My Seething Rage

August 20, 2009

My mother used to worry a lot that I’d get pushed around by other kids when I was in grade school, because I’ve always been sort of a gentle soul. When my parents tried to get me to play little league, I picked flowers in the outfield. My high school boyfriend used to affably joke that I would grow up to “save all the puppies and kittens.” I help caterpillars across the street so they don’t get run over.

In short, I’m a huge wuss.

I honestly don’t spend a lot of time being angry. While I have sympathy for activists who think differently about anger, I tend to side with Gandhi on the whole “getting angry at your oppressor only destroys you” thing. When it comes to social justice issues, it’s basically my softie nature, not my anger, that keeps me going. I really love people a lot, and I want them to be happy. That’s why I do this feminism thing.

In fact, feminism has made me a lot less angry at men than many nonfeminist women I know, because it offers an explanation for hurtful patriarchal behaviors that doesn’t assume that men are just acting that way because they’re biologically programmed to be nasty and inconsiderate (and in fact, it has been shown that feminists are less hostile to men than nonfeminists).

Like most feminists, however, I have definitely been accused of being a feminist because I’m “angry.”

I have a few problems with this.

First, it’s an ad hominem attack. Even if I were absolutely full of anger, it would not invalidate my views. Dismissing what I have to say by claiming that I’m experiencing an emotion simply does not follow, logically.

Second, it is perfectly reasonable to be angry about things like sexual assault, partner violence, forced sterilization, forced birth, the wage gap, a lack of decent childcare, hateful media representations of women, getting thrown out of restaurants for breastfeeding, street harassment, the way guys always interrupt women but not other men, and the existence of the bromance as a film genre. There is no reason not to be angry about these things. In fact, many activists feel that anger is a positive motivating force for them, and there once was a very famous feminist who outlined exactly why we should be angry about injustice. I think maybe she had a point!

Finally, the claim that a woman is angry, stated as if it is an accusation, is sexist on its face. It’s a way of attempting to silence her by stating that she is not living up to patriarchal standards of behavior for women in this culture. Studies have documented that women are punished harshly for showing anger. From a very young age, we are expected to be smiley lovey dovey nurturing sugar and spice. NOT angry. Angry women are scary!

This, not incidentally, is one way the culture makes sure women put up with a lot more shit than they should. The word “angry” is thrown around any time a woman simply stands up for herself, as a way of shutting her down.

Ani DiFranco, a musician who was the Bob Dylan of my generation in terms of her lyrical skill, but never got anywhere near the kind of recognition he did for some reason I can’t quite put my finger on but certainly has nothing to do with the fact that she’s a ladyperson, once wrote the following lines—probably very familiar to feminist readers:

I am not an angry girl
But it seems like I’ve got everyone fooled
Every time I say something they find hard to hear
They chalk it up to my anger and never to their own fear
Imagine you’re a girl
Just trying to finally come clean
Knowing full well they’d prefer you were dirty
And smiling

What Ms. DiFranco is pointing to is the reasonableness of a woman being unhappy that she is treated as subordinate to men in our culture, the fact that women who point out this injustice are often dismissed as unreasonable when it’s really those who hold misogynistic views who should be questioned, and the fact that rejecting patriarchy (angrily or not) is actually a more psychologically healthy response than sucking it up and going along.

Ugh. She is just so angry!

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