ELLE (UK) - - Contents -

Feel the fury as we ex­plore our col­lec­tive rage




‘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.’

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