R is for Rage

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An Ode to Feminine Rage

by Sydelle Barreto

"It is better to dwell in the wilderness, than with a contentious and angry woman," a verse in the Old Testament book of Proverbs reads.

Her pink pussy hat, she is naming her abusers, she is running for office. Her furor becomes a force, lifting up the wings of a political agenda and giving credence to a moral high ground. But is feminine fury only legitimate when it serves a higher purpose? When it propels the angry woman to the next step? Who decides when feminine rage is legitimate?

I watched Dr. Christine Blasey Ford tell her story. I watched women all over the country express their fear, their sorrow—and yes, their rage—as they told their own stories, saw the people who had been chosen to represent them demonstrate that they did not care about women’s pain. I wasn’t yet born when Anita Hill went through the same ordeal; but aware of my country’s history, I know that the sympathy offered to her was even less because not only was she a woman, she was a black woman. The women of America laid their pain and trauma at the feet of the Senate, and they confirmed him anyway. Over 20% of the highest court in the most powerful country in the world is composed of men who have committed sexual violence.

We can recognize the image of the woman scorned. The crazy ex-girlfriend, the harpy, the feminazi, the misogynoir diptych of the angry black woman. Female rage is well documented, often maligned, and never celebrated. Its portrayals and categorizations are used to decredit and undermine us. We are unstable, we are insane, we are hysterical.

The spectre of the enraged woman appears time and time again in history and literature, and she always faces a similar fate. Like Katherine from Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew, she is quelled. Miss Havisham eventually succumbs to her wounds of nostalgia, burning in her white wedding dress.

Black women are expected to use our anger only in the service of other people's salvation...but that time is over," Audre Lorde said in a 1981 speech. "My anger has meant pain to me but it has also meant survival and before I give it up I'm going to be sure that there is something at least as powerful to replace it on the road to clarity."

One researcher found that overwhelmingly "women tend to be angered by the negative behaviors of men, whereas men tend to be angered by women's negative emotional reactions."

A 2008 study from the Women and Public Policy program at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, which evaluated 222 women and 160 men  found that, after viewing videos of actors portraying job candidates, participants "were more likely to attribute women's anger to internal factors (their personality, temperament, etc.) than external factors (like the situation, other people's provocation)."

A recent Elle survey found that 79 percent of women report rage daily just from reading the news.

Martha Nussbaum: Aristotle says that anger is a response to a significant damage to something or someone one cares about, and a damage that the angry person believes to have been wrongfully inflicted. He adds that although anger is painful, it also contains within itself a hope for payback. So: significant damage, pertaining to one’s own values or circle of cares, and wrongfulness.

In a gender comparative study of anger expression, women reported feeling much more shame at the emotion than men did.

What’s fascinating is the many forms and directions female rage has taken in the current political landscape. The rage from the left has been well documented, but from the right we seem to only see a few, and much of their vitriol is turned against other women (see: Tomi Lahren and Ann Coulter).

The angry woman is currently having its moment in the media: she is picketing in the streets in

But women have always been angry. The first brick at Stonewall was thrown by a black trans woman.

There is a privilege in anger. And while women as a whole are viewed as less entitled to their rage, trans women/femmes and women/femmes of color are given even less space to claim their fury. Women like Tomi Lahren and Ann Coulter are viewed as opinionated and outspoken, while Serena Williams was merely throwing a temper tantrum. But feminine rage is just as legitimate when it comes out of the mouth of a black woman, a trans latinx woman, a Muslim femme.

Masculine anger is often a spilling over of entitlement, a violent reaction to feeling impotent or weak or somehow less than the toxic standards they uphold. Male rage kills. It is why 98% of mass shooters since 1982 have been men, why male police officers commit domestic violence at 4 times the rate of the general population, it is why so many women have been punished for things that had nothing to do with them.

America has a long history of condoning and enabling male rage and forcing women to swallow theirs. But now feminine rage has transcended the boundaries of what we call an emotion; it has grown teeth and climbed outside of our bodies. This quiet companion to femininity, the dark undertow of what it means to be vulnerable in a world that sees tenderness as an opportunity.

I propose a toast to the angry woman, when she has the loudest voice in the room, and when she doesn’t open her mouth. The angry woman holds us together, sets fire to our grief. Be thankful for your rage, because it is what’s keeping you alive.

I wonder if Eve felt rage. At being blamed for dooming humanity, at bequeathing a legacy of sin and shame to her daughters. I wonder if she knew that she didn’t ruin us, she freed us.

I want to write an essay that is an ode to female rage. We’ve seen the rise of femme anger in the media, but I still feel like most of it is really clean-cut, anger that fits into a box. I think women/femmes often feel they need permission to be angry. I want to write about why femme rage is important, it’s beautiful, and it doesn’t always need to serve a higher purpose or a political agenda.
— Sydelle Barreto, on inspiration for "An Ode to Feminine Rage"

SYDELLE BARRETO is a New Jersey-native, Boston-educated South Asian woman who isn’t afraid to speak up about feminism, injustice, her identities and experiences through her writing. For more of Sydelle’s work, check out her blog Diary of a Mad Brown Girl or instagram @diaryofamadbrowngirl.