bit angry. And often from college students and high school students, I would get sort of whispered questions afterwards. Like, ‘Where did you get the confidence to be angry in public?’ I’m so scared to raise my voice.’ ‘I admire how you can talk with such confidence. How did you feel okay about that?’ Also, other variations of that. And I get that from adults, too. ‘How does your husband feel about your work?’ I get that a lot.
BLACK: I don’t have a husband just so I’ll never get that question. Because my brain would explode.
TRAISTER: (Laughs) No, I get that all the time.
BLACK: Also, ‘What does your father think?’
TRAISTER: Yes and even more, the kind of second guessing. ‘I bet on some level he resents it.’ I’m like, ‘No, have you met my husband? He’s angrier at white guys than I am.’ He’s mostly a white guy.
But I do get that a lot, the assumption that he’s secretly seething at home. I get a lot of those questions from women who, some of them want an answer that I won’t give which is, ‘Yes, my husband is secretly frustrated by my anger and wants to see refuge from it.’
BLACK: They’re just articulating their fears, too.
TRAISTER: Yeah, and that it’s really hard to ask our partners to be better and accept us as different and angry and furious about things. It’s a really hard ask, especially in relationships that were established perhaps in other moments when we were expressing anger less.
More recently, as I’ve begun to become associated with the Angry Lady brand, one of the things that I found that I get a lot are women who get so angry thinking about their anger and how they’ve held it in that they burst into tears. Something that I write and think about a lot is how closely tears, which are always perceived as vulnerability, are actually an expression of rage.
BLACK: It’s always interesting to me when people will watch Full Frontal and say, ‘Oh, Sam’s (Samantha Bee) so angry or you’re so angry and we’re having a great time.’ And I go, ‘Oh, you don’t know what anger looks like because when I’m angry, I’m crying.’ Me angry is always hot-face crying, very quiet, not jumping up and down and yelling jokes.
TRAISTER: In my book I write about the ways that women have sublimated or found ways to get the anger out of them, if given that yelling and screaming and ranting is widely frowned upon. (Laughs) And one of them is tears. It’s like, (exploding sound) and a lot of tears that people really read – this is especially true for white women – as vulnerability and as requiring sympathy. Black women’s tears don’t elicit the same kind of responses.
BLACK: No, they’re invisible. I’ve literally been bawling and crying and have people look to the white man who is yelling at me and go, ‘Are you okay?’ Black women’s tears are just invisible.
TRAISTER: And white women’s tears have been wielded as a weapon in very many instances. Tears are one way of anger coming out.
And another is comedy, right? Lots of people have written about the relationship between anger and comedy. Often – and I’ve said this to you guys – sometimes the great release of watching Full Frontal is sometimes a hilarious monologue that’s not even a joke, it’s just the truth about like, Paul Ryan. It’s just the reality but it’s so rare to hear it said up front. ‘Paul Ryan is a bad man.’ (Laughs)
BLACK: He is.
TRAISTER: (Laughs) But the release is somebody being able to say the truth instead of prettying it up and that is somehow funny. It’s such a crazy thing about comedy.
BLACK: That is the genius of Sam. Sam, being like a tiny white mom, can say that. The person who is supposed to be quiet and polite. It is joyful. It’s joyful to see this tiny white package say those things. (Laughs) And a gift to me as someone who gets to write for her.
TRAISTER: (Laughs) That is remarkably true and I hadn’t thought about her small stature and blondness. But yes, both things. Both crying and jokes are a way to release all that rage, or some part of it, into the world that doesn’t make space for a more direct form of rage.
BLACK: And that’s how and why people get funny most of the time. Something has happened and the only way they’ve found that’s socially acceptable to express that pain is through making other people laugh. Making people hear you in a way that’s safe for them.
TRAISTER: Right, the way you become audible again. It’s like, ‘How can somebody listen to what I have to say, if I’m going to tell them what I’m angry about they’re going to tune out or say that I’m crazy. But if I can make a joke that prompts a laugh in them, then at least they’re going to be hearing my voice and it’s going to count.
BLACK: Yeah, I always think of it as tricking people. Because I started out in academia and you write these long papers that nobody’s going to read, you have to get a class on the schedule so you can require those students to buy your books. And then I went into comedy and it was like, ‘Oh, I can just say these things and people will pay money to hear them if I just make them laugh first.’
TRAISTER: Right, true. And so much this I think about in relation to the Kavanaugh hearings and Christine Blasey Ford and Anita Hill. Just the rarity and value of hearing a women’s voice tell a story that you have to listen to, it’s not easy to just tune out. Sitting to watch those hearings with Dr. Blasey Ford, it was like, one of the things that was so powerful and horrifying and traumatic, but also powerful about it was this knowledge. The election was the last time I remember so much of America looking in the same direction at one time. And there was this sort of realization that so much of America was all listening as this woman started to speak and tell her story.
Now, that story will get discounted, the chances are… (Laughs) But there was something really powerful about forcing a vast portion of the country to actually listen to what this woman had to say.
BLACK: And also, just because it will get discounted and maybe by the time this airs, he’ll be on the court. It does take practice. People are not accustomed to listening to women. So, that event moved the needle and we may need to have to listen to five more women before we get accustomed.
I even think – this is so silly but I truly think it – Shonda Rhimes is starting to make television where you see black women, women of all colors having emotion, being sad, living their lives. That moved the needle. People saw, ‘Oh, this is the first time I’ve ever seen a Hispanic woman cry on television,’ you know?
TRAISTER: I completely agree because it expands our ability to imagine humanity of people who are not white and not male. The subjects of so much of what we consider great literature and great movies, the subjectivity is always with the male lead and very often, the white lead. There’s all this study of our pop culture and our literature and this is the Phillip Roths and the Woody Allens and the Norman Mailers, right? The great novelists of our time. And it’s who the talk show hosts are, who the late night hosts have been, who the protagonist has always been. We have this incredibly complex nuanced, deep, endless ability to imagine white masculinity in all of its range of emotions and reactions and vulnerabilities and strengths. And we have such limited views of what other people’s humanity might entail.
So, all of this, I completely agree, that is the expansion and it matters that we have lady Ghostbusters and Jedis. Because what happens in electoral politics when you have candidates matters. Shirley Chisolm said this. She said because Al Smith ran, was a Catholic Democrat in New York, he made it possible for John Kennedy to run and win forty years later. And after she ran for President in 1972, ‘I hope that my candidacy means that someday somebody who is not a wealthy white man will be able to run for the Presidency.’ She said that, and it took thirty years. (Laughs) But every time we can expand, I think it makes a difference that Hillary Clinton ran for President twice, even though she lost. Because we can picture a woman being a candidate. Presidential seems different to us now, even though we haven’t had a woman President.
Being a late night host becomes different when our eyes and our ears adjust to other people in those roles. The last people who talked to us before we go to bed at night, it’s not just Johnny Carson anymore.
BLACK: Being able to hear a high-pitched voice as possibly an authority, we’re building up the ability to do that with every woman who steps forward.
TRAISTER: And that the stories told. One of the things that I found very moving also about the Kavanaugh hearings, not just Dr. Blasey Ford but Debra Ramirez’s story in which she talked about having been drunk to the point of incapacity that night and that she only had bits of memory, I thought that was a massive expansion on the kinds of stories we understand as serious ones. Because every woman I know has that story that she would never come forward with because it’s like, ‘I was drunk, they’ll never listen to me or believe me.’
BLACK: But a lot of work has been done over the past couple of decades. As bad as this moment feels – I hadn’t thought about it that way but you’re exactly right – we have moved beyond, ‘Oh, you were drunk so we’re never going to listen to you.’ This is definitive proof that we’ve moved somewhat beyond that. That’s movement.
TRAISTER: Yes. That’s what changes. And that’s why, and I’ll go back to the very first question, that’s why the stuff that feels futile often is not. When you think about Anita Hill herself, Anita Hill was not believed and there were long term repercussions of the fact that a man that she told a vivid, truthful story about has been sitting on the Supreme Court for 27 years. He helped to gut the Voting Rights Act. He helped to pass Citizens United, which paved the way for Donald Trump. That is a loss.
BLACK: Yeah, we should really listen to women more. (Laughs)
TRAISTER: We really should. There’s that loss that could make you very easily like, ‘It’s just not worth it, all this work, all this listening, all of this attempting to make my case. But what happened in the wake of Anita Hill? You had women running for office in 1992. You had women in all kinds of professions altering their view of how they ought to be treated within those professions, partly because of Anita Hill’s testimony. You had a view of the Senate and of our legislative bodies as white and male exposed and made to look as awful as it was. So, that has created change. You have a conversation about harassment that is bearing fruit now 27 years later, not just with these hearings but with #metoo, with women running for office and the campaign of Hillary Clinton, who lost. She lost.
BLACK: Well, more people did vote for her, if you’re looking for your silver lining.
TRAISTER: Right, she got more votes than the man who is now President. But you can feel the futility, you can feel the pull. He’s like the guy who was reported to HR (Human Resources) and who everybody agreed shouldn’t get the job and he still has the job and he has power over our lives and he has power to shape the Supreme Court that’s going to have power to shape the rest of our lives. And that can feel incredibly daunting and a reason for giving up. And yet, he won, she lost. And we have a revivication of a women’s movement that has been asleep for 50 years. That down the road is going to change the world because those are the mass movements.
BLACK: And it’s better than it was. It’s more intersectional interested in and careful about class. It’s a better women’s movement. We have actually moved forward.
TRAISTER: I completely agree. We are experiencing a civic education right now that we couldn’t have imagined. If we were sitting her five years ago, we could not imagine a world in which Ashley Judd was going to talk about intersectionality at the Oscars, but that happened. (Laughs) That totally happened. And Alyssa Milano was going to correct herself and credit Tarana Burke and #metoo.
TRAISTER: Unimaginable five years ago. So, it gets better.
BLACK: Have a little hope but stay furious.
TRAISTER: Stay furious.
BLACK: #stayfurious. It’s our second t-shirt we’ve created today, in addition to our ice cream brand. I think this was a very productive day for us. (Laughs) Watch out for Angry Lady ice cream, coming out 2020. It is full fat. It is not a diet product.
TRAISTER: (Laughs) Oh, my God. It is extra fat. We put more milkfat in there.
BLACK: Because you are angry and you deserve it.
Thanks so much for coming in.
TRAISTER: Thanks so much for having me. This was really fun.
BLACK: Sip on This is presented by DAME Magazine and produced and distributed by Critical Frequency. Our producers are Katie Ross and Amy Westervelt. Our theme song is, “Time Heals” by Bea Beeman. This season was taped at Threshold Studios in New York and engineered by Andrew Yanchyshyn. There’s an advice column that complements this podcast running on the DAME website at DAMEmagazine.com. If you want to send in a question for another episode, please send us a note at [email protected]. Listen and subscribe on Apple podcasts or where ever you get your podcasts. You know where podcasts are.
– END –
We urgently need your help!
Covid-19 has dramatically impacted our ability to keep publishing. DAME is 100% reader funded and without additional support, we can’t keep publishing. Become a member at DAME today to help us continue reporting and shining a light on the stories that need to be told, from perspectives that aren’t heard enough. Every dollar we receive from readers goes directly into funding our journalism. Please become a member today!
(If you liked this article and just want to make a one-time donation, you can do that here)