RAGE AGAINST THE ROUTINE
Women are taught to swallow their fury from girlhood. Are we finally on the verge of an anger revolution?
Reclaim your anger and fight for female rights.
You don’t have to be a tennis buff to know what happened at the 2018 US Open final. You probably heard about Serena Williams’ argument with the umpire and the New York Post (unjustly) dubbing it “the mother of all meltdowns”.
Williams had the right to be angry. But it was the massive reaction to her anger that told a bigger story. Women are not supposed to be angry. And as a woman of colour, Williams faced double the backlash. She was spectacularly vilified with misogynistic and racist commentary – and that was just the mainstream media. A tweet from former US tennis champion Billie Jean King summed it up. “When a woman is emotional, she’s ‘hysterical’ and she’s penalised for it. When a man does the same, he’s ‘outspoken’ and there are no repercussions.”
Prominent women daring to be angry are quickly written off as “shrill”, “unhinged” or “hysterical”. You only need to scroll through your Twitter feed to see this in action. It’s nothing new though; throughout history angry women have been mocked, humiliated and silenced. The “scold’s bridle”, a muzzle that depressed the wearer’s tongue to prevent them speaking, was used as a punishment for outspoken women in the Middle Ages.
These days we have internet trolls instead. When conservative shock jock Steve Price called feminist writer Van Badham “hysterical” during a 2016 episode of Q&A she received violent threats (including one saying “I pray for your death”).
It’s common for a woman’s anger to be thrown back in her face. This is a phenomenon that writer and activist Soraya Chemaly unpacks in her book Rage Becomes Her. “Angry women are often dismissed and not taken seriously,” she says.
In one study that Chemaly examines, researchers ask women what they fear most about getting angry. “Women fear mockery. Because that’s their experience; they’ve been labelled and dismissed and not taken seriously.”
This can also be compounded by racial stereotypes like the “angry black woman”, “sad Asian” and “fiery Latino”. “All of these categorisations are used to silence women and make a mockery of their anger,” explains Chemaly. “Imposing these stereotypes minimises what they’re actually saying.”
The “angry black woman” label is regularly wheeled out as a way to diminish indigenous women, says Dr Chelsea Bond, a senior lecturer with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies Unit at the University of Queensland and co-host of the
Wild Black Women podcast. “It suggests that what we have to say is not reasonable, rational or legitimate,” she says. “Policing anger is a way to ensure women, particularly women of colour, are submissive. It’s a mechanism for keeping us in our place.”
Women have a lot to be angry about. The #Metoo movement has uncovered the gargantuan extent of sexual assault and harassment, we still have a gender pay gap at work as well as a domestic work gap at home and there is deafening silence around domestic violence. In the US, the Trump administration has taken a sledgehammer to women’s rights.
Are we on the verge of a rage revolution? There is definitely something in the air. Social media has amplified the voices of women and enabled us to form communities. “When I was at university [in the ‘90s] feminist discussions used to take place in small rooms – now feminists like Clementine Ford have almost 200,000 Facebook followers,” says Badham.
If we are really going to step into our rage, we’ll need to undo generations of anti-anger conditioning. Chemaly tells me girls are socialised to suppress their rage through implicit bias. “Research shows adults convey very subtle ideas, and one of the strongest children hear is that girls should think about the people around them, and prioritise their needs over their own. They should be nurturing, affectionate and feminine – those things are not compatible with anger.”
It’s no wonder then, that when we get angry some of us turn to therapy for help. One therapist confides that she’s seen the number of women presenting with anger-related issues triple in the past few years. Another says women make up 64 per cent of anger management clients. Anger can even be a symptom of depression (including postnatal depression), anxiety and stress.
Sometimes, rage can be a sign you’ve got far too much on your plate. Clinical psychologist Dr Olga Lavalle says the constant juggling act that women perform to meet the demands of work and family life can lead to exhaustion and anger.
Lavalle says this can manifest in many ways, including yelling, throwing objects, passive-aggressive behaviour and sarcasm. “Acknowledging anger and taking appropriate action to deal with the problem and express anger healthily is the key to prevent it from taking over [your life],” she says.
Perhaps capitalising on the current mood, “rage rooms” have been popping up all over Australia. Ed Hunter is founder of The Break Room in Melbourne’s trendy Collingwood, where paying customers can smash their way through china, glass, laptops and even fridges, all to a thumping heavy-metal soundtrack. “Women make up 70 per cent of our customers,” he says. “We provide a judgement-free space for them to express their aggression.” He says that when women publicly reveal their rage, they usually face a chorus of: “What’s her problem? Why’s she so abrasive? What a bitch. Must be that time of the month.”
Chemaly isn’t surprised the “anger industry” attracts so many women. But it pisses her off that women have to pay for the service. “It should be free,” she says. She also adds that while unleashing your fury in a rage room might feel good, it won’t change your circumstances, so in the long run it’s an unhelpful exercise.
So what should we do when our anger about the injustice in the world overwhelms us? For a lot of women the answer is activism. “Anger is a productive emotion – it inspires me into action,” says Dr Bond. And Badham is on the same page: “Anger inspires me.”
Case in point: seven million women around the world took part in the 2017 Women’s March, with armies of placardcarrying women demonstrating outside courts and parliaments, raising their voices in unison. And in October 2018, women’s anger reached a crescendo. While the Trump presidency has been like kindling for women’s rage – the appointment of Brett Kavanaugh (who faces multiple allegations of sexual assault) as a supreme court justice is pure kerosene. Women are ablaze with fury – in the US and globally. When socialist Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-cortez addressed a rally in Boston – her anger was palpable. “Sexual assault is about the abuse of power,” she said. “It is always women who are marginalised. It is the young, it is the interns, it is the immigrant, it is the trans. They are always most at risk because society listens to them the least. And that is why a man believes that an elite education, a high income and his rich friends [means he] can get away with sexual assault.”
As the Senate prepared to vote for Kavanaugh, angry crowds, including Amy Schumer and Emily Ratajkowski, gathered outside. “Let’s stay together, let’s fight, let’s keep showing up,” said Schumer. Later the pair were among hundreds of protestors led away by police.
A record number of American women are running for political office. Chemaly recently tweeted: “Vote. Run. Vote. Run. Vote. Run… Make sure these men on the Judiciary Committee and the ones in the clown car formerly known as the White House fully appreciate the political power of women’s anger.” And more and more female Australian politicians speaking up about how parliament is toxic for women means the call for change will only get louder.
The tide is turning. We’re furious. We’re motivated. And we’re no longer biting our tongues. E
“GIRLS ARE SOCIALISED TO SUPPRESS THEIR RAGE THROUGH IMPLICIT BIAS”