On Friday, Elizabeth Warren embraced the ethos of the moment: anger.
“Over and over, we are told that women are not allowed to be angry. It makes us unattractive to powerful men who want us to be quiet,” the 2020 Democratic presidential candidate wrote in a campaign email. Her message also underscored the role of power – “those who have it, and those who don’t plan to let go of it.”
Warren continued: “Well, I am angry and I own it. I’m angry on behalf of everyone who is hurt by Trump’s government, our rigged economy, and business as usual. And we can translate this anger into real change – if we all fight side by side.”
This was presumably the Massachusetts senator’s response to rebukes from rivals this week.
Criticizing Warren’s perceived “my way or the highway approach,” South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg said that she’s “so absorbed in the fighting that it is as though fighting were the purpose.” (He said something similar in October: “She’s more interested in the fighting part of it. I’m more interested in outcomes.”)
Meanwhile, of Warren’s “attacks,” former Vice President Joe Biden wrote in a Medium post that “they reflect an angry unyielding viewpoint that has crept into our politics.”
The broader impulse to belittle women’s emotions is an old one rooted in misogyny – and it continues, largely undeterred, today. Beyond Warren, recall pundits’ braying in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election about Hillary Clinton’s “shrill” voice and “shouting.”
Compare this with how Jason Miller, a former adviser to President Donald Trump, described former Attorney General Jeff Sessions as having “vinegar and fire in his belly” and Sen. Kamala Harris of California as “hysterical” during a heated Senate Intelligence hearing in 2017. Or with Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who in 2018 openly raged before the Senate Judiciary Committee – but also was described as “incandescent.”
Uneven standards, in other words, aren’t new.
But what feels fresh about Warren’s rejoinder is how it fits with a larger pattern on display since Trump’s election in 2016 of subverting the “angry woman” trope. (Just think of the titles of a few recent books: Brittney Cooper’s “Eloquent Rage,” Allison Yarrow’s “90s Bitch,” Rebecca Traister’s “Good and Mad.”) It’s taking the things women have long silently shared with one another and saying them aloud: I’m not going to smile and act like we live in a just world. I’m angry and I’m sick of hiding it.
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As she surfaced what had once been smothered, Warren, true to form, nodded to a plan.
“I plan to use this anger to keep the House, take back the Senate, and win the White House,” her email read.
In important ways, Warren echoed the sentiments of Katie Hill, the California congresswoman who resigned earlier this month following allegations of improper relationships with staffers. Hill, “hurt” and “angry,” promised that “to every girl and woman – to everyone who believes in this fight – this isn’t over.”
Warren’s mobilization of her rage, then, is also fitting: In joining the many women forcing their country to turn its lens on itself, the senator is saying that these hierarchies don’t have any real power over them – or at least, that’s the world to strive for.