I recently read a book that was very angry.
The author’s open embrace of her anger was almost jarring to me. She was openly outraged about a whole host of issues, and even though I agreed with her on the issues, there was something about her anger that was really uncomfortable to me.
The fact that her anger made me uncomfortable, also made me uncomfortable. I kept trying to come up with reasons that her anger bothered me. Maybe it’s because her anger wasn’t “productive” – she didn’t offer solutions, only assertions about things that are broken and/or unjust. Maybe it was because she didn’t examine both sides of the issue, instead insisting that one side had the moral authority and the other didn’t. Maybe it’s because she was just so bold and harsh in her declarations. I have read so many books about female anger (I especially loved this one, and also this one), so I understand intellectually why female anger is so openly reviled, and I even think women *should* be angry. So why did her anger make me so uncomfortable?
In “Down Girl,” Kate Manne specifically points to misogyny as the reason why angry women make us so uncomfortable: “misogyny [upholds the patriarchal order] by visiting hostile or adverse social consequences on a certain (more or less circumscribed) class of girls or women to enforce or police social norms that are gendered either in theory (i.e., content) or in practice (i.e., norm enforcement mechanisms).” She adds, “misogyny’s primary manifestations may be in punishing bad women, and policing women’s behavior, as a system of punishment and reward.” Basically, angry women are breaking patriarchal social norms. Anger is gendered – it’s a traditionally masculine trait, one that men are expected to express, even as they’re asked to control it. Women aren’t allowed even controlled expressions of anger without being called unhinged, shrill, bitchy, or insert-your-favorite-sexist-epithet-here. So often the emotion of anger is conflated with the actions that are fueled by anger – violence, destruction, abuse. But those are choices that can be made out of other emotions, too – shame, grief, disgust. Men are allowed to feel the emotion of anger, even if we condemn the actions that anger sometimes fuels. But women are allowed neither to act in anger, nor feel anger. We’re taught to suppress it, to swallow the tyrannies “day by day, until you will sicken and die of them, still in silence” (Audre Lorde).
In 1960, Valerie Saiving argued in “The Human Situation: A Feminine View” that “a theology based solely on masculine experience may well be irrelevant,” because it ignores the different ways men and women move throughout the world and are socialized to interact with one another. For example, the scriptures continually exhort against pride and selfishness, but Saiving argues that women are already socialized to negate and under-develop themselves, instead acting as support people to the men and children in their lives. She essentially argues that while selfishness and pride may be sins for men, selflessness and self-negation may be sins for women.
I think we can look at anger in the same way. The scriptures are full of exhortations to peace, of being “slow to anger.” A cursory search of general conference archives shows that anger is “Satan’s tool,” “will drive away the spirit,” a synonym of contention and wrath, and something “to overcome.”If selflessness and self-negation are sins for women, couldn’t a lack of anger be one, too? We live in a world where we are second-class citizens, are paid less, are respected less, are valued less. We live in a world with rampant sexual violence against women that is barely taken seriously or prosecuted in any meaningful way across the globe. In Mormonism, we’re taught to be silently supportive (how many conference talks have you heard about the saintly wife who sweetly supported her husband’s demanding work/church schedule and never once complained?). We are taught that we don’t matter as much as men matter. We are fed these lies from the moment we are born. We should be so, so, so angry.
In “Rage Becomes Her,” Soraya Chemaly writes,
When we forgo talking about anger, because it represents risk or challenge, or because it disrupts a comfortable status quo, we forgo valuable lessons about risk and challenge and the discomforts of the status quo. By naturalizing the idea that girls and women aren’t angry but are sad, by insisting that they keep their anger to themselves, we render women’s feelings and demands mute and with little social value. When we call our anger sadness instead of anger, we often fail to acknowledge what is wrong, specifically in a way that discourages us from imagining and pursuing change. Sadness, as an emotion, is paired with acceptance. Anger, on the other hand, invokes the possibility of change and of fighting back.
About halfway through the angry book, I really let myself sink in and feel the anger that the author was expressing. You know how sometimes it’s really nice to have a good cleansing cry and intensely feel how sad you are about various things in your life? Well, turns out it’s also nice to listen to this book, feel your anger validated, and have a nice cleansing rage-fest about how intensely angry you are, too. Anger does not have to be productive (it is not capitalism). Anger is one of the many emotions that human beings experience, and is just as valid to feel and express as any other emotion. And I really believe that just as selfishness and anger may be taught as sins to men in scripture, for women, those sins are an over-abundance of selflessness and a repression of our anger.