Can it ever be sweet?
than it actually making the avenger feel better. That’s all very well, but I wonder what they would have to say about a friend of mine who still laughs joyfully a decade later when she talks about throwing her ex-partner’s beloved bicycle off a cliff on a cycling holiday during which it came out that he was sleeping with their neighbour. It’s funny to imagine a group of men in corduroy trying earnestly to explain to her that she would have been better off simply shrugging and saying, ‘Never mind, dear, she seems like a nice enough lady.’
There is of course the broader question of aggression and what place it ought to have in the world. One of the most important lessons we learn as children is how to contain upset and rage, but however many times we are told not to scream, snatch, slap or shove, it can take quite a while to learn to be civil. ‘Don’t hit your brother/sister’ isn’t generally a message that sinks in the first time. Having mastered the art of treating other people with restraint, even when they enrage us, there’s still the question of what happens to our destructive impulses. Do they actually disappear, or do we just get better at hiding them? Logic would point towards the latter. Still, it’s traditionally been the case that men have had more socially sanctioned vents for their aggression than women. They could always go to war, play sports, put a rival company out of business or get into a pub brawl. On the other hand ‘ femininity’ largely meant being passive and accepting. This may go some way towards explaining women’s reputation for being a little crazy when rubbed up the wrong way.
Without normalised outlets for hostility, any bad feeling that erupts might manifest itself weirdly. One possible effect of this is that certain women become adept at expressing their fury in inventive ways. If you don’t have the option to punch someone, you may come up with a more elegant solution. In 1992, Lady Sarah GrahamMoon became famous for giving her cheating husband’s bottles of vintage wine to their neighbours, and for snipping the cuffs off his Savile Row suits. Abandoned wives everywhere cheered her on. If you’ve experienced the pain of being jilted, it’s easy to empathise. Psychologists will have to try a bit harder if they seriously want to persuade people that it’s better to let a villain slip away.
If you don’t strike back, you are left with the question of what to do instead. If there’s a serious risk of unexpressed anger turning in on itself, is it really fair to advise people not to act on their vengeful impulses? Internalised anger can lead to
Tellingly, the word revenge has
its origins in the Latin ‘vindicare’, meaning ‘to lay claim to’, indicating