ON... ANGRY WOMEN
AT MARCHES, ON-SCREEN and in GOVERNMENT, WOMEN ARE MAD as HELL. LAURA BATES EXPLORES WHY RAGE is ALL THE RAGE
Feel the fury as we explore our collective rage
“ANGER IN WOMEN HAS HISTORICALLY BEEN VIEWED
as A FLAW, A SIN, A SIGN OF MENTAL
ILLNESS AND CHAOS”
‘If you’re not angry, you’re not paying attention.’ Along with the millions of people who joined the 2O17 Women’s March, there were millions of placards. But the signs about anger are the ones I remember most. A man who’d boasted about being able to grab women ‘by the pussy’ had been elected President of the United States and, furious at his sexism, racism and Islamophobia, women were angry – and showing it.
Today, we stand at an extraordinary moment in history, when women’s rage is finally being unleashed. The #MeToo and Time’s Up campaigns, alongside a resurgence of fourth-wave feminism, have flooded the internet with thousands of stories detailing abuse. It hasn’t always been this way, though. When a man put his hands between my legs on a London bus in 2O12, I didn’t feel angry. I felt scared. When I said out loud what was happening to me and people on the bus looked the other way, I didn’t feel angry. I felt ashamed. When I got off the bus and walked the rest of the way home, I didn’t feel angry. I felt resigned.
That night was the beginning of a journey I could never have imagined. In the weeks that followed, I started speaking to other women and girls about gender inequality. Many, like me, had experienced sexism so often that they had simply come to view it as a normal part of being a woman. But hearing their stories did something to me. It made me angry.
In fact, I wasn’t just angry. I was downright furious. Not only were we being abused, harassed, assaulted and discriminated against on a daily basis, we were also being tricked into accepting it. When we did dare to get angry, we were told we were overreacting, needed to lighten up or to take it as a compliment.
The silencing, shaming and stigma that attaches itself to female anger starts early. Little girls who raise their voices are branded ‘bossy’, whereas their male friends are seen to be showing leadership potential. Male anger is seen as powerful, righteous and important, while furious women are dismissed as hormonal, hysterical and abrasive. For black women, the stereotype is even more damaging. Brittney Cooper, author of Eloquent Rage, has written: ‘Owning anger is a dangerous thing if you’re a fat black girl. Angry black women get dismissed all the time. We’re told we are irrational, crazy, out of touch, entitled, disruptive and not team players.’
These tropes aren’t just offensive, they have a direct negative impact on women’s lives. A 2O18 study from Arizona State University* revealed that male lawyers who use anger in their closing arguments are perceived as ‘powerful’, while women who use the same tactics are ‘shrill’. Lead researcher Jessica Salerno said, ‘The angry men were found to be more effective, and viewers wanted to hire them. However, this backfired for women. People thought the angry women were less effective, and they wanted to hire them less.’
There is an old stereotype of feminists as angry, shrieking harpies who hate men and have no sense of humour. But being angry doesn’t mean being humourless – far from it. When an American commentator wrote an open letter warning my husband I would one day burn down our house, kill our children and join a coven of lesbian witches, I was angry, sure. But I also laughed. (And seriously considered the coven.)
It’s no coincidence that this moment is mirrored by a plethora of furious female on-screen heroines, from tough-talking survivor Jessica Jones to rebel handmaid Offred and Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette. And feminist powerhouses Rebecca Traister and Soraya Chemaly both publish books about female rage this autumn. In a piece for
New York Magazine, Traister described the trend of white men who benefit from the status quo attempting to undermine angry women’s protests. ‘One reason that the fury of women is dismissed as theatrical and marginal and unserious is precisely because, on some level, the powerful must sense that it is the opposite of all those things. That, in fact, it presents a very real threat.’
But even as we begin to recognise the true power of female anger, women are still being cautioned against showing it. Rose McGowan and Asia Argento, two of the first women to accuse disgraced movie mogul Harvey Weinstein of sexual violence, were pushed aside in the subsequent press coverage, as people winced from their unabated fury. When asked about Hollywood harassment on the red carpet, actress Uma Thurman said she was ‘waiting to feel less angry’ before she felt able to discuss it. Women know that letting their rage show can cause a catastrophic backlash.
There is a widespread sense that women should be grateful these issues are finally being discussed. That to be angry now is to be ungracious in the face of victory – times, after all, are starting to change. But nothing will truly change unless we allow women to express their anger, unless we hear them, and allow that anger to shape the societal changes that are to come. Chemaly says, ‘Anger in women has historically been viewed as a flaw, a sin, a sign of mental illness, moral decline and chaos… A society that doesn’t respect and accept women’s anger, a rational response to injustice and threat, doesn’t respect and accept women as fully human.’