Rebecca Traister Is Still Good and Mad

Please note: This transcript has been automatically generated.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham Hey y’all, it’s Brittany… Earlier this week, I was on MSNBC, talking with anchor Ari Melber about Trump’s ABSOLUTE refusal to play by any rules but his own.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham I’d call him childish but that would be insulting to children.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham Listen—We have a raging pandemic to tackle, an economic crisis to handle, and social injustice to fight. We do not have time for anybody’s narcissistic temper tantrums. Even members of Trump’s own party are finally admitting to this loss. So take your “L,” homeboy, and leave us alone. The outgoing president may prefer to live in his own fantasy world but I’m fast-forwarding straight past him and staying focused on us. 

The truth of what that’s gonna take can be hard—I know it’s HARD—but don’t look away. We can’t look away. Living in a fairy tale will never serve us. The truth, as they say, is actually what’s gonna set us free. We are UNDISTRACTED.


Brittany Packnett Cunningham On the show today…Rebecca Traister! 

I’ll be talking to the brilliant feminist author and columnist about the election of Kamala Harris, how young girls are being used in political messaging, and why we’re so damn afraid of fully grown women.  

Rebecca Traister We absolutely fear them. They make us deeply uncomfortable and when they do reach positions of unprecedented power, they are threatening to us.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham That’s coming up, but first, let’s get to some “UNtrending News.” 


Brittany Packnett Cunningham Kim Ng has made history as the first woman General Manager in Major League Baseball—and the first East Asian American in a General Manager role. Ng, who’s worked in baseball for 30 years—has won three World Series rings and will be leading the Miami Marlins. 

Kim Ng I’ve always said that if it’d never happened, I wouldn’t have ever looked at my career as a failure. Absolutely the opposite. I think I had a great career and this is absolutely icing on the cake.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham This is a big deal—not just for Major League Baseball but for all sports—as Ng will be the first woman to hold the GM position in a major men’s league in all of North America.

Kim Ng It was patience and perseverance. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham So here’s my question—why did it take like 150 years for this to happen? The argument is often that women can’t play and therefore can’t coach a men’s sport, but men have been coaching women’s sports for a LONG time. Nobody ever complained that Béla Károlyi had never done a woman’s balance beam.  And Harvard Business Review published a study that women are thought to be more effective leaders at all levels on the things that matter: from inspiring and developing others to driving results which is pretty much what a coach does. So congratulations to coach Ng and may there be many more. 


Brittany Packnett Cunningham Oregon will be distributing $600,000 in relief funds to local strippers and sex workers who’ve lost income because of the pandemic. The grant will provide up to $1,600 for rent, $500 for utilities, and $150 for Internet services to 75 people. Another 200 applicants will receive a wellness tote, which includes a mail-in COVID test, an STI test, masks, sanitizer, and gas and grocery gift cards. Priority will be given to Black, Indigenous and transgender applicants—and those experiencing homelessness.

Some of you might be wondering why is the government paying sex and adult industry workers—because work is work and it deserves to be compensated. Period. It’s high-time sex work stopped being the third rail of feminism and we start getting serious about what it means to protect all people, regardless of their chosen profession. 


Brittany Packnett Cunningham And last but most certainly not least…

Patricia Escárcega I am Patricia Escárcega, restaurant critic for The LA Times and this is my review 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham LA Times food critic, Patricia Escárcega, is accusing her employer of “immoral, unethical” pay discrimination. The LatinX writer has said she only makes two-thirds the salary of her white male counterpart who was hired around the same time. 

Patricia filed an internal pay discrimination complaint six months ago and the response she got..? Patricia claimed The LA Times told her she “did not bring prestige to the paper.”

She also claimed that The LA Times classified her as a junior critic without her knowledge, even though she had the same responsibilities and job title as her co-critic. The LA Times has denied any discrimination claims and pointed out that the company’s pay scale was agreed on by the union in a memo sent to Los Angeles Magazine. Still. Patricia wrote:“This decision sends a heart-breaking message to every LatinX kid like me, who dreamed of someday working for The LA Times.” 15.6 million LatinX people live in California, y’all. And they deserve to be seen in everything, but a seat at the table only means so much if it isn’t equal. Diversity is one thing—equity is another. And that’s what this fight is for. Thank you, Patricia, for telling us your truth. 


Brittany Packnett Cunningham Coming up! I’ll be talking to feminist author and columnist Rebecca Traister about whether the newly awaken activists are here for the long-haul.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham Well, after 45 presidents and 231 years, a woman will finally enter the White House as vice president. Kamala Harris’s momentous win is certainly bringing a lot of joy to a lot of people. Y’all have already seen me cheer and post about it. My guest today isn’t falling for the feel-good fairy-tale. 

Rebecca Traister is a writer-at-large for New York Magazine, where she recently wrote about how this country likes to pretend that wins like this are simpler than they are. Rebecca is also the author of three books, including “Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger,” and she’s a founding member of The Meteor. 

I’m pretty sure that if you’re a woman between 15 and 105, someone has sent you one of her articles on gender politics—or rage—with a million exclamation points in the subject line. Rebecca always gives us so much to think about, and she didn’t let us down this time.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham Rebecca, thank you so much for joining us today.

Rebecca Traister Thank you for having me. I’m very happy to be here.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham I know that you posted on the day that the election was called that it was a little hard for you to let yourself be, I think you said, uncritically happy. So how’s that going? Are you feeling a sense of happiness? 

Rebecca Traister Ah, happiness…I feel a degree of extreme relief, like it is absolutely critical for Donald Trump to have lost. I have so many worries and anxieties that immediately pile on top of that relief: real anxieties about Joe Biden, real anxieties about the Senate, about the Democratic Party. I don’t want to deny the deep relief at Biden and Harris’s win. And also, I don’t want to deny the incredible work that went into it, right, because there are so many people who worked SO hard to make that happen. But I don’t feel like clear joy. Don’t feel clear joy at all. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham Hey, that’s honest, that’s honest. Speaking of that, that was one of the things people have been feeling clear joy about, of course, the historic win of now Vice President-elect Kamala Harris being the first Black and South Asian woman, and the first woman to occupy that seat. People have, of course, been commenting on how unprecedented an achievement this is and how it is really showing young Black and Brown girls that anything is possible. But you know, you’re not a romanticist, I think, even as our discussion has already shown. You recently wrote in New York Magazine in your piece titled “America’s Daughters Grow Up to Be Women It Can’t Handle”—talk about a title! You write about how you consider Kamala’s momentous victory as being presented, framed and sold to the people. So what exactly have you been thinking about?

Rebecca Traister Well, it’s stuff I’ve been thinking about for a long time. It was sort of brought to a head by the meme that went around after the election of Kamala Harris as vice president, which IS, like, groundbreaking history making brings enormous clear joy to a lot of people because it’s, I mean, we forget how barred, MILLIONS of people over generations have been from certain kinds of jobs, and obviously, like president and vice president are two very specific jobs. But like we forget how totally outrageous it is that we have never elected a woman to be either president or vice president of the United States, right, let alone a Democratic woman, let alone a Black woman of Indian descent like this is history-making in so many ways. And so like, yes, for a lot of people, including me. But…we like to pretend in this country that this stuff is a lot simpler than it is. That kind of correction to large scale, massive inequality and bias that is reflected just in the metric that like prior to one week ago, we had never elected any woman to federal executive office. And now we have, and so we like to pretend—no big deal, right? Cool. Like, we made history, rather than that this is like super disruptive to power structures all over the political spectrum. A lot of my journalism, at least an element of it, has been about writing about women in politics, and how they’re sold to us, especially those who are disruptive ideologically and politically. And I have always been interested in and frustrated often by the use of girls, young girls, as a way to make adult women more palatable. And I understand why it’s useful, right? The female candidates do it too. Right. There’s a reason that when Kamala Harris criticized Joe Biden for his earlier positions on school busing, she told a story of herself as a young girl. That little girl was me, right? Elizabeth Warren used pinky promises with little girls as a key way to communicate the kind of history she wanted to make representationally. All candidates do this. I don’t mean to suggest that it’s wrong. But I want to think about what it means that it’s easier to focus eyes on young girls than it is on adult women. Kamala Harris’s election to vice presidency is historic and joyful and history-making. It is also true that Joe Biden won the nomination for the presidency over six women, including Kamala Harris. And we can’t lose sight of that. The fact that without taking anything away from the history that she has made, it is also true that the position of the vice presidency—it’s chosen by the president. Joe Biden chose her and did so in a way that I was very critical of—not his choice of her—but the way that he pre narrowed the field by saying, I’m gonna choose a woman, which took away a lot of the discomfort. Hey, you know what, sometimes if you’re going to choose a person who is the best person for a job to be your running mate, and that person happens to be female, right? That’s actually disruptive, because it’s like, the thing that it puts in front of an American people is “Oh, so she was better qualified than like, you know, Beto or whatever—than a guy. But he did away with that layer of discomfort by pre announcing that he was going to pick a woman: so narrowing the pool, and also sort of making it clear that this was like, I don’t mean to say a stunt, but like he was using it to bolster his own credibility on issues of gender where he’d come in for a lot of criticism, including from me. So already, he’s used gender in a certain way. And then what I saw happening in advance of the election, there was a Lincoln Project ad that focused on little girls, the vast majority of them white little girls, listening to Trump’s rhetoric— sexist racist rhetoric—about women and then said, but what if there was a woman who was so great that the president chose her as his right hand woman, which I hated—and then showed Kamala Harris. And then at the end, the exhortation was vote for her over the picture of one of the daughters. So it was this sideways way from the Lincoln Project, which is this group of never Trump Republicans, almost all of them white men, I think, selling America on voting for this history making vice president but doing it sideways by suggesting that they were to be voting for her meaning their imagined daughters, not even for her Kamala Debbie Harris, right? Yeah. And that troubled me. And they also use my least favorite statue, which is the Fearless Girl statue, which I can’t stand for all these reasons, you know—the, like little pigtailed white girls standing up to the bull of Wall Street, which I believe is like, funded by a hedge fund. But also, like, it’s so much easier to cheer an anonymous little girl, right, than it is a full grown woman…for so many reasons. But a big part of it is that we can project onto a little girl—your imaginary daughter—a future in which she’s perfect. And one of the things we know about full grown women is they always seem to fall short. When it comes to public evaluation. We’re not good at integrating full humanity, which includes contradiction and perfection, flaws, strong points, weak points, right? Like good and bad about a human being. We’re really used to doing that around white men, right? We can find heroism and bad white men we can acknowledge their brilliance even though they did bad things. So you can be ideologically opposed to John McCain morning till night and still say yeah, but like he was a war hero and he did that good thing when he gave the thumbs down. And you know, like we can integrate our mixed feelings about white men. We cannot do that with women. We are really bad at offering full grown women, the generosity of a view of them as full human beings.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham That’s right. We fear grown women, as a culture.

Rebecca Traister We absolutely fear them, they make us deeply uncomfortable. And when they do reach positions of unprecedented power, they are threatening to us. And many of the depictions of them are made negative and monstrous. And I mean, literally Donald Trump called Kamala Harris a monster. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham He did indeed.

Rebecca Traister Yeah. So I just had been watching with interest, like that Lincoln Project ad was one and then immediately after the election, a meme went around, that depicted her walking alongside a building and her shadow projected is the famous Norman Rockwell image of Ruby Bridges, who integrated first grade in New Orleans in 1960. And that’s a complicated image. Ruby Bridges—who is still alive and only 10 years older than Kamala Harris—has said that she really liked the image. And it clearly stirred a lot of feelings and a lot of people but it reminded me of some of the ways that we use children and little girls without fully acknowledging like, Ruby Bridges was a little girl who, as a Black girl, integrating a white school…All but one of the teachers quit. She was met by mobs of people throwing things at her every morning and she is still alive. And the use of her in a meme that is an illustration that is meant to convey like feel good messages about progress, I think is part of a way that we communicate around progress that simplifies it. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham These are the truths that we come face-to-face with as we wake up right to the very complicated reality of not only our history as a country, but our current state as a country. I’ve been really thinking a lot about your piece “Wide Awake” that you also wrote for New York Magazine, you wrote it a week before the election. And you were talking about how so many people, primarily women, have become energized over the last four years, you had a fantastic opening line, you said that “the story of an awakening must begin with how many had been permitted to sleep in the first place.” So tell us who was asleep? And why did they wake up?

Rebecca Traister Well, I mean, a lot of people were asleep. We sing lullabies in this country: our news media, our public discourse is built on feel good, back-padding lullabies, instead of dealing with like how real and steady and constant and violent and persistent our inequities actually are. For my whole life, I was born in 1975, some of the biggest public stories that are told about this country is that we have corrected our errors that we are in a constant path toward perfecting our union. And boy, you know, it used to be bad, but we fixed it. That is a lullaby, right? It lets those who are themselves in a position not to be touched by the very unfixed in justices in this country, especially at middle class, and certainly wealthy white Americans. There’s been a story on offer that’s a very feel good story. And it really hit a peak with the election of Barack Obama.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham Yeah, yeah.

Rebecca Traister You know, and that’s why I’m really wary of the easy feel good narrative around Kamala Harris, too. Because it’s like, “look, we fixed it.” Fixed it! You know, the story about how we got to the election of Barack Obama is one that permitted people to stay cozy asleep in their beds.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham Mm hmm.

Rebecca Traister Then you have the candidacy of his would-be-successor, Hillary Clinton, and the political press is reading of all the polls going toward the election, were like Donald Trump’s gonna lose. Of course, Hillary is gonna win. Everybody assumed Hillary was gonna win. And then she didn’t. But the assumption that she was gonna win, that’s born of people being asleep to actual inequity; it’s born of people being asleep to the enthusiasm for racist, sexist, xenophobic rhetoric coming from Donald Trump, right? The idea that that’s disqualifying in this country is born of unconsciousness. Because if you’re awake, and you have been awake to reality in this country, you know that that is not actually disqualifying. And that even though Trump was more blatant in his open calls to brutal racism and sexism, actually, that’s undergirded a lot of right wing policymaking for decades. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham That’s right. And you’ve said, you just said that, you know, it was a lot of moderate middle class white folks and white women who got more involved, because they were surprised, and I think, frankly, am embarrassed that Trump got elected in 2016. So we’ve got newly activated white women. But we’ve also got to make sense of what these current exit polls are revealing that even more white women voted for Trump this election than they did in 2016. So the 53% issue or the 51% issue, depending on the exit poll you’re looking at in 2016, becomes potentially the 55% or so issue in 2020. Can anything be done about that?

Rebecca Traister I certainly would hope so. But I, I don’t bet on it as a short-term solution. So I want to say first of all, I want to wait on the exit polls. I just don’t know it’s not that sounds right to me. Since we have been keeping track of this. White women have voted for Republicans consistently. This is not an aberration. People really started noticing it in 2016 because there was a white woman on the ballot. And there was a flawed expectation that somehow she was going to have the support of other white women. That was almost surely never going to be the case. And my assumption was never that an activated left-leaning group of middle class white women was going to change the demographics on how white women writ large are going to vote. Because most of those women who I’ve reported on, most of them, were always Democratic voters. They were just sort of listless or apathetic ones. And what changed is not that they flipped from Red to Blue, though sure some people have done that. But what is different is that they are taking their resources—their time, their money—and driving it toward other organizing efforts. Now, that isn’t necessarily going to result in demographic change. But it could result in higher turnout in local politics being better funded. One of the big things that is actually, I think, positive about these past four years, and the awakening of new populations to political activity, is attention to down-ballot races, which is so crucial to our survival as a nation, because we have a political media that is trained to obsessively cover presidential elections, like they’re literal games, and to not pay any attention to the House races, the state legislative races, the Senate races, and we need to absolutely change all of our view of politics to better understand that those off years—what they call “off year elections”—are going to be absolutely key to saving the nation. But listen, the reality has always been that by a slim majority—sometimes real slim, sometimes not so slim—white women have voted in support of right wing politics. Yeah. And right wing politics that support a white capitalist patriarchy. And the question is why?

Brittany Packnett Cunningham That is, that is the ultimate question, right? And you’ve acknowledged that because of that challenge, because of that truth some white activism has really been cosplayed, right, that there have been plenty of comfortable white people who throw their fists in the air, but they don’t actually want much to change. They may just want the photo of their fists in the air for their timeline. Do you think newly awakened people are here to stay? Are they fair-weather friends? You know, was it just their dismay about Trump? Or are they—are they going to be here for the long-haul?

Rebecca Traister My questions about this are what keeps me up at night. Because I don’t have the answer for what’s going to happen. I am constantly at war with myself, in my own head, about how I feel about this, because I don’t know the answers. I get really worried about the cost planning, I get really worried about the fetishness of political engagement. And I am so acutely aware of how simple the stories we tell ourselves in the United States about victory or defeat are, that I worry that the election of Joe Biden will cause people, and you can see it all over social media, is like, “can’t wait to sleep soundly at night again,” you know. The joke is like “can’t wait to go back to brunch” And it’s like, No, no, no, no, no. And I don’t know how to balance because you also don’t want to…like joy is a hugely important part of this. So like, sure, I don’t want to tell anybody, they can’t have brunch. 


Brittany Packnett Cunningham Brunch is tasty.

Rebecca Traister And brunch is cool. I don’t wanna tell people that they have to live ascetic lives of deprivation and self-punishment. Ok, good. You’re up. But you gotta stay up! And like, sure, have a brunch, sleep well, feel good, have a party—then don’t go away. Don’t go away, don’t go away. So it’s only brunch again, right? Like, and that’s one of the balances. And then the next one is like, okay, so for the people who the participation was fundamentally about, like being part of the thing, what everybody was doing the Instagram image of yourself, throwing the fist in the air, just having empty support, but still numbers on the streets? Does it sap those movements of their actual power and their demands? Or does it bolster their power by increasing the visibility by forcing our media to tell the stories of these movements, bringing their ideas to a bigger audience? Potentially, you know, driving their support, like any movement that is going to draw a mass of people is going to draw people who are also grifters and charlatans, right? Like that’s human, those are human beings. Okay, don’t know what’s better. It is also true that if you have a movement populated by grifters and charlatans, you’re gonna lack a clarity of purpose. And you might be in a movement that winds up settling for really crappy compromises. Yeah, because you don’t have people who are fully committed. But if you have a movement that’s only the fully committed who have their very precise and unwavering demands, but you don’t have the masses who are behind them, then that movement is going to be easily marginalized. And I don’t know. I don’t know the answer. And I don’t know what’s gonna happen moving forward.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham I really had to sit with that.

Rebecca Traister Some days I am extremely optimistic and some days I’m extremely pessimistic.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham Democrats managed to win this time, right? But the threat of Trump-ism of far right extremism of white supremacy—none of that is over. Not to mention when we look at the proportions of this new Supreme Court, we’ve got a six to three conservative Supreme Court now. So women, people of color, marginalized folks, LGBTQ folks, disabled people, we certainly don’t have any laurels to rest on, right? The fully committed most certainly don’t have any laurels to rest on, let alone other folks whose vote at least votes we need. So as we move forward, what are the things we have to get right? What are the lessons you hope we’ve learned from the past four years?

Rebecca Traister Oh, God. Okay. So the first is, don’t stop paying attention. And again, I say that without trying to be punitive or mean, right? Like, if all these predictions of a landslide had been true, if the presidency, the Senate and the House, were all in the hands of Democrats, it was still going to be a massive challenge, to start to do some of the corrective work, to un-break some of the institutions that are in hard right wing control right now, like that was still going to be a really, really hard project that was going to require the attention, and commitment and unwavering engagement of millions of Americans, who prior to the past few years, hadn’t offered really any engagement or attention to their political systems. Now, we don’t have that landslide. We don’t have the Senate. I mean, it’s possible. And so one of the first things is there’s another set of elections happening in early January. And I know that people in Georgia, are not paying any less attention. Not for a second, there are two Senate elections runoffs in Georgia on January 5th, but we’re not going to have…Democrats are certainly not going to there’s no possible way to have a healthy majority in the Senate. So we do have not just a Supreme Court, but an entire federal judiciary. Trump has appointed almost a third of that judiciary, to lifetime appointments, many of them hard, right, Federalist Society judges who were rated not qualified by the Bar Association. And those are people like in their 30s and 40s, who are going to be serving for decades, they’re going to be making decisions on voting rights, on abortion rights, on labor, the systems that people in social movements, mass movements rely on, right, the ability to cast ballots to participate in democracy, you now have a Republican party that has been openly arguing against democracy—the mission to suppress the vote is ongoing. And we cannot just rely on Stacey Abrams to fix our voting systems across the country there. She’s certainly doing more than her part. Yeah. So there has to be attention. And that attention does have to continue to be not just on presidential politics. It has to be on your city councils and your state legislators, we also have to be constantly vigilant about these House races. I mean, one of the lessons of the past few years is how many Republicans were running unopposed. Because a party and its people had just figured there’s no way we can win. We have to abandon that. Part of what happened in the long term, if you look at it through a partisan lens, is that after the victories of some of the major social movements of late 20th century, so the civil rights movement, the women’s rights movement, the gay rights movement—there was this perception that the left had won.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham Yeah, that the fight was over.

Rebecca Traister Yeah. And that’s about the time that the easy narratives, in fact, the Left was afraid of its own shadow really,—in part didn’t want to be associated with, you know, with women, with African-Americans, right. That’s how you had a Democratic Party that elected a lot of moderate white people, including Joe Biden. And the Republican Party made this super hard right turn and also began strategizing decades in advance for how to roll back the advancements that have been made by those social movements, and a right wing on the losing side of things got extremely savvy about taking over state legislatures taking over the courts. And we are living through the culmination of that project. And that project, it’s decades in the making—Democrats have to stop and those who want this nation to change have to stop looking at this as like, this next fight is going to be the victory that changes everything. This is a lifetime commitment. And we have to get comfortable with that—not daunted by it.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham That’s it. I mean, that’s it, planning for the long-term working for the long-term, committing for the long-term. That is the fight ahead, Rebecca, oh my goodness! There’s so much to chew on here and I’m so grateful that you spent some time with us. And we look forward to talking to you again soon.

Rebecca Traister Thank you so much, Brittany, take care. Be well.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham Thank you. You too.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham Rebecca Traister is writer-at-large for New York Magazine.


Brittany Packnett Cunningham When I’m extra excited about something—a book, a project, a Beyoncé release—my husband Reggie likes to say I’m “pressed.” Pressed about seeing every angle, obsessed about thinking everything through, and coming for everything that’s mine.

I don’t know about y’all but basically, Rebecca told us all to STAY PRESSED. Victories aren’t the end, they’re the beginning. They remind us of what we can do and how we can get it done—even and especially when it’s hard.  

So rest up, and stay pressed about ALL of it. As Rebecca reminded us: this is not and will never be just about who occupies 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Hell yeah, imma stay pressed: This is a lifetime commitment.

Stay pressed about the long-term game to reclaim your statehouse, your governor’s mansion and your city hall. We got into this position because people who want less freedom for all of us stayed vigilant. The only way to win is to do the same—but this time, for all the right reasons.


That’s it for today…but never tomorrow.


UNDISTRACTED is a production of The Meteor and Pineapple Street Studios. 

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Thanks also to Treasure Brooks, Grace Chen, and Hannis Brown. 

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Thanks for listening. Thanks for being. As always thanks for doing.

I’m Brittany Packnett Cunningham. Let’s go get free.