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Rebecca Traister

Monday, February 4, 2019
7:30 pm
KQED Broadcast: 03/03/2019, 03/05/2019, 03/06/2019

Rebecca Traister is the author of Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger. In 2018, it seems as if women’s anger has suddenly erupted into the public conversations. But long before Pantsuit Nation, the Women’s March, and the #MeToo movement, women’s anger was not only politically catalytic, but politically problematic. Traister tracks the history of female anger as political fuel — from suffragettes chaining themselves to the White House to office workers vacating their building after Clarence Thomas was confirmed to the Supreme Court. Traister is writer at large for New York Magazine and a contributing editor at Elle. A National Magazine Award finalist, she has written about women in politics, media, and entertainment from a feminist perspective for The New Republic and Salon and has also contributed to The NationThe New York ObserverThe New York TimesThe Washington PostVogueGlamour, and Marie Claire. Her other books include All The Single Ladies and Big Girls Don’t Cry.

Lara Bazelon is an associate professor at the University of San Francisco School of Law, where she directs the Criminal & Juvenile Justice and Racial Justice Clinics. Previously, she worked as a deputy federal public defender and the director of a Los Angeles-based innocence project. She is the author of Rectify: The Power of Restorative Justice After Wrongful Conviction.


Books Referenced:

Authors Referenced:

  • Myisha Cherry
  • Alicia Garza

Articles Referenced:

Films Referenced

Photo of Rebecca Traister and Goddess-Zilla

Transcript

Lara Bazelon: Good evening. My name is Lara Bazelon and it is my honor to be in conversation tonight with Rebecca Traister at this City Arts & Lectures event where we will get her take on some of the most vexing issues confronting women in the age of Trump. 

In her most recent book, “Good and Mad,” Rebecca Traister explores the uses of female rage which has historically been mocked and feared as a source of political power. And so tonight we will be focused on women, power, rage, and where we go from here.

That includes unpacking the 2016 election, the 2018 election, and discussing the candidates for 2020.  We are at an inflection point in our history with the rights of the poor, of people of color, the LGBT community, and immigrants under siege. How is getting mad the best way to fight back, and how can men be allies in women’s struggle– ongoing struggle–for equality?

Rebecca Traister is a writer at large for New York Magazine and the author of three books, the recipient of numerous prizes. She has been described accurately as the most brilliant voice on feminism in this country. Her writing and storytelling is the scaffolding for an analysis that is trenchant and provocative. She tells it like it is and like no one else can, so please join me in welcoming our guest Rebecca Traister.

So Rebecca. First, I’m so excited to be in conversation with you, and thank you for coming out to see us. 

Rebecca Traister: I am so excited to be here and in conversation with you. 

Lara Bazelon: So let’s start by getting mad.

The research shows unequivocally that anger, when expressed by man, is often correlated with a righteous justified sense of indignation, but that the same anger, when expressed by women, correlates to emotional instability and even hysteria. But you argue, marshalling the words of the feminist Myisha Cherry, that quote, “there are certain kinds of anger that are not bad.”

What kinds of anger are not bad and how do they advance the cause of women’s equality? 

Rebecca Traister: Well, I think that–and this is in part what Myisha Cherry is talking about specifically in her conversation about the value of women’s rage–and part of what I write about, a good deal of what I write about in “Good and Mad,” is about rage at injustice. 

So when we’re talking about rage and its political potency, its social power, we always have to think about how that rage is working with regard to power. Is it rage on behalf of a power structure? Is it rage at having power or authority taken away? We can talk about rage in terms of the Donald Trump campaign and the rhetoric he ran on. We can talk about women’s rage on behalf of a white capitalist patriarchy and women who marshall their rage in defense of that white patriarchy, women of the Tea Party, women who fought against school integration in the middle of the 20th century. 

Then there is the kind of rage that is rage at inequality. Rage about the injustices. The rage of often the most vulnerable and marginalized people. And that is the rage that is first of all discouraged by those in power in almost every iteration you can imagine, and it is also the rage that, when there are instances in which it is expressed, can often form the connective tissue of what will become coalitions that in our past, and I know many of us hope in our present and future, will alter the power structures that create the inequities at which we are so enraged. 

Lara Bazelon: So let me talk about one particular woman at one particular moment of time and a choice about rage. And so I’m talking specifically about Hillary Rodham Clinton in 2016.

And after the election she wrote a book where she talked about her decision–her very specific decision–not to run angry, not to get angry, and she talked about certain key moments, including during the second debate. And just to set the stage, this was right after the Access Hollywood tapes had leaked.

And during that debate, as some of you may recall, Trump essentially stalked her around the stage. And what she said in the book was that internally she was thinking, “back up you creep,” but externally she felt that she had to show that she was impervious to what was going on, even though she said it was literally making her skin crawl.

So a question that I have for you is, what do you think would have happened in that moment on national television with tens of millions of people watching if she had turned around and said to this person who was literally stalking her, “back up you creep?”

Rebecca Traister: If I could tell you the number of hours of my life I have spent trying to imagine that. And it’s really, I mean I have written about Hillary Clinton for well over a decade at this point. I was covering that election very closely. It’s interesting, and I think I write about this in the book. After that debate I was on Bill Maher. And he said, “she should have kicked him in the balls.” Or something. 

Lara Bazelon: Right. 

Rebecca Traister: She should have turned around. Come on. She should have turned around and I don’t know if he said kicked him in the balls. And it was like–we think, I think I can hear from the cheers, we think we want that right? We think that that would have been gratifying. I’m not sure that it would have worked out that way. 

And that was the math that she was doing, like so many of us in this room have done in our lives. How is my expression of a rational human rage at how I am being treated, how I’m being stalked, how I’m being menaced, physically menaced on stage–if I let that loose, how is it going to redown negatively to me? How is it going to undermine my position here? 

And I think–I don’t know. We can’t always do this kind of retroactive imagining. My guess, based on having written particularly about Hillary Clinton, but also observing these dynamics, is that it would have been she was playing the victim card. That she was making a big dramatic deal about something, that she was trying to portray–and I heard that said about her a million times in a million other instances over the years. She was trying to portray herself as having been victimized when she wasn’t. 

I mean think about how people talked about her when she spoke too closely into a microphone or raised her voice. And she was running against two opponents from both the left and the right who could marshall anger on their own behalf and were very talented about it in their own ways. And in fact were correctly credited for being vessels of the anger that their supporters were feeling. 

And yet whenever she–and she was correctly criticized for not being the easiest orator or a particularly compelling communicator. And yet every time she’s–and she was talked about as inauthentic because she wasn’t angry, she didn’t have the passion, she couldn’t connect to her supporters. 

And yet whenever she did try to speak with passion, and I was in rooms with her when she did, the reaction would be “she’s yelling, stop, her voice.” And I have you know, there are 25 examples of people saying this, you know. So she was in a position, and she’s not alone in this. 

And so the math–I don’t think she was wrong about that equation. I don’t think–and I think that’s what, we have a fantasy that we would have gotten behind her like “yeah, you know, tell him off.” I don’t know that that’s how our media, the media that translates for us what we see, I don’t know that that’s how they would have read the situation. I cannot see like Joe and Mika being like “yeah Hillary,” right? I think they would have stroked their chins and said, “but do you think that she was playing up the woman card?”  Right? 

Lara Bazelon: Right. 

Rebecca Traister: And that’s what she was–and that’s the math. And it’s you know, that’s one of the things that was so striking to me as I was reporting this book. It’s one of the things we don’t talk about, is how much of that math we all do in our head, even if we’re not Hillary Clinton. 

This is something that Barbara Lee, the congresswoman who represents Oakland, may represent many of you. Yes. Who is my longtime political hero. She describes this to me in the book. You know, when she finally, after 15 years of–she was the only member of the House of Representatives who voted against the Authorization for the Use of Military Force in the wake of 9/11.  And has spent the, you know, now 17 years since advocating for its repeal.

And she finally got bipartisan support for repeal of the AUMF in the summer of 2017. And then that repeal was stripped from the bill in the middle of the night for no reason by Paul Ryan and she had every reason to be livid. And she went in front of the rules committee and described to me for this book how careful she was to not show her anger. 

And again, she had every rational reason to be furious. And she knew she couldn’t because–and this is, she talks about this in the book–that if she expressed her rage, she would become the angry black woman. She would become a caricature. And it would fundamentally undermine her position.

So there is this understanding that we all have. And we have it when we’re in a supermarket or at our jobs or within our personal relationships, that we’re constantly doing the calculations about what it will cost us to reveal what’s actually going on in our heads if we’re angry.  

Lara Bazelon: So I want to turn the conversation to the people who are doing that math. And in particular talk about the fact, the unalterable fact, that 53 percent of white women voted for Donald Trump, a man who famously bragged about grabbing women by the genitals and who has been credibly accused of sexual harassment and also sexual assault by numerous women. Those are his personal decisions. 

Then there are his political platforms, which are also not particularly woman-friendly. And to some degree, I think, we saw this pattern repeat itself in the 2018 election. So for example, the decision by a majority of white women to vote against Stacey Abrams in the race for the governor for Georgia. So I have a basic question for you. Why? 

Rebecca Traister: Well, that’s a question that has really deep historic roots. It’s very interesting that the question of how, and the sort of spotlight that has been shown on how white women vote, wound up garnering attention in the wake of an election, in which there was a white woman on the presidential ballot.

There was some presumption that white women were going to band together and vote for Hillary Clinton. There is nothing in history that suggests to us that that was going to happen. It has long been a myth, supported by the fact that there is a gender gap. Ever since they’ve been tracing the gender gap, which is since 1980 and only since 1980, the sort of basic math is more women vote Democratic than men. The vast bulk of those women are women of color, 94% of whom voted for Hillary Clinton.

And then it comes down to about half and half of white women. That has been true, the majority of white women have voted for Republicans–or at least been shown by the exit polls, and those numbers differ a little bit from what some of the later data winds up showing, but they, you know, it’s pretty even–that the majority of white women have voted for the Republicans in all but two elections since they’ve been keeping track, and that began in 1952.

And the only two elections in which a majority of white women were shown to have voted for the Democrat was 1992, when, if we remember, Bill Clinton ran on a campaign that was explicitly tough-on-crime and went back to Arkansas in the middle of his campaign to execute Ricky Ray Rector. And in 1996 when Ross Perot ran and confusingly a large proportion of people voted for him and so. So except for those two years the majority of white women…Now, it’s closer to half and half than white men, which is also part of what creates the yawning gender gap.

And as for why. I think that there’s this idea, you know, yes women are voting against their interests when it comes to gender inequality, but when you’re talking about a Republican party that in its contemporary form, and going back now many decades, is basically on the side of a white capitalist patriarchy, many of them are voting for their racial interests.  

And there are incentives on the table for those who derive benefits from white supremacy to defend that white supremacy and support it. And even to defend the patriarchy on which lots of women find themselves, dependant. 

Lara Bazelon: So I’m glad you brought up the fault line of race and feminism because that leads into my next question, which is actually a request that you read aloud from a part of your book where you talk about Audre Lorde and her important work “The Uses of Anger.” And so I’m going to ask you if you would not mind to do that for us now. 

Rebecca Traister: So just to be clear, these are Audre Lorde’s words, written in 1981, not mine. Okay. 

“For black women and white women to face one another’s angers without denial or immobility or silence or guilt is in itself a heretical and generative idea,” wrote Lorde, arguing that the honest expression of anger between women of different races is necessary if coalition-building is ever going to happen.

This is her again. “It implies peers meeting upon a common basis to examine differences and to alter those distortions which history has created around our difference. For it is those distortions which separate us, and we must ask to ask ourselves, who profits from this? The angers between women,” Lorde argued, “can transform difference through insight into power. For anger between peers births change, not destruction. And the discomfort and sense of loss it often causes is not fatal, but a sign of growth.”

Lara Bazelon: So as you pointed out those words were written in 1981, which was over three decades ago. How close are we as white women and women of color to forming a coalition that, to paraphrase the activist Alicia Garza, is more interested in being free than it is at being angry with one another?

Rebecca Traister: Hmm. I think that the conversation that has unfolded over the course of the past two years, and part of what has happened in the past two years, is that a massive population of women have come to anger, many of them for the first–political anger–many of them for the first time in their adult lives. And a lot of those women are white suburban women. And they have come to a place of political anger that has long been occupied by many women of color who have never not been angry and civically active and engaged and engaged in the fight and the struggle.  

And I think that one of the things that marks this iteration of a women’s movement, and I don’t want to, I’m not offering like cookies, but I think that one of the things that I want to continue to mark this moment is an insistence that we have these kinds of conversations. And they are happening, they happen imperfectly.

The organization of the first Women’s March is a great example of that happening. Because there was an insistence–the Women’s March was born in part when two white women, separately, on the night of the election, became so enraged by the election of Donald Trump, and they said on Facebook, we’re going to have a Women’s March. Okay. 

The initial planning–and they got tens of thousands of responses overnight. Great, people wanted to come to Washington and have a Women’s March. And at that point it was organized by white women in the wake of an election in which exit polls showed that 52 percent of white women had voted for Donald Trump.

And the first impulse was to name the Women’s March the Million Woman March. With no acknowledgement that that event under that name had been organized in Philadelphia by women of color, 500,000 women marched in 1997 in Philadelphia. 

And the possibility that this demonstration was just going to replicate so many of the errors that marked previous iterations of women’s movements in which white middle-class women came to rage and then appropriated so much of the work and took over the the perspectives and began to reshape a movement that had long been in process, where women of color had done the groundbreaking thinking and work and more socially and economically powerful women came in and sort of took it over. There was a real risk of that. 

And so other women came in from other movements, a multiracial coalition of leaders. And they insisted that we have the conversation–that those who wanted to participate in a Women’s March in January of 2017 have a conversation–about appropriation, about racism within a women’s movement, about the broadening of ideological commitments and political commitments, insisted that the March not just be about gender as viewed through a white middle-class lens, but include domestic workers, foreign policy issues, environmental racism, indigenous groups. 

And there was all kinds of prognostication at the time that this–and it did create friction, and Linda Sarsour, one of the organizers, told me at the time, echoing Lorde, “contentious  dialogue is by design. We don’t want this to be easy because this is hard.” 

And there was all kinds of coverage that suggested that the contentiousness over that first gathering was going to dissolve it. That white women were being made so uncomfortable by these conversations that they weren’t going to come. That march turned out should be the single biggest one-day political protest in this country’s history. Yes.

And you know, we just had another day of women’s marches in which again that difficult dialogue–and in that case drawing in one of the leaders of the National Women’s March coalition, there was a conversation about anti-Semitism and racism and the roots, the sort of twisted roots of resentment within Progressive coalitions. And it was really hard and people were really angry and people still came out.

And I think that this–are we closer to fixing it, no, we are eons away from fixing anything. But I think an insistence on making sure it remains hard and not pretending that it can be easy is one of the things that we all have to commit to if we want it to be better moving forward. 

Lara Bazelon: I’m glad you brought up the Women’s March that just happened in 2019, because I had wanted to ask you about it anyway. And part of my asking is for you to maybe more specifically talk about what was going on that caused the fracturing. And I agree with you that people still came out, but they did not come out in the same numbers. And as a result of the splintering, and there were different marches organized by different people… 

Are you saying that that is part of a healthy process and that essentially this needed to happen so that a bigger coalition could ultimately form?  

Rebecca Traister: Yes, I mean there are things–in terms of what needs to happen. I, for example, didn’t know at any point that we needed to have an annual Women’s March event.

Lara Bazelon: Right. 

Rebecca Traister: And in fact, I have tremendous anxiety about that being an expectation, because I write a lot in the book about how unseriously the first Women’s March was taken, and I went back and I watched the sort of news shows the day after. 

Again, the single biggest one-day political protest in the country’s history. And it was global, it was around the country, it was on all seven continents including Antarctica. It was in tiny towns and big cities. It was everywhere. And I went back and I looked at you know, the fact that George Stephanopoulos didn’t ask a single question about it the next morning on ABC. 

So knowing how unseriously that first Women’s March was taken, I also know that political media will be the first to jump on the idea that the Women’s March is falling apart. I mean they–and now the feminist movement that has been reborn in recent years is now in abbeyance. 

Lara Bazelon: I’m so glad you brought that up because I do feel like–and I want to get your take on this–that as you say, it was under covered when it was this smashing breakout huge coalition.

And then there was this huge focus it seemed by the media in portraying what happened in 2019 as a catfight. And essentially women tearing each other down, which is this narrative that I think the media tends to glom onto and that is very destructive and counterproductive. 

So I wanted to get your sense of, was there just an overhyping of the fracturing of the second march in the same way that there was just a kind of ignoring of the importance of the first one?

Rebecca Traister: If you go back and look at the story and that was written in the New York Times in advance of the first march. The first one. It is about the tensions and fractures within the potential coalition that was being brought together for the first march. It leads with a white woman from North Carolina who gets upset about being confronted about racism and says, “I’m not, you know, I’m not racist but I don’t feel welcome at this march. I’m not going to go to the Women’s March.” It’s published a couple weeks in advance of that first march. 

And it basically raises the question of, is the contentious dialogue that’s being forced here going to drive away people, because there’s too much fractiousness within the women’s movement? Then you had the biggest single-day protest in the country’s history. 

The next year, when, by the way, the national organizing committee had no role. Tamika Mallory, Carmen Perez, Linda Sarsour and Bob Bland were in Nevada doing a get out the vote event. That was all local marches that came together for a nearly–I cover women in politics. I didn’t know there was going to be a second Women’s March until like ten days before, and I was like, really, we’re doing this again? 

And in many cities it was actually bigger the second year. I mean in part because not as many people went to DC, but those demonstrations in that second year were as big in many cases as they had been the first year, and that was very spontaneous organizing and not orchestrated by the National Committee. 

But 10 days before that second march happened, there was a piece in the New York Times, and I think the headline is like “a year later, more divided.” Okay, that’s really the headline. And I don’t mean to criticize the reporter, because it’s not inaccurate. This year, again, so much of the reporting was about the division.

This has been something that has plagued every iteration of a women’s movement and it’s never been wrong, but it’s also not unique–it’s particular to a women’s movement because women are an oppressed majority. So a movement that aims to liberate women is a movement that in its nature is trying to represent the perspectives and experiences and priorities of a majority population, which is an incredibly unwieldy task.

And there is always, it is by its nature–I used to argue before, before I got to writing this book and I used to get these questions all the time writing about feminism, and I always used to say that fractiousness was a sign of the health of the women’s movement. Because if you’re trying to represent a population that big and you’re not fighting about how to best do it, you might as well be dead.

Like there’s no–the way that I know that a woman’s movement is thriving is because there’s argument about how we move forward. Because there is no one clearer unified picture. 

It is also true, and I have to say, that that fractiousness is not unique to the women’s movement. Any progressive coalition from abolition through the labor movement, the gay rights movement, the Civil Rights Movement, the new left, the environmental movement, all replicate the inequalities. Even these progressive coalitions within them are riven by racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, classism. That is the nature of inequality in this country. 

So. I think that yes, the enthusiasm for suggesting that a women’s coalition is inevitably going to fall to its own internal divisions is both rooted in reality, that this is part of what imperils coalitions of enormous numbers of people with differing perspectives and experiences. But it’s also the desire of people who fundamentally don’t want to take seriously the threat of that coalition and the threat that it poses. 

And that’s the same impulse behind not taking it seriously when millions of women do come together, not in spite of their divisions, but in the midst of them, and say, even though we’re fighting and even though this is hard and even though we’re disagreeing, we are coming together to show that we are connected by our fury at what’s happening around us.

That’s very threatening. That’s very disruptive. When you have a demonstration that is that big. And so the desire to pretend that that didn’t happen or that it wasn’t serious or that the people who participated weren’t really going to do anything about it, they were just marching and they had the hats, whatever.

I think that’s not so divorced from the desire to then say, “Oh, look look, look they’re fighting and the numbers are falling off. And so they’re probably not posing any real threat to the power structure anymore.” 

Lara Bazelon: So along the lines of women potentially posing a threat to the power structure, you wrote a piece recently talking about the results of the 2018 election, the unprecedented number of women who were elected, women of all races, ethnicities, gay and straight, different religions all across the country. 

And of course, we have some rising stars we hear about all the time. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for example, most famously. Other women. And you write in this piece that when people like AOC or Rashida Tlaib or Ayanna Presley come forward with policy positions, what often hits them in the face are these incredibly personalized vitriolic attacks. 

And what you theorize in this piece is, we have this moment where we have enough women in power who have been elected for the first time in our history that they could band together, act in solidarity in defense of each other, and even exact political revenge, which is of course the counter-narrative of the cat fight. And I was wondering if you see that happening?

Rebecca Traister: Yeah. 

Lara Bazelon: And if it does happen…And if you do see it happening, if you think that the people who are perpetuating these very ad hominem attacks are going to feel the effects of that in ways they’ve not before? 

Rebecca Traister: Well, I think they’ll feel the effects of it if the policy positions wind up gaining support and gaining strength. I mean, that’s one of the questions is, to what effect is this happening? And if it happens in a way where you know, and all of this is very, you know, we still have a executive branch and a senate that is controlled by a you know, incredibly regressive and punitive Republican party. So I don’t mean to be blowing smoke right?

But if part of what the banding together produces…In part, it produces a kind of surface social support, right. One of the most stunning things that I saw in the past couple of months–and this is very surface. After Rashida Tlaib cursed and said “impeach the motherfucker.”  And this cycle of like, “oh, I can’t believe,” you know, of outrage that she would say this began. 

And I have you know, like, you know, I’ve been on this ride before, right, and what’s supposed to happen is then she’s supposed to sort of say like, “I’m sorry, I obviously feel very strongly about this, but I used language that I don’t…” And she didn’t do that. And I was like, that’s hat’s off. And not only that, Nancy Pelosi didn’t rebuke her. 

And let me tell you, I mean, and this is, I’m somebody who was livid this summer when Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer rebuked Maxine Waters. I was livid. Because that’s the cycle. That’s how it happens, right, you know, especially a female lawmaker is aggressive and gets sort of shamed by a faux outraged conservative media. And then the party like does this sort of throws her under the bus, as I felt they did with Maxine Waters this summer. 

And so I was just absolutely expecting that. And Pelosi refused to apologize for Tlaib. Her colleagues, Ayanna Presley, AOC, Ilhan Omar all came to stand by her. She kept on making the jokes. I mean like, she’s out there, last week I saw her–maybe there  was some Mueller thing that was released–and she said “tick tock.” And I’m like, “damn. You’re making a motherfucker joke. This is incredible.” So that’s very surface. Okay. 

So there’s the surface and social performance of solidarity, which is important, it does matter, so that you’re not shamed into a defensive apologetic crouch. But where it will really matter is if they get a Green New Deal. If they push to actually do something about voter suppression. If they make policy that protects and expands a social safety net. 

And again, I say that knowing full well that that ask right now is, at least for now, structurally very difficult to impossible. And yet if they amass the popular support for that within the house and then–I mean, this is the question. The threat they pose in part depends on the policy they say they’re committed to making. 

And if they make that policy, not necessarily in the next year or two years, but in coming years, then I mean they will be more vilified than we can possibly imagine, but that’s what they’re scared of. That’s what the opposition is scared of.  

Lara Bazelon: So I’m going to turn to another subject that has gotten a lot of attention recently, and that is the Me Too movement. And I’m going to start by asking you to tell a really harrowing story of a personal experience that you had with Harvey Weinstein in 2000, although you’ll have to tell the PG version. 

Rebecca Traister: Oh, but I already was not PG. 

Lara Bazelon: But you don’t have–I guess they’ll just block it out for the radio broadcast. It’s fine. 

Rebecca Traister: Okay. 

Lara Bazelon: Cut loose. And after telling the R-rated version maybe you can also just share with us what you took away from that, because we have to all remember that that was 19 years ago.

Rebecca Traister: So I should also say that my story, the story I’m about to tell, compared to, first of all, the other stories told about Harvey Weinstein and so many of the other people whose you know, who have told stories, mine is actually not harrowing in the same way. It’s not a story of sexual harassment or sexual assault.

I was a young reporter. It was the night before, I can, you know, pinpoint it to the day. It was the night before the 2000 election. A Monday night. And I was a young reporter writing the gossip column the New York Observer, which was a weekly newspaper. And I was working on my first reported feature and it actually had to do with election politics.

I was covering the film industry and I was writing about a movie that Miramax and its sister company, brother company, Dimension was not releasing in part because–and the allegation at the root of the story was that it was because Harvey Weinstein was embedded in that kind of cringey Gore-Lieberman, like clean media campaign. I don’t know if any of you are old enough to remember this. And that he wanted a position within a Gore-Lieberman Administration and so was not releasing “O,” which was a very violent high school retelling of Othello. 

And I was reporting this story. And I was a young reporter and I tried to get a comment from Harvey Weinstein by calling Miramax over and over again, and he hadn’t responded, and so my colleague–who ironically I also happened to be dating at the time–he was the gossip columnist at the time. And he was going to cover a party that Harvey Weinstein was throwing in Manhattan, and my editor said “you should go with Andrew. And you can get him in person and you can get him to comment and then you can publish your story.” I just needed his comment, his response to the allegations in the story. 

And I went to this party and it was like a schmancy book party in a hotel lobby and I walked up to Harvey Weinstein and I asked him about this movie that he wasn’t releasing and he said something totally bland and banal like “that’s my brother’s movie. I don’t have anything to do with it.” And then walked away from me. And I thought, well that was nothing, but at least I got the comment. And I started to walk over to get a drink or something, and he came back to me and he said “by the way, that was off the record.”  

And I said, I don’t know, in retrospect and thinking of myself at that age, I don’t actually know how I had the wherewithal to say this, but I said “Harvey that’s not how it works. I identified myself as a reporter and you know perfectly well that if you want to say something off the record, you say ‘off the record.'” And he started to grab my tape recorder, and I held onto it and I said “Harvey you can’t do this.” 

And he started to scream at me and berate me and point at me and he started shoving my shoulder with his finger and he lost control completely and he called me a cunt and said, you know, “I can’t believe you came into this party. You’re not allowed here. I’m glad I’m the sheriff of this piece of shit fucking town.” Screaming things that were just incomprehen–like it didn’t make any sense.

He was so full of rage, and he was pushing me, pushing me, pushing me. And at some point my colleague came over and interrupted him and calmed him down and said “tell me about the book party,” and he like went back to being normal Harvey. I like got our bags and I was like, “let’s go.” And at that point my colleague Andrew said, “I want you to apologize to Rebecca.” And I was like, “noooo, I don’t…” 

And at that point he went ballistic and he pushed Andrew off. He again started screaming obscenities, pushed Andrew down a step. He was holding his own, we were both holding our tape recorders up to try–that was the only defense we had. And he pushed Andrew down a step, Andrew’s tape recorder hit a woman who passed out and actually had I think long-term damage, and then took Andrew out onto the street on 6th Avenue and put him in a headlock and started pounding his head.

So. And this is the night before the 2000 election.  So I had encountered the ferocity of Harvey Weinstein. And the thing that I remembered most was his use of power. Because here’s the thing about that story. We’re at a book party. All of this happened in front of 80 people, a hundred people. There was press there. It was a book party. It was meant to be covered by reporters and photographers. 

When Harvey took this young reporter out on Sixth Avenue in Manhattan and started pounding his head, he was surrounded by a dozen photographers. Flashes were going off. To this day I never saw a photograph of Andrew in the headlock, because by the time we got out of there that night, all the pictures had been destroyed.

He spun it in his own way. I had been the disruptive one. I had broken into his party.  I had made him uncomfortable. I’d been a pushy reporter. The irony of the language of pushiness when he had in fact pushed me and literally pushed Andrew off a step. I was a pushy reporter who’d come into his party. 

And what I understood was what power meant, that he could transform a story that was witnessed–there’s no explanation for how like a physically enormous and extremely powerful man could have behaved that way to two reporters in their 20s at a book party and had that you know, and that be rational, but that’s how it was reported everywhere, including in the New York Times. That we had barged into this party and created a scene.

And so that was an enormous lesson for me in how power could work to suppress a story and to alter a story. And after, because it was in the papers, although admittedly the day of the 2000 election when bigger things were in the papers, afterwards people started to–other reporters who were trying to get the story of his sexual predation, knowing that I had experienced a sort of physical and verbal altercation with him, would come to me. 

And over the years I tried to help the reporters who were trying to report the Harvey story. Because I began to hear, I knew, lots of people knew, but it was an impossible story to report. And over the course of between 2000 and October 5th, 2017–seventeen years–I talked to so many reporters who traveled around the world trying to get the story of Harvey Weinstein as a serial rapist and harasser, the best reporters in the world, and they couldn’t get the story.  And I watched that happen over 17 years. And it was a huge lesson in how power worked.

Lara Bazelon: So. First of all, thank you for sharing that story in such a raw and direct way. I have a follow-up question, which is, since you’ve felt that you had the power and you had the platform to tell the true story of what happened that night, have you had witnesses to that event give you the satisfaction of acknowledging that it happened in the way that you said or has your account been reinforced in any way that has been satisfying to you? 

Rebecca Traister: No, but in fairness, I think it’s because that story paled.

I only, I mean it’s a little bit of a complicated answer because the other part, the other thing that happened in the wake of that–and this is also about women’s voices and perspectives. I again was a 25 year old reporter, this was my first feature that I was reporting. And my editors at the time, including the man who sent me to that party that night, they urged me, “don’t talk to the press when they call you. Don’t talk to the press.” And I was real scout about this, and I didn’t talk to any reporters who called me, because my bosses said not to. But my colleague did and my bosses did. 

And so the way the story was told, the defense was that Andrew had behaved chivalrously. And there was no rebuttal offered for the idea that I was this pushy reporter who pushed her way into the party. And I was livid about that at the time, because I saw, I mean you can go back and read it. Nobody just said the thing that I wanted them to say, and I was very young and I didn’t quite have the words for it, but I eventually mustered them, which was, why didn’t anybody say I was doing my job? 

I’d been sent there by my boss. I had every right to be there. I was a reporter. It was a book party. The press was invited. There was no barging into a private party. Nobody just said “she was doing her job.” 

The defense was all like, well Andrew was very chivalrous and asked for the apology and he was helping his young–I was the Damsel in Distress. I hadn’t been in particular distress. I was horrified by what had happened. And I was very angry about it afterwards. But that’s how the story kept getting written for years. 

And I did talk to one other reporter who wrote a book and I offered my story to him and that was in a book by Peter Biskind. But I hadn’t ever–I tried to actually forget about that story. It made me angry. It made me upset. I was more interested in the bigger story about Harvey Weinstein, which I myself did not try to report, but I did try to help all the other reporters I knew who were working on it. 

So by the time I finally told that story under my own name, it was I think the day that the New York Times published its story on Harvey Weinstein and there were much bigger stories to corroborate. Andrew remembers it this way I think for the most part. 

I haven’t seen it, but he and I were both interviewed for a documentary about Harvey Weinstein that just premiered at Sundance, and I gather that he tells the story the same way. But no, I was actually hoping that somebody who was there who still had a picture would come forward and and show me the picture. But it didn’t happen. 

Lara Bazelon: I’m glad that you talked about your own complicated feelings and your own anger in connection with this story, because I did want to ask you specifically about that fast forwarding to the months and the days leading up to the 2016 election and it seems like there were two different things going on.

There was this anger that was sort of bubbling below the surface, but then for many progressive people it seemed like it was best to swallow it, because we were on this Post-Obama progressive trajectory and we were about to elect the first woman president and shatter that final glass ceiling. 

And it was, as you write, hip and enthusiastic and sex positive, in terms of sort of the way that feminism was being articulated. And that that was to some degree of the way that you articulated it and cabined your anger. And then of course we were on that trajectory and then emphatically we were not. And I’m wondering if you re-examine your relationship to your own anger after that?

Rebecca Traister: Absolutely. I have told the story, and I won’t tell it here except to say that I only thought of writing about anger after the election. I only thought of it that way, where I thought oh, I’m going to look directly at anger. Not just my own, but anger as a sort of clarifying theme throughout so much of the history in contemporary politics that I write about as a journalist. And it felt to some degree extremely clarifying, instead of thinking of anger as an obstructive or clouding force, to think of it as something that offered clarity and was a thread that helped me understand what I write about better. 

That sort of revelation officially only happened when I decided to write this book, which was literally the last week in December of 2016. In my post-election paralysis. However, when I went back at some point, and read the story that I had been forced to file on November 8th before I left for the Javits Center.

And that story–I was never sure that Hillary Clinton was going to win the, I never felt, I was scared the whole time. But everybody assured me that Hillary Clinton was going to win. And as a person who had covered her extensively for more than a decade, I obviously had to write what was going to be the big story about the first woman becoming president. And I had to file it, as many reporters did, before the night it happened. 

And I had been trailing her around Pennsylvania the weekend before the election and I had been doing interviews–I couldn’t get her, but I’d been doing interviews with everybody else–and I’d written this story about the story of how we got to the first woman president.  

And when I finally got to a point where I could go back and look at that story that I filed at four o’clock in the afternoon on November 8th, it’s all about anger. The story that I thought I needed to tell without realizing it…And it’s not just–it was the story about the anger after the pussy tape. We forget that we had a massive hashtag campaign preceding the hashtag Me Too campaign. In the wake of that Access Hollywood tape with thousands, a million women and men telling stories about harassment, groping, assault. It was about that anger. 

It was about the anger in the wake of the Anita Hill hearings and how–this was trying to be a long history of how did we get to this place in terms of women in politics?  It was about the anger in the wake of the treatment of Anita Hill by an all-white, all-male Senate Judiciary in 1991 that was part of what led to the Year of the Woman. The election of four female senators in 1992, including the first ever African-American woman ever elected to the senate in 1992, Carol Moseley Braun. It was about that anger. 

It was, I had called Barbara Lee and talked to her about Shirley Chisholm’s 1972 campaign. And the anger that Shirley Chisholm had felt and suppressed at not having the full support of so many of her white colleagues in the feminist movement and her black colleagues in the Congressional Black Caucus.  That story that I filed that day was all about anger. But I didn’t think of it that way. 

But that was the history of women in politics that I instinctively was laying out on the day that I thought, or at least was being forced to behave as though, a woman was going to be elected president. 

Lara Bazelon: This is the final question I have because I know that many people sitting out here are going to have questions of their own and I want to give them the time and the space to ask those questions. And it kind of brings together a few things that we’ve been talking about. Women achieving political power, the Me Too movement.

One thing that concerns me is, I worry about what I think of is almost a ghettoization of women who got a certain amount of authority. And you point this out I think very effectively in “Good and Mad” when you talk about how, when it comes to Me Too and allegations involving prominent men, and it is always prominent women who are called upon to comment on them and serve as the judge, the jury, and the executioner.

And you talk about how people like Kirsten Gillibrand are put in this impossible position when it comes to men like Al Franken. No one is calling Mitch McConnell to ask him how he feels or even 

Rebecca Traister: Chuck Schumer 

Lara Bazelon: Chuck Schumer to see how Chuck Schumer feels. I mean, I guess we all know how Mitch McConnell feels. 

But right. Nobody is calling the male Senator next door. They want to know from these five women who have achieved this elite status, what’s the judgment that you’re going to pass on this person? And they’re not calling them for their comments necessarily about the tax bill or about immigration overhaul. It’s, okay you’re in power, but here’s the expertise that we’re going to afford you. And it is in this very Kavanaugh space that has to do with passing judgment on men for sexual transgressions. 

And I wonder if you believe, because you talked about this forward momentum, and it is a zig and a zag, but it does feel forward-moving, that we will get to a point where men will be called upon to comment too. That men will be asked, “hey, what’s it like to be a 44 year old running for congress and have three kids? How do you balance it all? 

That either we will be asking that question of every candidate regardless of gender, or we will be asking that question of no candidate. Do you see us getting to that point in our lifetime?

Rebecca Traister: In our lifetime? 

Lara Bazelon: Yes. I hope mine extends for, you know, a couple more decades. So yes. 

Rebecca Traister: No, not in our lifetime. I mean, no. I think we can get better in our lifetimes. I think we can make improvements. I think we’re in a period of seeing things change in front of our eyes. I think we’re in a period where me, the grinchy old cynic who never believed that Hillary Clinton was really going to win can be surprised that Rashida Tlaib doesn’t apologize, right. 

We can see the change happening in front of us, but I think sometimes, I think that we have a habit in this country of telling ourselves self flattering myths. And a lot of them we know, right. That we’re over racism, we’re over sexism, and we’re post-feminist, post-race, we elected Obama, that means we’re cool. Like right. We know that these are lies, right. But there’s another sort–that even those of us who know that the myth of permanently transformative or completionist progress is a myth. We also tell ourselves that we can fix things. 

And I hear this so much from a generation of women who were engaged in the second wave movement. And maybe some people here feel this way. I hear all the time from women of that generation, like, “I thought we’d fixed it.” And there’s a tremendous sense of grief and loss and disappointment and rage. Like we did this, we did this in the 70s. It’s like that sign that everybody loves, like “I can’t believe I’m still protesting this shit.” It’s like the idea that we addressed this and we thought we fixed it. 

And I think that that–I understand why we want to believe that we can do that work in our lifetimes, because we want to be motivated. You need the energy and the motivation to think we can make this better. We can fix it. We can fix it. And I believe that we can. But I believe that we also set ourselves up for failure when we think that we can undo millennia, you know centuries worth, of ingrained and systemic inequalities in a short period of time. 

And what we have to get more comfortable with is the fact that many of us, I hope all of us, can be prepared to spend our lifetimes engaged in a fight that we may not live to see won, that we likely won’t live to see won, but that we can make advances. 

And that that shouldn’t be defeating, but I hope inspiring. Because there are generations of people who came before us who gave their whole lives and their energy and their time to battles that they didn’t live to see won. And yet it’s only because of their willingness to give those lifetimes that we’re anywhere near where we are now. 

And I think that in some ways it shouldn’t be defeating, but deeply energizing and inspiring to think of ourselves as crucial components and actors within a very long American story trying to get to a country that is more just for more people. But that in order to feel like our energies are well spent, we don’t need to imagine that we can do it all in our lifetimes. It’s a relay. And it’s not just a relay between people right now, though that’s part of it too. Like you do some work, I’m going to, like we’ll spell each other. It’s a generational relay. 

And I think that that is…I would like to conceive of us actually coming to a point of comfort with that, because I think there’s too much–and this is not what you were saying, but I from being on the road, I hear people, “just 2020. We just need to get rid of Trump.” I think there’s short-term goals that are certainly crucial, but we don’t do ourselves or our future or our children or grandchildren or great-grandchildren any favors when we trick ourselves into thinking that victory’s right ahead of us.  

Lara Bazelon: So true.

Rebecca Traister, you are quite moving and brilliant. And now I will open it up for questions from the audience. I imagine there are many.

They’re going to come to you with a microphone. So just keep your hand up. I see a few of you. 

City Arts & Lectures: This question comes from the front of the orchestra to your far right.

Audience Member 1: Hey, I wonder how much do you believe that contextual events like the Trump election are really necessary or important for that very long struggle that you’ve outlined as not just sort of a very short-lived movement, but an intergenerational movement?

Rebecca Traister: Well, if in part the question is like, did this happen for a reason? Or are we somewhere better in terms of progressive activism because we’ve had this massive crisis, my answer is no. I would do anything, anything, to have a disappointing Hillary Clinton presidency right now.

And by the way, I’d like to say that maybe it would have been less disappointing than people think.  Not that we’ll ever know.  

I think it can be simultaneously true that this–I also think it’s crucial to understand that Trump is just one symptom and we have to be really clear on this. The getting rid of Trump–that this is what we have been building toward. That Trump comes to power on a wave of resentment that is much larger and much more deeply embedded in our institutions and systems, and has been for generations. And that he’s symptomatic of that. He himself is not the problem, though he is a massive problem. 

So there is no question that this emergency has catalyzed some coalition-building. I think that a lot of the activist energies–look Black Lives Matter was born in the Obama Administration. Occupy Wall Street, slut walks. Those were during the Obama Administration. The argument within the left around left Economic Policy was born within a Obama administration, I would say on a big stage at first around Elizabeth Warren. And then of course took the form of the Bernie Sanders campaign. 

I think there’s no chance that if Hillary Clinton had been elected president that there wouldn’t have been an active and extremely loud left flank that was critical of her in ways that I think would have been valuable to the broadening of and the leftward movement of a Democratic party that I agree was long overdue.  It would have happened more slowly. And Brett Kavanaugh would not be on the Supreme Court.

And make no mistake, I mean, this is in addition–when I say I would give anything for this not to be the case, that there is no molecule of me that thinks that it is good that Donald Trump is the president or that like heighten the contradictions or whatever.  Because what this Supreme Court will do is roll back the mechanisms that permit the masses to resist abuse.

And so the fact that there are coalitions building and that there’s a catalytic movement of progressive activism taking many forms, that is hobbled by the fact that we have a Supreme Court that is gutting and will continue, has already and will continue to gut voting rights, collective bargaining rights, affirmative action, Reproductive Rights. The very mechanisms that generations of previous activists have fought for to increase the possibility of fuller participation in liberty. 

So we are working at absolute odds, because the people at the top are trying to quell the ability of the masses to enact change. And that is incredibly perilous. 

So. I think that this movement would have come together around something, and I think it would have come together probably more slowly in other circumstances.  And I wish that these had not been the circumstances. But given that they are, am I glad that there is rage, anger, and movement on the left? Yes, because if there weren’t, it would be all over.

City Arts & Lectures: This question’s coming from the center of the orchestra to your right.

Audience Member 2: Hi, thank you. I find your anger inspiring. 

I wanted to get your thoughts on how we can best express our anger, especially when we are in scenarios in which we have to be civil. Often this includes the workplace, especially given everything that’s happening and the conversations that abound, and especially when we’re talking about internalized misogyny and racism and ableism. And this could be with other women and it could be between generations. Just really how to deal with that anger and get people to listen to that anger?

Rebecca Traister: Hmm. So one of the things about my book–it’s not particularly prescriptive. It’s much more descriptive of a set of circumstances and patterns that discourage the expression of anger or discourage the expression of anger from being taken seriously. 

And it’s very hard for me to give advice about how to better express your anger because it is impossible for me to give that advice without the acknowledgement that there are costs that people pay, there are prices that people pay, that vulnerable people pay, for expressing that anger. 

So if you’re angry for a completely rational reason because you are not paid the same as a you know, as a male peer for instance, and that is a completely reasonable reason for you to be angry at work, and you express that anger to your boss, I cannot tell you that there’s any way for you to express that fury in which you don’t risk getting a reputation as being difficult.  Or you know, getting in some way censured. Not getting a raise. Getting fired.  

There’s no way to pretend as though this world doesn’t enact punishments for the expression of even the most righteous and reasonable fury at injustice. When a woman of color is pulled over for no reason, if she expresses her very reasonable fury to an officer she risks death, injury, incarceration, arrest.  So I wouldn’t–I can’t tell you, there’s not a good answer for how to better express your rage.

Plus there are so many messages that you’re already sent. I guarantee you. You have a hundred and fifty voices in your head already telling you not to talk in this tone or to be tough or you go girl or whatever. So I wouldn’t venture to join that chorus. 

The one thing I can tell you. The only thing that’s prescriptive about my book, and my ideas about what do we do with our anger, and it’s a word you used at the end of your question. The one thing we can do is change the way that the anger at injustice and anger at inequality is received. And how do we do that? By listening to it differently ourselves. 

And so rather than giving any advice about how to better express your fury–because I don’t know your circumstances and they may well have you in a bind–the thing I can tell you is to listen for the anger that’s around you. Listen for the anger of other people. Seek out people who you suspect are angry about the same or similar things that you are. Befriend them. Find networks of support. Perhaps organize along side of them.  

Those–I think we talk a lot about anger’s destructive properties, and they’re very real. That you know, it can explode bonds between people. Friends and enemies. That it can be very divisive. And that’s all true. 

But anger can also be enormously connective. And that’s one of the reasons that the anger of vulnerable or marginalized people is discouraged. Because if it’s expressed and those angry people begin to compare notes and work together, that’s the building block of coalition and organizing. 

So the only advice I can offer is not about different forms of expression, it’s about different forms of reception. And to try to listen differently to the voices around you and find support and networks of other people who might be similarly frustrated.

City Arts & Lectures: This question comes from the Orchestra to your left. 

Audience Member 3: Hi, thanks. So I have a question about–I agree with you that it’s all about power. And you have had an opportunity to meet a lot of women who have achieved powerful positions. You know Maxine Waters, Hillary Clinton. And I think, I actually thought this about the book “The Power,” the YA novel, right?

Rebecca Traister: Oh my God, that book is amazing. Everybody go read “The Power.” It’s fascinating.

Audience Member 3: But it’s also kind of a bummer right, because she’s sort of posits that with this power, you know, women are also, you know…It’s a revenge fantasy, but it also doesn’t turn out that great for anybody. And so I guess I’m just curious about, with your access to women in power, you know, what have you learned from them and from how it all shakes out when we actually get anywhere? 

Rebecca Traister: So “The Power,” which is by, it’s a novel by Naomi Alderman. And it is this sort of meditation on what if women actually had kind of a new kind of physical power where they could inflict physical pain and harm on men. It melted my brain. I recommend it to everyone.  

And what she posits is that if women gained the physical advantage, that they would behave in ways that are just as corrupt and punitive as men. And I want to say that in theory, this is something I have long agreed with. Always. I mean people for years–long before I started writing about this or thinking even in broader structural theoretical terms, when I was just sort of in a quite a rudimentary way writing about women in politics–I often was asked about the sort of essentialist view that you know, women in politics are more collaborative. 

And you see this reflected everywhere. It’s something that for example, you know, I hear the female candidates talk about. You know, if we had women in power, you know, we’d all work together and we’d talk. And the women, you know get together and actually make the budget work.

And by the way, that’s true, but that’s not actually women with the power. It’s women who are still within a minority and not having that kind of power, have been led to behaviors that offer them strength, like collaboration, networking, working together to gain more authority in numbers, the stuff we’re talking about here.

It’s not–and when you talk about somebody like Hillary Clinton, or the powerful members of Congress, you’re still talking about people who are, if not onlies, then members of minorities. And so I don’t think we can extrapolate…

I mean this is, people always try to do this around, you know, the female CEOs and Sheryl Sandberg and look at what happens when a woman gains power, but that’s actually not…They’re still extraordinary only representatives who have actually found their way to the top of structures that were not built with them in mind.

And so I don’t know that we can extrapolate from any of these individual examples what would it be like if there actually was not just an equal–A, what would it be like if there were an equal distribution of power across gender, race, all of it? What would actual representative power–how would it function? We can’t begin to imagine that. And no election of you know, sort of a larger group within a minority is going to actually show us that. No election of a single non-white, non-male president is going to show us that. Because these are still extraordinary anomalous examples. 

But I have long believed–and I don’t think we’re in any danger of this happening, not only not in our lifetimes, but in you know, several generations to come after us, but I actually believe that if there were some circumstance that created a reversal of power, of course, I believe the people who have a disproportionate share of power are quite likely to abuse it.  

You see that–I mean, it’s not just white men who are accused of sexual abuse and harassment. People who have an unhealthy grip on power don’t typically use it well. And you know, that’s my observation of it anyway. 

Lara Bazelon: Amen. 

Rebecca Traister: And so if there were some supernatural circumstance that left women with anything like the grip on public, professional, political, economic, sexual and social power that men have had, I don’t diverge from Naomi Alderman in believing that it would probably be kind of a bummer. I don’t think that privileging one faction of a population ends well for any other factions of the population.

City Arts & Lectures: We have a question from the back towards your right. 

Audience Member 4: Ahhhh…..

Rebecca Traister: Oh wait.

Audience Member 4: Yes! 

Rebecca Traister: Is that you? 

Audience Member 4: It’s Goddess-zilla! 

Rebecca Traister: Oh my God. 

Audience Member 4: It’s Goddess-zilla. 

Rebecca Traister: Oh my God. This is incredible. Okay. Can I tell the… 

Audience Member 4: I have an unhealthy grip on power. Yes. We added a safe place to express anger. All of us. Let’s do it. Now. Raaghhhhh. It feels so good, Rebecca. 

Rebecca Traister: Should I tell the story? 

Lara Bazelon: I think you should probably explain that. 

Rebecca Traister: Okay. Thank you so much. 

Lara Bazelon: And after you explain what just happened we’re going to have to end because nothing could top what just happened.  

Rebecca Traister: In the book I write about…Oh my God, I can’t believe Goddess-zilla is here. In the book I write about an assignment that I had. I was given this assignment in 2015 looking toward knowing that Hillary Clinton was going to run in 2016. 

And one of my very favorite editors in magazines said “hey, do you want to write about this crazy documentary?” It was a documentary made about the 1972 Democratic Convention. It was the year that Shirley Chisholm ran for the presidency, and it was the year that the National Women’s Caucus met at the Democratic Convention.

And there had been a documentary that was made, financed, you know, it was an all-women crew, and a feminist poet had directed this documentary. And then for whatever reason it had been kind of locked up. It had shown for five nights to sold-out crowds and then somebody had bought it and not distributed it and nobody had really seen it since 1973.

And so it was this kind of thing trapped in amber. And that 1972 convention if, like I mean, I’ve written about women in politics, you write about the 1972 convention, it’s also something–because the feminists were there, because Shirley Chisholm was running, the journalism about it had been extraordinary. 

Nora Ephron wrote a very famous piece about it, Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan had been there and very much at odds, there had been a huge debate about support for Chisholm and an abortion plank and George McGovern screwing over the feminists. I mean, it’s this big dramatic convention. And I’d written, I read all these accounts of it, but I never imagined that I would ever see video of it. And I wrote about this documentary. 

And it is it’s an incredible documentary, it’s called “Year of the Woman.” And it’s so a time capsule of that 1970s performative feminist rage. It has incredible people in it. Flo Kennedy, who’s one of my favorite feminists from the 70s. Flo Kennedy is like in all of her glory. 

And there are–and one of the things, one of the demonstrations that Flo and some of the other feminists participate in at the Democratic Convention a whole bunch of news guys, including like Dan Rather and Morley Safer and all the 60 Minutes guys are sitting on the convention floor during an off period reading their papers, smoking cigarettes, and the women come down to yell at them about how they weren’t covering Shirley Chisholm. And they weren’t covering the abortion plank and they weren’t covering the women at the convention. And the guys mock them. 

And these women–the response is to put on papier mâché lizard masks and scream like “we’re not freaks!” But they’re wearing papier mâché lizard masks. And watching it through a contemporary lens, you’re like huhhh. 

But when I wrote about it in 2015–again, I was always writing about anger before I was officially writing about anger–what struck me was the rawness of this fury that you could be so angry that you have Shirley Chisholm running for president and you can’t get 60 Minutes to cover her speech. And you are so angry that it somehow makes sense to put a papier mâché  Lizard Head on your head and yell at Dan Rather.

And it spoke to me of the time–a time that, I mean I was born in 1975, so it was before I was born, and that I’d read about, but I couldn’t–and it was so evocative for me and I couldn’t imagine in 2015, and I wrote this at the time. Here we were worried about you know, the woman is not the outsider. Everybody’s covering her, you know, the networks are covering. She’s the establishment. This is Hillary Clinton. We can’t even imagine a time of being so frantically furious at the margins that it would call for that level of rage.  

And then I mean, this is, I write this at the beginning of the the book, the year of the second Women’s March in January of 2018, I was flipping through Instagram on the way home from the second Women’s March, and I saw a picture of a woman in a papier mâché lizard mask and big lizard feet and big lizard boobs with a sign that says “Goddess-zilla Got Woke.”

It’s in, there’s a picture. There’s a picture of her I think, maybe I don’t know. I write about it. And I never knew–it was just on a friend’s Instagram. I write about it, I’d never…But it was in the Bay Area. It’s her.

And that–you couldn’t put it more poetically. That, right, the Goddess-zilla, that crazy emblem of a frantic rage, got woke. 

Lara Bazelon: You are so awesome. Thank you, Rebecca Traister. She will be in the lobby to sign books for those of you who would like a signed copy. Thank you everyone for coming.