The Once & Only 19th Amendment Centennial Course: A 2020 Blog: Challenges, Questions, Changes for the Centennial of the renewed Women’s Movement (1968-2068 or 2120)

Week 13, Finale

To end the course we did some of the obvious things – look back at what we did, think about what we learned, think about the implications of the past for the present and future.

But most of the discussion revolved around the final reading for the course, selections from Rebecca Traister, Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger (Simon & Schuster, 2018). It was clear from the blog posts this week that many of the students resonated strongly to this reading. They found it a good avenue to use to understand their feelings of anger – one said it was “healing.” A couple of the students considered it in light of having to live at home during the Covid-19 pandemic, and dealing with parents whose views were very different from their own. One thought her father was egging her on with his own right-wing views, then would goad her when she got upset by asking why she got so emotional about it.

We first discussed anger in both an abstract way, and in the context of the book. What is anger? What is emotion? What does it mean to “control” one’s feelings? To be criticized for showing anger? We discussed neuroscientific and cognitive research on anger and other feelings, which shows that emotions are visceral, bodily responses involving breath, pulse, blood flow, etc often relating to “fight or flight” reactions. The emotions have to be understood, named, interpreted to make sense, and that is done particular through cultural and social phenomena.

We turned to the difference between feeling emotion and communicating it – which led us to a discussion of how much the communication of emotion is socially and culturally shaped, and is contingent on where people sit in orders of prestige and hierarchy. People lower in hierarchy rankings are thought to be too emotional, display their emotions too much, while those higher in the hierarchy are freer to engage in emotion displays.

We talked about the task of learning to control one’s emotions from young childhood through adulthood, and explored how that task is different for different people. The class agreed that women’s anger is widely perceived as both more demanding and out of place than men’s. I raised the example of black and brown parents who give their children – especially their sons “the talk,” teaching them to withhold expressions of their emotions in the face of threats or abuse by white authorities – this training in suppressing emotion communication in certain circumstances is a survival strategy. (I recommended the PBS special on this topic, available at

We then delved into women in politics, and women’s political history with respect to the importance of anger. We reconsidered a number of stories of the mobilization of women, especially to engage in acts that were well outside normally acceptable behavior for women, and the role of anger. Research in political psychology shows that different emotions tend to have different implications for political response, with anger more likely to lead to political engagement compared, for example, with fear – another negative emotion. I asked them to consider, for example, how Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott probably felt when, as activists in the abolition movement, they found themselves excluded from meaningful participation in the World AntiSlavery Convention.  How would they feel if it happened to them?  Would anyone get involved in potentially dangerous emancipation work without a rising of emotion, especially anger at perceived injustice?

We concluded with a discussion of the communication and channeling of anger. How do people make something constructive out of those feelings? What kinds of choice behavior are involved? How do these experiences and actions change over the adult life course?  Why do young people and older people tend to deal with expression of emotion differently?

So this is where we left things. After a semester of exploring emancipatory movements, and considering what is left to be done, how shall we each proceed? What choices will we make? When we see injustice, how will we respond? And what have we learned from those who went before?


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