How angry these women were

Deborah Cameron looks back on the anger of the early women’s movement:

The first piece of writing students do for the course I teach on second wave feminism is a short response to the material they’ve read in the first two weeks–mostly personal essays and group manifestos dating from the late 1960s and early 1970s. Their responses are always varied, but there’s one thing that gets at least a passing mention from almost everyone: how angry these women were.

For Teresa Green, who turned her response into this 2016 guest post, what was most striking wasn’t just the anger itself, it was “the fact that they boldly express it with no qualms about the male egos or female delusions they tread on”. Other students have been equally struck by this lack of inhibition. Even if today’s feminists feel the same rage, they seem wary of expressing it in the same unapologetic way.

I remember that. It was glorious.

But as I write this (in autumn 2018), women’s rage seems to be having a moment, with two new feminist books on the subject appearing in the space of a few weeks. Soraya Chemaly’s Rage Becomes Her was published this month; Rebecca Traister’s Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger will be out in early October. As yet I haven’t read either, but to judge from the publicity and the excerpts the authors have published, they are both calling for women to embrace their anger as a source of power. Chemaly is particularly critical of the way patriarchal cultures deny women the right to be angry, telling them that anger is ‘unfeminine’ and therefore shameful; Traister emphasizes the political as well as personal significance of women’s anger, which she regards as one of the driving forces behind ‘every major social and political movement that has shaped this nation [i.e., the USA]’.

It’s difficult though. It’s difficult in ways that aren’t surmountable with sheer courage and determination, because those too are difficult in exactly the same way. It’s difficult because of the deeply entrenched mental pictures we have of how this works – that anger in men is powerful and scary, while in women it’s laughable or disgusting or both. The reason is obvious: men can back it up (in theory – many men can’t, morally or psychologically or physically) while women can’t. It’s like a baby’s tantrum.

Numbers help though. Get mad, and organize.

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