In the aftermath of Weinstein, Uma Thurman gave an interview that has since gone viral, speaking through gritted teeth, with visible restraint, and saying that she doesn’t have a “tidy sound bite” but will speak when she is less angry because speaking in anger has often led to regret (Thurman has since come forward with her experiences with both Weinstein and Tarantino). But why did the clip go viral? Thurman wasn’t actually angry; she specifically said so. But it was lauded as a perfect portrayal of female anger.
It seems female anger is only palatable when it is reined in, not threatening to be reckless but instead promising calm and collected reserve. In Thurman’s case, a seemingly more “rational” response at a later point in time.
From a very young age, boys are socialized to be strong and independent, for they will become the leaders of the world (there’s that dreaded patriarchy again). Girls, on the other hand, are taught implicitly that weakness and vulnerability are desirable qualities, often glorified as elegant melancholy and even attractive (consider the damsel in distress trope – the base of pretty much every Bollywood movie).
Female anger is often seen as threatening, as intent on hurting, instead of coming from a place of hurt. Consider the Medusa with her writhing locks of hair, or the ‘woman scorned’ narrative. Angry women are considered bitchy or bossy or hostile, and angry men are considered to be strong.
Hillary Clinton in her political memoir describes how much pressure she has felt, through her entire political career, not to come off as angry and alienate the public, as well as not to let her defeat embitter her. The image of the embittered woman plotting her revenge casts a long shadow over every woman who dares to get angry – will her anger be diagnosed as hysteria (“Are you on your period?”)? Rejected as paranoia (“Stop being such a conspiracy theorist!”)? Men have always had the right to be angry, women not so much.
FEMALE ANGER IS OFTEN SEEN AS THREATENING, AS INTENT ON HURTING, INSTEAD OF COMING FROM A PLACE OF HURT.
Rage becomes a privilege instead of a right and the more passive reaction (sadness) is eulogized. Our very Supreme Court mentions “a deep sense of deathless shame” as the ideal emotional response to rape and the woman who feels it the ‘ideal victim’. ‘Victim’ in itself is a word of passivity. Active accusers who rage or get angry have no place, either in our jurisprudence or in our society.
It is almost as if when a wronged woman is angry, the wrong is forgotten and what is seen is her rage, as at the very least improper, and in its most extreme, a threat to others. Female anger somehow takes away its precursor: what caused the anger in the first place? Society cannot bring itself to like angry women. Women who have been wronged must continue to be likeable, to be gracefully sad and self-effacing.
For some, as Audre Lorde points out in her essay on anger, rage is not a choice but an inevitable consequence of, for instance, systemic racism. Ironically, despite research showing that black women feel both anger and the urge to suppress it more than white women, anger is much more palatable in a white female face than a black one.
Female anger almost always makes men uncomfortable. This is to be valued – coming to terms with your own privilege is not meant to be a comfortable process and feminism is not meant to be pleasant to men. Female anger leads to clearer dialogue about misogyny.
So let me say that it’s high time we get angry, because maybe if we are brave enough to be angry, no matter how uncomfortable men (and others in positions of power relative to women, trans women, non-binary people and those who identify as female) get, #MeToo will finally be able to go from a moment in history to a sustained movement, perhaps even long-term social change.
Let’s take a step back and look at the world we inhabit: a world where men are in most positions of power, where men get into a room and feel entitled to legislate on women’s bodies, where status quo has a male lens, media is almost always presented from a male perspective and where feminism has to be pleasant and agreeable to all men all the time.
But feminism is not a movement primarily concerned with men. Although it benefits them also because it breaks down antiquated gender roles, pushes back against unrealistic expectations based on toxic portrayals of masculinity, expects more of men than the idea that they are so animalistic that they will rape a woman if she is wearing a short dress, and supports gay rights because being gay doesn’t make anyone less of a man.
So if you’re a man, you might feel uncomfortable when, say, a list of male sexual harassers in academia is released. And of course, there will be a large section of you who will worry about what if it was you on the list next, or what about all the false allegations, or can men not even hug women anymore?
But power is a zero-sum game, so feminism will lead to men losing some of their power. This will make them uncomfortable because they are accustomed to privilege, the privilege that comes with centuries of entitlement, whether it be the entitlement to land, to voting, to a career, to education, or to “pussy”. Most of this entitlement comes at the cost of women.
So please don’t demand that I stop whining about feminism and make myself more likeable. The very pressure on women to be likeable is a manifestation of patriarchy. Please don’t cast me as the bitter, hysterical woman on her period when it’s you and your male privilege barring me from an entire world of opportunity.
RAGE BECOMES A PRIVILEGE INSTEAD OF A RIGHT, AND THE MORE PASSIVE REACTION (SADNESS) IS EULOGIZED.
Please don’t ask me to be nicer about being deliberately excluded. Please don’t say smile, because your smile is beautiful. I don’t want to be beautiful. I want to be angry and I want to be fierce, and I want to change the world.
Let’s stop pandering to the jibes and demands to make our feminism more agreeable, and let’s start being brave enough to be angry. For me feminism is not an option, it is my very survival. Men have the privilege to decide whether or not they are allies. I, on the other hand, depend on feminism’s fight for equality for my very ability to exist, to breathe and to have basic rights.
It is not a debate I can engage in for my entertainment (as if it were a movie playing out before my eyes; let’s get the coke and popcorn!), it’s a matter of life and death for me. I am sick of spending so much of my energy on figuring out how to ensure that I don’t get raped or assaulted or murdered.
It makes me sick that every time I am walking on a road at night and see a man/group of men, I walk across to the other side of the road as a reflex. Every time I read about sexual assault or abuse my response is a wry smile because I’m no longer shocked or appalled, just resigned and desensitized.
Let’s stop reacting with resignation and passivity, and instead get angry, and use our collective rage as a tool to make social change. For too long, we have been called names implying we are too angry to be taken seriously: feminazi, ball-breaker, crazy, bitch, witch. Yes, I am angry, and I will scream until I lose my voice.
Mini Saxena, Feminism In India