The Business of Selling White Women the Righteousness of Their Own Anger

The Business of Selling White Women the Righteousness of Their Own Anger

In her now-infamous speech at the Republican National Convention, Kimberly Guilfoyle, national chairwoman of the Trump Victory Finance Committee and famous girlfriend of Donald Trump Jr., shouted a string of semi-coherent nothings to an empty room: “Human sex drug traffickers should not be allowed to cross our border,” she raged. “Do you support the cancel culture, the cosmopolitan elites…who blame America first?… Or do you believe in American greatness? Believe in yourself, in President Trump… They want to destroy this country.” Her cadence was that of a cinematic despot by way of a Depression-era carnival barker, and Guilfoyle was absolutely selling a product—anger. But not just the same, passé, blue-collar, right-wing male version, the anger at old systems being dismantled in order to strip power from those who have come to believe they innately deserve power by right of birth. This was a newer, prettier rage, all wrapped up in lip gloss and hair extensions. This was Women’s Anger.

As a genuine human feeling, anger is often much closer to grief than any other emotion. Grief is part of the process by which a person acknowledges the loss of what was or should have been but is no more; anger is a pushback at the unfairness of the loss. A summer of protest over the mass loss of Black life at the hands of police officers and other authority figures across America throughout the course of this country’s history stemmed from a collective sense of mourning, rage, and, ultimately, hope that what is and has been foundationally wrong could one day be right. But in the four years since Donald Trump’s election, “Women’s Anger”—which, from a marketing standpoint, is almost exclusively white women’s anger—has become something other than an emotion anchored by grief and often gilded with hope. Instead, anger is the sole product, sold by both the left and right, as either a means of absolution or a tool to keep existing systems of power in place. In this model, white women are simultaneous manufacturers and target audiences, being moved down the purchase funnel in order to righteously buy back their own rage with no real purpose beyond having made the transaction.

In marketing speak, the “purchase funnel” has four stages: awareness, interest, desire, and finally action. The goal is to make consumers aware of a product by focusing on a problem and the utility of a product in relation to that problem, with the end game of keeping a brand in mind to foster a personal relationship that ends in not just a one-time transaction, but a lifetime of loyalty. From startups like The Wing to the “Nasty Woman” industrial complex, since 2016, Women’s Anger has been less about emotion and more about selling a product to white women in need of reassurance that they are on the right side of the vague problem that is America in general.

“That was what many women wanted: a remaking of the structure, of the systems and the institutions. And given what was happening on election nights in 2017 and 2018, it wasn’t such an outlandish request,” Rebecca Traister wrote in Good and Mad, a 2018 polemic on the potential of Women’s Anger to shape history. “Perhaps #MeToo wasn’t going to be about retribution; rather it might be about replacement.”

And maybe the Women’s March, on January 21, 2017, was a legitimate outpouring of collective grief at the system that allowed for the election of admitted sexual assailant Donald Trump as President of the United States. Somewhere between three and five million people participated in over 400 marches nationwide. But as Jezebel’s Kara Brown wrote at the time “I didn’t quite get the tone or the nuance. The times I’ve taken to the streets or raised my voice about an issue have been out of anger or as a response to gross injustice. The joviality of the march, the ‘warmth and love and care’ was unfamiliar.”

Since 2016, Women’s Anger has been less about emotion and more about selling a product to white women in need of reassurance that they are on the right side of the vague problem that is America in general.

Nearly four years later, the Women’s March organization is in shambles; Brett Kavanaugh, accused sexual assailant, is a Supreme Court Justice; and Ruth Bader Ginsburg has been replaced by stanch anti-abortion proponent Amy Coney Barrett, which is being framed by the right-wing as a historic achievement for women. There has been no “replacement” of sexist, racist, and homophobic systems; if anything, there has been a resurgence and strengthening of those systems. But what we do have is an oddly cheerful, pink pussy hat-centric marketplace for the idea of Women’s Anger, one that has emerged in years since Hillary Clinton’s unsuccessful bid for the presidency and has become highly profitable on both the left and right for both selling books and merchandise. Gestures toward the idea of women’s anger as political currency have also been deployed in the case of famous right-wingers like Kimberly Guilfoyle and Kayleigh McEnany, whose popularity has surged on the right in recent years, as they peddle dangerous rhetoric in pretty, furious packages.

If the Women’s March served as the awareness and interest stage, it also served the purpose for both consumers and sellers. Almost immediately, there was a burgeoning market for products to be lobbed at the Pantsuit Nation demographic of cheekily livid white women, from “Nasty Woman” apparel to memberships at exclusive “women’s only” spaces, where nasty women could be free plot the revolution in luxury.

At the forefront of the “desire” stage of the funnel was the idea of buying into outward displays of aspirational feminism, and perhaps no one better embodied the idea of a pissed-off but still Instagram-ready feminist than Audrey Gelman, founder of the $250-a-month women’s only co-working space The Wing. The first Manhattan-based branch opened just before the 2016 election; it boasted “I’m with her” stickers, a reference to the Hillary Clinton campaign, and hosted speaking engagements with Clinton herself. Following Trump’s election, Gelman cutely described The Wing as a safe haven where women could blow-dry their hair or “stage a coup.” But inside, women of color say that they were frequently the targets of white women’s anger, including two Black women (one a member) reporting that they were harrassed by an angry white women in the parking lot of the West Hollywood location, and employees of color describing entitled white women guests angry at the “anti-feminism” of not giving them free shit. Gelman’s reported biases and poor treatment of employees certainly contributed to her downfall, but The Wing was probably destined for these problems from the start. It was sold as a place where women with $250 a month to burn could be reassured by their very environment that they were inherently feminist and good for paying that fee—and that their grievances, be they with the patriarchy or Black women parking their cars in the parking lot, were valid and righteous.

Books like Good and Mad also focus on the inherent “goodness” of women’s anger; it’s right there in the title. And while the book does touch on the anger of a few non-white women, like Maime Till and Rosa Parks, it says almost nothing of the power of angry white women to uphold patriarchy and reinforce white supremacy. After all, it was a white woman feigning outrage (that she later admitted was a lie) that killed Emmett Till in the first place. But while white readers ordered so many books about white privilege during the summer of Black Lives Matter protests over the police murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor that they created a shortage, the majority of books about women’s anger often depict all women’s anger as being equal, a force for good and never a tool used to silence and punish others; they largely ignore the slew of white women having meltdowns at the sight of non-white people having barbeques, enjoying swimming pools, or birdwatching that abound on the internet. Perhaps that’s because the idea that white women’s anger is, has been, and continues to be a source of terror for a lot of marginalized people is simply not something white women, even “good” white women who marched for Floyd and Taylor, are particularly interested in buying.

If white women’s anger is a product, then the key to building brand loyalty seems to marketers to be “the customer’s anger is always right.”

The idea of selling Girlboss feminism as always-righteous anger has seeped into mainstream culture as well. Two recent retoolings of campy classics—Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca and the 1996 film The Craft—worked double-time to assure their audiences that every woman’s anger is uncomplicated and important.

In Rebecca, a novel about a woman so envious of her husband’s first wife that she is relieved by and helps him cover up her murder, director Ben Wheatley takes all responsibility away from woman characters. “What I wanted to do with Danvers is to bring her back away from that kind of pantomime-y, villain-y character and bring her back more into someone who’s more sympathetic,” Wheatley recently said of his quibbles with the way one woman wrote another woman in a novel that has endured for 82 years. And in The Craft: Legacy,
a hyper-modern, all-woman coven waxes nonsensical about the power of their uteruses, are lovingly corrected by their trans member before peacefully and amicably agreeing that they are all uniquely powerful, and benevolently uses witchcraft to make classmates woke in order to defeat a Jordan Peterson-type warlock, only ever arguing over the consent issues involved with casting spells. Women are only angry at the “correct” things in this new Craft, or simply confused about the source of their anger in Rebecca, likely because filmmakers are concerned that women customers on the internet will become angry if they see stories about women that are complicated or, worse, have villains who are angry women. The final, patronizing product of both is toothless, nothing anger that ultimately has no concrete source or point except to say that all angry women are correct in their own way.

Adopting a “feminist” facade of pointless anger has become a product in and of itself, be it Kimberly Guilfoyle screaming about cancel culture or a pair of tough-looking $695 women’s over-the-knee boots that simply say “Vote.”

If white women’s anger is a product, then the key to building brand loyalty seems to marketers to be “the customer’s anger is always right.” An Etsy search for the term “Nasty Woman,” the name Donald Trump called Hillary Clinton during a debate over for years ago, currently yields over 17,000 product results, mostly of products tethered to the 2020 election. A postcard from a seller called “Pretty Girl Postcards” features a row of white sufferagettes in Victorican garb with a caption that reads “Taking our country back…one vote at a time.” What’s unclear is whether that message is supposed to appeal to the Kimberly Guilfoyle crowd or the pussy hat crowd, both of whom would say that their anger is the correct and necessary kind. But ultimately the card could be purchased for an angry woman from either group because it says nothing at all. It’s just a piece of merchandise expressing a vaguely angry but still nicely packaged sentiment.

The original point of this celebration of women’s anger was ostensibly to dismantle current racist, sexist systems. But adopting a “feminist” facade of pointless anger has quickly become a product in and of itself, be it Kimberly Guilfoyle screaming about cancel culture or a pair of tough-looking $695 women’s over-the-knee boots that simply say “Vote.” Neither the speech nor the boots are mourning anything—nor are they gilded by hope. They’re selling an idea: By simply buying into the glossy performance of anger, consumers are supporting whatever vague idea of “change” to which they subscribe. By embracing the capitalist idea that “feminism” means whatever a customer wants it to mean, the right has been able to proffer figureheads like Amy Coney Barrett as proof that their party is making strides towards including women, by including women who will work alongside them to dismantle women’s rights and uphold white male supremacy. Throwing some women at a microphone to yell some racist, conspiracy-leaden talking points is the equivalent of selling a pink MAGA hat. Looking at the intended customer for myriad products focused on and cultural nods toward women’s anger says a great deal about exactly whose anger matters, both from a political and marketing standpoint.

Profit margins aside, there’s no real evidence that anything good or useful has come from the boom in products designed to showcase women’s anger in the years following the Women’s March. According to Pew Research statistics from 2016, 46 percent of validated Trump voters were white women. In 2020, despite a slew of news reports that cropped up around the idea that white women were fed up with Trump’s anger, exit polls indicated that more white women voted for Trump this time around than last, despite the fact that the other ticket delivered America its first woman vice president. And there is certainly more to be angry about in 2020 than 2016—the 500 children ripped from their parents at the border now lost to the system, probably forever; a Supreme Court primed to overturn Roe v. Wade and states like Louisiana with laws at the ready to make sure abortion access is over as soon as the judgment comes down; 230,000 people dead of covid-19; the list goes on and on. However, products geared toward celebrating women’s anger largely ignore the horrific circumstances, grief, and profound loss of the last four years that might inspire anger. Instead, anger itself is offered in cheerful shades of blush and bashful across a slew of products that feel mostly like empty platitudes. It’s not that women shouldn’t be angry: it’s that Women’s Anger is simply another marketing strategy, with absolutely no context as to what exactly we are buying into.

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