A year ago tonight, I thought I was about to walk into the room where our first female president would take the stage.
The energy was electric when my team and I arrived at the Javits Center in the early evening hours of Nov. 8. There was premature (and, in retrospect, completely unearned) celebratory chatter, and lots of female reporters excitedly greeting each other in the press area downstairs.
Of course, we all now know how that night ended. I did not see a woman elected president of the United States. Instead, as the hours crept by and it became increasingly clear that Hillary Clinton would not be our president, the air inside the Javits Center felt stifling. The sprawling glass ceiling went from symbolic to a cruel joke. Instead of talking to overjoyed grandmothers and teen girls as I thought I would be that night, I spent hours interviewing sobbing men and women as they clutched their tightly wound American flags and fled Clinton’s public block party.
2016 would not be the year the proverbial glass ceiling was shattered. As Jia Tolentino put it in December, we had “played ourselves” ― and badly.
It feels impossible that 365 days have passed since that one. Nov. 8, 2016 feels like yesterday yet also like a different plane of existence. I’m a far more exhausted, deadened-on-the-inside person now than I was on that day ― a more exhausted, deadened-on-the-inside woman with a far clearer vision of the country she lives in. The last year has been full of sobering self-reflection ― as a woman, as a white person, and as a member of the media.
In the immediate aftermath of the presidential election, New York City felt funereal. Grief was on full display, on every bleary-eyed face on every subway car, in the glances women gave each other on the street, in the thousands of post-it notes that quickly began to fill the walls of Union Square station. But as anyone who has spent time grieving a loss knows, that level of sadness cannot be sustained. So eventually, grappling with the reality of a president who has openly bragged about grabbing women by the pussy without their consent and has suggested that some neo-Nazis are “very fine people,” American women got angry ― really, really angry.
Women aren’t supposed to be angry ― at least not outwardly so. We’re supposed to maintain composure under pressure, and be friendly and approachable and nice. An angry woman is a crazy woman. And crazy women can’t be trusted.
Michelle Obama could never be angry in the public eye. Neither could Elizabeth Warren. Neither could the dozens of women who have accused Harvey Weinstein and Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly and Bill Cosby (and Donald Trump!) of sexual misconduct and assault. During her presidential campaign ― hell, far before that too ― Hillary Clinton certainly couldn’t be angry. “Maybe I have overlearned the lesson of staying calm,” wrote Clinton in What Happened, “biting my tongue, digging my fingernails into a clenched fist, smiling all the while.”
How many tersely smiling women do you suppose you’ve passed on the street who are secretly seething? (Here’s looking at you, Uma Thurman!) I’ve been that woman; most of us have. In 2017, the mask of feigned approachability became intolerable. I got so angry I wrote a whole book about it.
Of course there’s been anxiety and pain and the temptation to collapse into a ball and not look at the news until 2020 or the world ends in a nuclear apocalypse, whichever comes first. But anger ― the type of righteous rage that wrings you out on the inside ― is more delicious, and more productive.
Sometimes angry women with everything to lose, win.
Sometimes rage topples the careers of famous and powerful and previously untouchable predators like Harvey Weinstein, Bill O’Reilly, Kevin Spacey, Roy Price and Mark Halperin.
Sometimes rage gets thousands of women to run for elected office.
Sometimes, a year after a Very Bad Night, rage gets some of those women elected. Women like Danica Roem, the first openly trans state legislator in Virginia. Or Andrea Jenkins, the first openly trans woman of color elected to the city council of a major U.S. city. Or Sheila Oliver, New Jersey’s first black woman lieutenant governor. Or Vi Lyles, Charlotte’s first black woman mayor. Or Elizabeth Guzman and Hala Ayala, who jointly became the first Latinas elected to the Virginia House of Delegates. Or Ashley Bennett, who poetically defeated the man whose sexist comments about the Women’s March she once protested.
We’re not so naive now as to believe that love always wins. But in 2017, saccharine slogans have been replaced with a flood of righteous anger. Turns out, hell hath no fury like thousands of women scorned treated as disposable by their country.