Female Anger
September 28, 2018 8:08 PM   Subscribe

All the Rage: What a literature that embraces female anger can achieve. Rebecca Solnit: "Instead of a theory of male anger, we have a growing literature in essays and now books about female anger, a phenomenon in transition..."
Rebecca Traister’s new book, Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger, scrutinizes its causes, its repression, and its release in the last half-dozen years of feminist action, particularly in response to the treatment of Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election, and in the remarkable power shift that women demanded in #MeToo. Soraya Chemaly’s Rage Becomes Her: The Power of Women’s Anger focuses on the ways in which women’s (and by contrast, men’s) emotions are managed, judged, and valued in contemporary North American life, while Brittney Cooper’s Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower is a first-person narrative about power, solidarity, race, gender, and their intersections.

These books arrive at a moment when a lot of women have changed and too many men have not—and some are, in fact, retreating into revved-up misogyny and rage against the erosion of their supremacy. Women no longer obliged to please men may finally be able to express rage, because we’re less economically dependent on men than ever before, and because feminism has been redefining what’s appropriate and acceptable. “Gender-role expectations . . . dictate the degree to which we can use anger effectively in personal contexts and to participate in civic and political life,” Chemaly notes. “A society that does not respect women’s anger is one that does not respect women—not as human beings, thinkers, knowers, active participants, or citizens.”

The same feminist transformations that have allowed this outpouring may eventually wear down some of the causes of our anger. Much of the anger discussed in all these books comes from being thwarted—from the inability to command respect, equality, control over one’s body and destiny, or from witnessing the oppression of other women. One of the pitfalls in trying to establish equality is to confuse gaining power with unleashing rage. For all of us this is the conundrum: How, without idealizing and entrenching anger, can we grant nonwhite people and nonmale people an equal right to feeling and expressing it?
posted by homunculus (19 comments total) 71 users marked this as a favorite
As someone who was of age to live it in the 1990s, I really feel like we're seeing a second, more inclusive, even more articulate round of riot-grrl cultural zeitgeist, and I heartily applaud it and encourage it.
posted by erst at 10:05 PM on September 28, 2018 [16 favorites]

Oooh, are we doing recs? I read this earlier today. An Axe for the Frozen Sea by Megan Stielstra in The Believer.
posted by Ruki at 12:02 AM on September 29, 2018 [4 favorites]

I've no idea where Chelsea Cain and Kate Niemczyk will be going with their new Image comic Man-Eaters, but it strikes me as being relevant to this discussion, and I thought the first issue was excellent. Cain's recent Hollywood Reporter interview has a lot more information about the book. Here's a few sample pages from that first issue.
posted by Paul Slade at 12:06 AM on September 29, 2018 [5 favorites]

Eruptions are messy, violent, and unpredictable, and scientists are getting better at spotting the build-up to a certain degree, this pressure has to come, it is beyond the slow venting many of the most recent books and articles represent. And I worry about the small initial lava flows that are showing us the way, like Io Tiller Wright....they tend to get covered/erased once the really violent explosions begin. But nature’s metaphors only take us so far because there is another force in human terms trying everything to keep that pressure cooker closed.

I really regret comforting my (Irish) daughter on the night of Trump’s election, saying, love, ease off on the tears a bit, hey, in my generation we didn’t expect the Berlin Wall to come down, we thought acid rain would strip developed nations of their woodlands, I never expected peace in Northern Ireland, .....trying to paint a more positive picture for her to hold onto. I’ve lost that as all of those required practical, consensus building, scientifically based decisions, crafted & agreed by opposing policy makers.

Patriarchal power has localised successfully to such an extent, all over the world, it’s no longer the open redneck racists/miogynists I worry about, they’re easy to see coming. It’s the myriad of subtly woven features in the very fabric of societies in every country, city, town, village.

The only hope I hold onto now is an old professor of Spanish explaining the end of the Franco period and telling us that the end of repressive movements tends to get quite chaotic and often more violent than when the status quo imposed their power, so hopefully that’s what I’m seeing in a few places around the world. Jacinda Aherne is a light, hopefully we’re near the end of the tunnel.
posted by Wilder at 12:16 AM on September 29, 2018 [17 favorites]

Via: Btw, I found the link to Solnit's piece in the second to last paragraph of another New Republic piece:

How Republicans Stole #MeToo: They're speaking the movement's language, but in defense of Brett Kavanaugh.
posted by homunculus at 9:29 AM on September 29, 2018 [2 favorites]

homonculus, thanks for the Kate Harding link. What a resource. I am going to fill my Pocket with these links.
posted by some chick at 9:55 AM on September 29, 2018 [1 favorite]

You're welcome!
posted by homunculus at 1:05 PM on September 29, 2018

A bit of a derail, but Martha Nussbaum's insights are always worth checking out: The roots of male rage, on show at the Kavanaugh hearing

Martha Nussbaum previously.
posted by homunculus at 1:08 PM on September 29, 2018 [1 favorite]

I'm glad to see Solnit writing about this topic; it's huge, and it's something I suspect a lot of us will continue to explicitly wrestle with for a long time to come. I wish she had engaged more with Britney C. Cooper's Eloquent Rage, rather just briefly referencing it, because I read it earlier this year and it blew my mind, it was so good. I don't often like essay collections, but this was more a memoir and cohesive theoretical & historical work, the chapters not discrete but rather in a continued conversation with each other. I highly recommend it. This interview at Cassius with Stephanie Long was what introduced me to her work. I really appreciated Cooper's focus on the process and messiness of our experiences of anger (all the facets, not just anger as destruction or anger as a feeling): anger identifies sites of violence, anger clarifies, anger connects. Anger opens space up for demanding & imagining alternatives.

As much as I appreciate the stories of women who remained cool under pressure or who consciously exercised what control they could over their stories, like Thurman, I also appreciate the stories where anger isn't up for public consumption in such elegantly effective ways, and I hope the praiseful dichotmous framing doesn't de-value the way even "ineffective" anger acts as a connector between women (and nb people, and allies). I think often about this post about chess champion Hou Yifan and especially BrashTech's comment. Being able to articulate "Is this the one where I flip the table? Is it betraying all the women who come after me if I don't flip the table?"--and knowing there is no right answer, and that this is the thought process other women go through too, judging when to say ENOUGH--has had a major effect on me. Hou Yifan's anger has left a lasting impression and changed my life for the better. I hope our evolving anger narrative acknowledges the process and messiness of our anger and how that doesn't de-legitimize it.

Cooper wrote this in Eloquent Rage, in the context of Black respectability politics and Black rage:
Because respectability is a rage-management project, those invested in Black respectability are often deeply uncomfortable with Black rage. Respectability tells us that staying alive matters more than protecting one's dignity. Black rage says that living without dignity is no life at all. This rage is dangerous because it can't be reasoned with, can't be forced to accept the daily indignities of racism, and more than likely will fight back, rather than fleeing or submitting. The consequence of all these antirespectable choices range from violence to death. Ask Sandra Bland.… My anger is always libation for my fallen sisters.

To be clear, Black living and Black surviving matters. We can't be dogmatic about the rightness or wrongness of embracing rage or choosing safety. It would be irresponsible for me to tell people to embrace rage and all its consequences when I daily put on a respectable outfit and drive in a solidly middle-class car to a solidly middle-class job. Perfecting the art of respectability in the right moments helped me to make it this far. But the more access I have to halls of power, to places where decisions get made, the more rage I feel. I know how to "count the costs" of my rage, but I wonder if we've learned how to count the costs of our respectability. It makes us emotionally dishonest. It makes us unable to see each other. It causes us to sympathize with the dignity vampires, come to take everything from us while claiming we brought it on ourselves.
There's the question Solnit asks, the one that ends the FPP: "How, without idealizing and entrenching anger, can we grant nonwhite people and nonmale people an equal right to feeling and expressing it?" We don't have those answers, because the second part of her question is not achievable yet in any widespread, mainstream form, and I think there's more value in keeping our idea of anger as complex and imperfect, in checking ourselves from dogmaticness as Cooper says, and in continuing to critique the ways our anger is portrayed and consumed, than there is in hand-wringing over idealizing and entrenching anger. Certainly we know by now that denying and suppressing the anger of POC and women has had no effect on de-idealizing or de-entrenching white and male anger, or in preventing that anger from causing violence.

The framing of Solnit's question does grate on me, though: nobody grants anyone else the right to feeling or expressing anger in the first place! I know she's saying it figuratively, not literally, and the question is more along the lines of "How can we disarm white and male anger while not suppressing the anger of marginalized groups?" I think the Alicia Garza quote from the essay probably gets at the heart of this all better, and may more productively guide us to a healthier collective future: "[T]he question for us is: Are we prepared to try and be the first movement in history that learns how to work through that anger? To not get rid of it, not suppress it, but learn how to get through it together for the sake of what is on the other side?"
posted by mixedmetaphors at 2:47 PM on September 29, 2018 [7 favorites]

And between the books Solnit looks at and everything in the Kate Harding syllabus (more books about women's anger will be out this fall and winter!), I'm just really excited that anger is becoming more and more discussed. I used to only know about Audre Lorde's excellent The Uses of Anger: Women Responding to Racism. I'm glad the conversation is opening up more and more!
posted by mixedmetaphors at 3:02 PM on September 29, 2018 [1 favorite]

Rebecca Traister and Soraya Chemaly: Should women be angry? Discuss
posted by homunculus at 10:09 PM on September 29, 2018


I thought it was just me.

Tears are permitted as an outlet for wrath in part because they are fundamentally misunderstood. One of my sharpest memories from an early job, in a male-dominated office, where I once found myself weeping with inexpressible rage, was my being grabbed by the scruff of my neck by an older woman — a chilly manager of whom I’d always been slightly terrified — who dragged me into a stairwell. “Never let them see you crying,” she told me. “They don’t know you’re furious. They think you’re sad and will be pleased because they got to you.”

I cry when angry, and I can't control it, and I thought it was just me.

...when she got angry and started to cry, she’d say to the person she was talking to, ‘You may think I am sad because I am crying. No. I am angry.’ And then she just kept going. And I thought that was brilliant.”

And now I know a thing to say when it happens.

Thank you, thank you for posting this.
posted by Don Pepino at 4:51 AM on September 30, 2018 [15 favorites]

Really spectacular interview with Traister last Tuesday on Chris Hayes's Why Is This Happening podcast (transcript at previous link, direct .mp3 link here) which the links in this thread prepared me perfectly to listen to.
posted by XMLicious at 2:57 AM on October 6, 2018 [2 favorites]

Medusa faces the courthouse
posted by homunculus at 11:40 PM on October 9, 2018

Bitch Media: The Future is Furious.
Today, we’re launching a weeklong series about women’s anger—and, more specifically, about how that anger is policed, dismissed, and overlooked because its potent, transformative social and political power terrifies people. From October 22 through October 26, we’ll be publishing a new story every day, including powerful interviews, essays, and a must-read roundtable.
posted by homunculus at 4:55 PM on October 25, 2018

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