PART TWO: Strength – The Essence of Anger (3 of 5)

She’s mad but she’s magic. There is no lie in her fire. – Charles Bukowski

On January 21st, 2017 between 3-5 million American women walked out their front door and onto the streets for the largest single-day protest the country had ever seen. One day after Donald Trump’s inauguration, the Women’s March proved a preamble to the foment of the unprecedented impact of the #MeToo movement that followed. There was more than enough evidence that a groundswell of American women were done with being “nice” and had simply had enough. Books released in 2018, like Rebecca Traister’s Good and Mad, or Soraya Chemaly’s Rage Becomes Her, brought laser focus to this reality, exploring the history of accomplishments attributable to women’s ferocity in taking action around circumstances that were simply no longer acceptable. In the days after the women’s march a conversation was mounting about women taking off in our country, reflecting, perhaps, the Dalai Lama’s prophecy that “the world will be saved by Western women.”

This broad display of angry, defiant women is progress, no doubt. The record level women and minorities elected during the mid-terms reflected this. It was something feminist writer Charlotte Perkins Gilman, author of The Yellow Wallaper, written in 1892, could hardly have imagined during that early period of first wave feminism. Gilman’s character had found a kind of liberation through a ‘crazy’-madness where she began to challenge the status quo around her, but herein was a different kind of mad: angry mad, publicly angry mad, mad by the millions!

However, just as statistics about a rise in anxiety during the Trump presidency don’t tell the personal story of people’s experience of that anxiety, how it has changed them for better or worse, nor do statistics about the number of women (and their allies) who took to the streets tell the story of how women across America have experienced their anger, fed-up-ness and outrage. How it has over the last several years perhaps deepened their cynicism or, potentially, spawned a new level of empowerment and vision. This is the inside story. Continue reading “PART TWO: Strength – The Essence of Anger (3 of 5)”

PART TWO: The Inward Turn – Exploring the Soul of Citizenship In The Trump Era (1 of 5)

Madness in Mad Times

In 1892, Charlotte Perkins Gilman published a short story titled The Yellow Wallpaper. Gilman’s female protagonist was relegated to an upstairs room by her husband, a doctor, for a ‘rest cure’ to address her ‘nervous depression, despair, and hysteria.’ (Gilman had been given this “treatment” for depression herself, by a Dr. Silas Mitchell).

Enclosed, trapped, powerless, and pathologized (gaslighted), Gilman’s character became intoxicated by the wallpaper in the room. In the first third of the story, we find her in what seems like a petty preoccupation with the wallpaper, irritated and angered by the pattern in it, the sallow, yellow color, the sheer incongruence of the design. But as the pages turn, her intrigue with the wallpaper grows, over time ‘finding’ a woman trapped within its patterned contours.

The story continues to chronicle the protagonist’s building ‘madness,’ as she alternates between self-doubt and engagement with the woman (sometimes women) she is able to discern in the wallpaper. The protagonist refers to the guidance of those who are taking care of her, guidance she originally obliges but comes over time to question, then confront. Before long, you can’t help but join in her mounting irritation with the way they dismiss and minimize her distress and coddling her into ‘recovery.’ Over the course of the story, Gilman’s character builds the capacity (in a kind of defiant, madness) to dismiss these ‘caretakers’ who pity her condition (again, gaslighting). She finds an intimacy with her direct experience, learning to trust what she is seeing, feeling, discovering in a conscious awakening to a self-authorized reality of her own.

A feminist is any woman who tells the truth about her life. – Virginia Woolf

Gilman’s story culminates with the protagonist successfully stripping the wallpaper off the walls setting free, to her great satisfaction, the woman she sees caught there. When her husband opens the door in the final passage, he finds his wife proclaiming in delight: “I got out at last, I got out at last!” Said husband then faints and we are left with the image of a woman crawling in circles around him in the room, ‘mad’ and elated. We are also left with a disturbing but strangely intoxicating paradox about the relationship between a woman’s madness and her liberation. Continue reading “PART TWO: The Inward Turn – Exploring the Soul of Citizenship In The Trump Era (1 of 5)”