Book Review of Fury: Women’s Lived Experiences During the Trump Era

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You would think that Fury: Women’s Lived Experiences During the Trump Era would be dominated by a tone of anger, but these 38 spirited essays  (available at bookstores and from the publisher’s website here) are far more nuanced than that.

They are personal narratives infused with courage, humor, and resilience, making this collection a heartening and enjoyable read.

Trump’s election brought plenty of anxiety and discouragement:  “Everything we stood for, writes Amy Roost: “agency over our bodies, the feminine ethos of caring and humane treatment of others, role modeling for our children, to name a few—suffered a direct hit in the form of the ultimate self-aggrandizing toxic male.”  Psychotherapist contributors note a spike of symptoms in already traumatized patients when they realize that their new president is a woman-hating bully, unrepentant groper, and sexual harasser who exacts vengeance on immigrants, people of color, and anyone who stands up to him.  Alissa Hirshfeld-Flores even notes that “Trump Anxiety Disorder” has become an informal diagnosis among therapists like her. 

As Jenny Holland’s clients put it, ‘It’s like being raped all over again with every action he takes, every hateful word he says’,” but goes on to insist that “Whatever your threshold for action is, now is the time to cross it and keep going.”

In essay after essay anxiety engenders  anger and anger energizes resistance:  

“By January, I was fighting mad,” writes Susan Fekete. “I put on my boots and went to the Women’s March alone, because I was new in town and didn’t know anyone. Ten days later I showed up, alone, to the first Indivisible meeting in my area where I met about 150 powerful, engaged, exciting people—and within two weeks I was performing multiple functions as co-founder of Indivisible Sonoma County. My energy, outside of my daily job, went full-throttle into activism.”

Such determination brought thousands to the Women’s Marches the day after inauguration; contacts were made and political campaigns organized that led to historic numbers of women elected to public office in 2018.

The women writing here about their “lived experience” are feisty and humorous.  Their stories are about what Richard Rohr calls metanoia, a shift in perspective as they “especially flourish inside of difficulties.”  These are stories about personal character transformations by interesting women who are show themselves to be characters in the alternate connotation of unusual individuals, each idiosyncratic in her own way, and often hilarious (my kind of people!)

I disagree, however, with the assumption that there is an “old normal” where we used to flourish which Trump has displaced with a “new normal,” and that we only need to vote out of office for our lives to get back the way they were.  The problem is that what we white women take as a new “ Trumpean Nasty” is in fact a virulent upsurge in a ghastly old normal that African and Native Americans have endured for centuries. Thus, though Black essayist Katherine Morgan is “appalled and hurt” at the election, she sees nothing new about it: “I felt as though my country had stabbed me in the back—even though as a black person, I expected to be shot instead.”

In “I’ve Been There,” Elena Perez expresses a similar view: 

“Yes, the Trump administration makes me depressed, demoralized, and angry. But this is nothing new. Trump is the result of how disconnected we’ve become from the realities of our society: a system riddled with racism, sexism, and biases of all kinds. Trump has finally brought this blatant discrimination to the attention of those who assumed everything was good—because maybe for them, it was.”  

Trump’s rabid base, fueled by renewed fear and loathing when an African-American became president, is the latest iteration of a history grounded in enslavement of Blacks and genocide against Native Americans. With majority status for people of color fast approaching, the White Nationalist element of the Trumpean world view derives its outrage from the fact that the hegemony we whites have maintained throughout American history is coming to an end. 

Our job is twofold: first, we must understand Trumpism as only the most recent manifestation of America’s Bad Angels of white enslavement and genocide (sorry, Woody Guthrie, this land is not our land; it was wrested from fully developed indigenous cultures). Only then can we establish the moral integrity to broaden the surprisingly flexible aspirations for equality and opportunity that our slave-owning and Indian-eradicating founders so paradoxically embedded in our Declaration of Independence and our Constitution. 

May we find a way to we flourish within these difficulties!

 

Q&A With Fury Co-Editor Alissa Hirshfeld-Flores 

1. When you got so many responses to your call for essays from Women’s Groups on Facebook, what criteria did you use to make your selections?
We reached out to women’s writers’ groups on Facebook.  We culled through the essays we received and selected the ones with the strongest writing, mindful that we wanted the writers to represent a diverse sample of women, ethnically, religiously, sexual or gender orientation-wise, and age-wise. We also wanted personal/first person essays that would openly describe how the writer was subjectively affected.  When we saw that we were missing the voices of certain demographics–for example Latina women and women in their twenties or thirties–we specifically reached out to authors we knew who might best represent these groups. We also reached out to some conservative women, for diversity sake, but got no response.  

2. These essays really fulfill the assumption that “the personal is political.”  Do you have further thoughts about that interface? 

As a psychotherapist, I have been reminded, especially since the 2016 election, how true that statement is, as well as how the political is personal.  I have observed first-hand how this president is affecting women on a deep personal level–especially survivors of sexual assault and abuse and those with narcissistic fathers or partners.  I’ve also observed how so many women, with the rise of the Women’s March and #MeToo movements, have become empowered to draw from their personal experience to speak up politically, which has in turn led to the record number of women elected in the 2018 midterms and the record number running for president.  I think that this is one of the positive outcomes of this terribly scary time in our political history.

3. Did it get you down to read about so much despair and trauma?  Have I got it right that almost all of the essays move along a trajectory from despair through anger to action?
Because in my profession I hear despair and trauma daily in my work, it did not surprise me or particularly get me down.  I think that readers can draw inspiration from the fact that most of our writers describe how their despair has moved them to activism.  Some writers find more hope than others, but the humor and hope in many essays is uplifting.

4. How do you and your essayists see women’s role in the upcoming election season? Are you making choices between democratic moderates and progressives based on getting Trump out of office?  How do you see this issue?
We are excited to see so many women running for office.  The fact that there are so many women’s voices adding to conversations about family policies, healthcare, climate change, and the ERA, among other issues, is crucial.  While it would be nice to vote for the candidate who represents our highest values, we also want to be practical in selecting the candidate with the best fighting chance of outperforming Trump in a debate and at the ballot box.  The most important goal is voting him out.  Is America finally ready for a woman president, or do we again need to wait until saving our democracy is not the number one priority?  As Amy says, “Trump is a symptom, not the cause, of a broken system, so I support the candidates who advocate systematic change.  But you can’t change anything unless you win the election, which ultimately means electability has priority.” 

5. What is your response to my feeling that Trumpism is abnormal to whites but not to people of color?  Do you agree/disagree with my conclusion that we will have to come to terms with a bleaker view of American history before we can develop an authentic political will?
One of our authors, Elena Perez, writes in her essay, “It’s Been There,” “We may find diversity in administrative
positions, but the planners, researchers, managers, and decision-makers who shape our communities and our nation are far from diverse. If you’re white, chances are you haven’t noticed. If you’re not white, it’s a reality you’re accustomed to. That was the case before Trump even arrived on the political scene. So when explicit racism bubbled to the surface after he was elected, I wasn’t surprised.”
Trumpism has revealed to all of us the deep racism that we as a country have never dealt with.  We as a culture need to look at the shadow side of our history–the genocide of the Native American population; the seeds of racism, anti-Semitism and hatred that were long simmering for Trump to stoke; the way we’ve tampered in so many other countries’ elections and assassinated their leaders; the ways prior administrations have lied to us and misled us–so that we can collectively stand up, protest in the streets, and refuse to take it anymore.

6. Have there been personal or political changes in your outlook since working with these essays and essayists?
In 2016, I was still hopeful that honorable Republicans would keep Trump in check, that perhaps Jared and Ivanka would be moderating influences, and that the system would not let Trump veer as strongly towards authoritarianism as he showed proclivities towards from the start.  Unfortunately, those hopes have been dashed. However, I do find strength from the group of powerful women writers that we’ve assembled.  Reading their writing in this collection, as well as their other work, inspires me, knowing that I am part of a community of strong women who are not afraid to speak out and take action.  As Amy says, “Women are even more resilient than I thought.”

7. Anything else you would like to add?

“I want to encourage folks not only to buy and study the essays in this collection, but to vote in November as if your life depended on it.  Because it may very well.  We cannot as a species afford to continue to stall on meaningful action on climate change.  We cannot afford a president with malignant narcissism to be running our foreign policy and to have his finger on the button.  If Trump gets another term, I fear that our democracy will be destroyed in a manner that will take decades to recover from, if ever. ” 

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Annis Pratt

Annis Pratt

Annis Pratt is an environmental activist and nature writer living in the Detroit area. She has is a columnist for the international online magazine Impakter.com, where her latest article is on Climate Grief. She has also published an Eco-Fiction series, Infinite Games, about marshland dwellers struggling to protect their homeland against merchant adventurers and land developers (www.annispratt.com).

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