Women are taught to swal­low their fury from girl­hood. Are we fi­nally on the verge of an anger revo­lu­tion?

ELLE (Australia) - - Contents -

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


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