Whether we learn it explicitly or intuitively, as women, we’re often guilty of softening ourselves for fear of social repercussion and anti-female bias. We strive to avoid anger and be more ladylike, and when we do succumb to rage, it’s often turned back on us. We’re reframed as a threat – branded crazy, a bitch, psycho, a feminazi or, as Peter Dutton once texted a female journalist, “a mad fucking witch”.
In Hillary Clinton’s book ‘What Happened’ – an account of the 2016 US presidential election – she discussed the pressure she was under to not seem angry at any point during her political career. “A lot of people recoil from an angry woman, or even just a direct one,” she wrote.
During Barrack Obama’s first election campaign, Michelle Obama found herself positioned as an “angry black woman”, and I’m sure everyone remembers what rage cost Serena Williams when a male umpire provoked her and then penalised her for expressing fury during the 2018 US Tennis Open Final.
To take a fictional example, in Gillian Flynn’s 2012 book ‘Gone Girl’, antiheroine Amy espoused her disdain for the roles women are forced to take: “Men always say that as the defining compliment, don’t they?” said Amy. “She’s a cool girl. … Hot and understanding. Cool Girls never get angry; they only smile in a chagrined, loving manner and let their men do whatever they want. Go ahead, shit on me, I don’t mind, I’m the Cool Girl.”
An overwhelming amount of research into the perception of female anger has revealed rage to be a supposedly unfeminine emotion. A 1990 study conducted by Swedish scientists into psychophysiological responses to facial stimuli found that when female faces are recognised as angry, their expressions are rated as more hostile than comparable expressions on male faces. In 2000, psychology professor Ann Kring revealed that though both genders experience anger episodes as frequently as each other, it’s women who feel more embarrassed and shameful afterwards, despite the fact men are more likely to express themselves through violence or verbal attack, whereas women are more inclined to cry.
Female anger is a necessary emotion – and when directly appropriately, it can even be a corrosive public force, a necessary discomfort that can be a catalyst for clearer dialogue and increased justice.
Elizabeth Freeman, who was a slave in the USA in the 18th century, once overheard her owners discussing the rhetoric of inalienable rights. Unable to tolerate the horrific conditions under which she lived, she got mad – and ended up being the first enslaved African American in Massachusetts to file for and win a freedom suit, which ultimately led to slavery being outlawed in her state.
The electrifying and now infamous misogyny speech made by former Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard in 2012 was this year voted the most unforgettable moment in TV history in a Guardian poll, despite the fact that at the time she was criticised by journalists as “opportunistic” and mocked relentlessly by the public, with cries to “ditch the witch”.
“I do not normally think in swear words,” Gillard has since written in a memoir, “but my mind was shouting, ‘For fuck’s sake, after all the shit I have put up with, now I have to listen to Abbott lecturing me on sexism. For fuck’s sake!’” (Her actual speech was actually a whole lot more eloquent, and if you haven’t given it a listen, do that right now).
As women, we still have so much to rage about, and if you’re not angry at least some of the time, you’re not paying attention. If anything, what’s remarkable is that we’ve mostly managed to stop this justifiable fury from swallowing us whole, and have instead have found ways to temper it with patience, diplomacy and kindness.
Audre Lorde, in her groundbreaking 1981 essay ‘The Uses of Anger’ wrote, “I have suckled the wolf’s lip of anger and I have used it for illumination, laughter, protection, fire in places where there was no light, no food, no sisters, no quarter.” It is rage — not patience, diplomacy and kindness — that has already ignited so many movements for progress and social change: from abolition and suffrage to the #metoo movement and ongoing global campaigns to end gender-based violence.
Reclaim your anger
This week, we’re already bristling with the most violent of emotions in solidarity with all the black lives that have been lost to police brutality — in the US, in Australia and the world over. So for our first artistry challenge, we want you to reclaim your own anger, whether it be turned inward or suppressed, and make the ground shake.
What makes you angry? What are you angry about right now? How do you express anger? When was the last time you lost your temper? How did the people around you respond? Have you ever masked your anger with another emotion? How? Why?
See your fury as something to be stepped into and fully felt; see your wrath as something to be utilised, like a powerful gasoline, against passivity. To take the words of Sylvia Plath, with your “lion-red [bodies, your] wings of glass”, put your wounds on show, rise up and demand accountability.
Maybe you’d like to write a speech in the tone of Ms Gillard, or a song like Martha Wainwright’s ‘Bloody Mother Fucking Arsehole’, or a poem in the style of Warsan Shire’s ‘For Women Who Are Difficult to Love’, or the words she let Beyoncé borrow in Lemonade’s ‘Anger’, or Plath’s ‘Lady Lazarus’.
If word-bending isn’t your thing, spill some red wine in the shape of your fury on a canvas, or scribble it on the back of a receipt for the morning-after pill you had to pay for on your own, or collage it out of job rejection letters, or sculpt yourself boiling up in your enormous nightgown a la Kiki Petrosino’s ‘At The Teahouse’.
Have a squiz at this fantastically rousing New York Times article for inspiration, and if you’ve got time up your sleeves, read Brittney Cooper’s Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower (only don’t buy it off Amazon, ‘cos Jeff Bezos is a cunt).
If you’re feeling ballsy, or as we like to say at Anaerkillik, if you’ve got big flap energy this week, submit your creations to us via firstname.lastname@example.org and we will share them on our website and social media.
Happy raging, ladies.