Angry mothers have a better shot at being heard than childless women, Rebecca Traister, author of Good and Mad, suggests. Traister unpacks female rage, arguing that it's more palatable framed as a maternal instinct.
Good and Mad is a history of women's anger and how it's shaped society and politics in the United States. Despite the reality that women's anger has ignited movements for progress that has largely changed the course of society, women's anger has also “been received — and often vilified or marginalized — in ways that have reflected the very same biases that provoked it," Traister says.
The author shares stories of women who've publicly expressed outrage and were belittled or penalized because of it. She references Caitlin Marriot, the congressional intern who was suspended for yelling a profanity at Donald Trump; Emma González, the 19-year-old who spoke out about legislators' inaction on gun safety following the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting; Senators Kamala Harris and Kirsten Gillibrand who've been criticized and called "hysterical" and "positively unglued" for using aggressive tones with men during hearings. The list goes on.
But mothers, Traister points out, are usually exempt from the backlash. Historically, women who express anger on behalf of their children or familial matters tend to see better results than those who are publically expressive in other ways. When anger is packaged as mothers' protective anger, in other words, Traister says it's taken more seriously.
Examples include Mary Harris Jones ("Mother Jones"), who fought for miners' and laborers' rights in the late 1800s, calling them "her boys." And Senator Patty Murray, who became known as "just a mom in tennis shoes," was recognized for driving to the Washington State Capitol with her two children to speak on state cuts to preschool funding. Traister also references the "Mama Grizzlies" — the women who protested and ran for office during the Tea Party uprising in 2010.
"These women voicing their anger and throwing around their political weight weren’t caricatured as ugly hysterics; instead they were permitted to cast themselves as patriotic moms on steroids," Traister writes.
Traister's words back up a 2015 study that found that expressing anger can influence how people perceive you. And, to little surprise, people perceive angry women differently than they do angry men. According to the research, men are able to exert more social pressure by expressing anger, whereas women actually lose influence when they do the same thing.
Good and Mad also backs up the results of a 2008 study that found that men gain status, while women lose it, after expressing anger. That's because men are presumed to be angry for a reason, and women’s anger is often seen as a reflection of internal characteristics like the tendency to get "out of control."
Perhaps because of stereotypical, prescribed gender roles, society generally anticipates that mothers would get "out of control" when it comes to protecting and caring for their families. And, for that reason, mothers get more free passes when they're angry because they're not disturbing role prescriptive gender stereotypes.
After all, a wealth of research suggests that when women don't act in accordance with what society expects of them, they're far less "likable."
AnnaMarie Houlis is a feminist, a freelance journalist and an adventure aficionado with an affinity for impulsive solo travel. She spends her days writing about women’s empowerment from around the world. You can follow her work on her blog, HerReport.org, and follow her journeys on Instagram @her_report,