Breaking The Rules
In Praise of Angry Women
Why we should all embrace our rage and use it as a tool for change.
A lot of us who watched Serena Williams hold her ground against a man who assumed she was unreasonable and emotional this weekend thought, “been there.” Women aren’t allowed to be angry the same way men are, and we often pay for it. But if we don’t speak up, how can we expect things to change?
“I just feel like the fact that I have to go through this is just an example for the next person that has emotions and that want to express themselves and wants to be a strong woman,” Williams said in a press conference after the match.
Enter Soraya Chemaly, an activist and author of the new book Rage Becomes Her, about how women can use their rage to become just that sort of strong woman. She argues that anger isn’t the thing that gets in our way, it is the way to make real change in our lives. Below, an excerpt from the book, out today:
There is no woman alive who does not understand that anger in women is openly reviled. During the past several years, I’ve spoken to thousands of girls and women at schools, conferences and corporations. Without fail, after I speak, they come up to me to say the same two things: they want to know how to stand up for themselves “without sounding angry or bitter,” and they want to share stories about how, when they do express anger about issues specifically relevant to their lives as women, people respond with doubt and often aggression.
We share the experience, in anger or even simply speaking assertively, of being told we are “crazy,” “irrational,” even “demonic.” Our society is infinitely creative in finding ways to dismiss and pathologize women’s rage. I have always understood that being seen as an “angry woman” – sometimes simply for sharing my thoughts out loud – meant that I would be cast as overemotional, irrational, “passionate,” maybe hysterical and certainly a “not objective” and fuzzy thinker.
Ask yourself, why would a society deny girls and women, from cradle to grave, the right to feel, express and leverage anger and be respected when we do? Anger has a bad rap, but it is actually one of the most hopeful and forward thinking of all of our emotions. It begets transformation, manifesting our passion and keeping us invested in the world. It is a rational and emotional response to trespass, violation and moral disorder. It bridges the divide between the “is” and the “ought,” between a difficult past and an improved possibility. Anger viscerally warns us of violation, threat, and insult. By effectively severing anger from “good womanhood” we chose to sever girls and women from the emotion that best protects us against danger and injustice.
Like many women, I am still constantly reminded that it’s “better” if women didn’t “seem so angry.” What does “better” mean exactly? And why does it fall so disproportionately on the shoulders of women to be “better” by putting anger aside in order to “understand,” forgive and forget? Does it make us “good” people? Is it healthy? Does it enable us to protect our interests, bring change to struggling communities or upend failing systems?
An unqualified no.
Mainly, it props up a profoundly corrupt status quo.
When we are angry and expect a reasonable response we are walking, talking refutations of this status quo. In expressing anger and demanding to be heard, we reveal the deeper belief that we can engage with and shape the world around us, a right that, until now, has almost always been reserved for men. When a girl or woman is angry, she is saying, “What I am feeling, thinking, and saying matters.” As the treatment of our anger and the state of our politics vividly confirm, this is not an assurance that we can take for granted. Saying, “I am angry,” is a necessary first step to, “Listen.” “Believe me.” “Trust me.” “I know.” “Time to do something.”
This is the real danger of our anger: it makes it clear that we take ourselves seriously.
Excerpted from Rage Becomes Her by Soraya Chemaly, copyright 2018. Reprinted with permission.
Making Sure Women’s Rights Are Human Rights (TheCovey, September 2018 issue)
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