People ask feminists why they’re so angry. But shouldn’t a sober look at how we treat each other tick us all off?
Editor’s note: Following Twitter conversations between me, Sarah Beaulieu and Anne Thériault, I asked Anne if she would express herself on the topic of female anger. This article is the result. The piece is courageous, sincere and important as both an expansion of and counterpoint to Sarah Beaulieu’s How I Stopped Being an Angry Feminist, and Started Loving Men; it presents one woman’s emotional and intellectual experience in a way that has implications for all of us. I understand that some men, perhaps especially those who have been hurt by women or believe women get a free pass to express whatever emotion they desire—this while men’s issues are pooh-poohed—will take exception. My advice is to go ahead and take exception but to also remember that Anne Thériault is a human being. She is, like Sarah Beaulieu or any other writer who tells intimate stories, taking certain risks and leaving herself vulnerable. Logging in to harass the author will only strengthen the point she’s making.
You might wonder what this post has to do with marriage. Sarah Beaulieu’s piece was about lessons in love she learned from her husband. Anne’s response, if it isn’t obvious, speaks to what we must overcome as a society if we’re to strengthen our institutions. And ourselves.
When Gint first asked me to write this post I was, well, hesitant, to put it mildly. I know that it will generate a lot of angry comments, some of which will likely feel quite personal. And as much as I wish that I could say that I don’t care, and that the comments won’t bother me, I do (perhaps pathetically) still care, and the comments do hurt, sometimes.
I know, I know, somebody call the wahmbulance and all that, but I figured things would be easier if I started out by being totally honest with you guys.
Anyway, Gint and I talked about how important this topic is, and although I’m not 100% convinced that I’m the best person to address it, I’m going to give it the old college try. So let’s get started, shall we?
I’m an angry feminist.
You know what, though? I don’t think that being angry and being a feminist are terrible things; in fact, I believe that the contrary is true. And I feel frustrated by our media and culture constantly representing angry feminists as psychotic, man-hating bitches. So when the Good Men Project posted an article with the title, “How I Stopped Being an Angry Feminist, and Started Loving Men,” I was upset. I felt that this just furthered the idea that angry feminists are Bad Women, and, honestly, I’m tired of reading stories about ladies who used to be angry feminists and then found redemption through the love of a good man.
I’ve since chatted with Sarah Beaulieu and understand that this wasn’t her intention, but still—intent isn’t magic, you know? And as much as I appreciate what she was trying to say (that anger wasn’t helping her heal from her multiple sexual assaults—love was, in the end, what gave her peace), and as much as I understand that she’s speaking about her personal experience (although she does make a few broad generalizations as well), I do think that the title and content of her article are problematic, even dangerous.
I’m not angry because I hate men. I’m not even angry at men. I’m angry at the system that, for the lack of a better term, most people refer to as the patriarchy. As far as defining the patriarchy, I don’t think anyone has ever done it better than Ashley Judd, so I’m going to use her words here:
Patriarchy is not men. Patriarchy is a system in which both women and men participate. It privileges, inter alia, the interests of boys and men over the bodily integrity, autonomy, and dignity of girls and women. It is subtle, insidious, and never more dangerous than when women passionately deny that they themselves are engaging in it.
I have participated in this system. I still do, really, as much as I try not to. I participate in it when I work hard to make myself sweet, smiling and non-threatening, even in the face of blatant sexism, because I know that that’s the easiest way to get through life. I participate in it whenever I tell a man that I’m a feminist and then feel the need to follow up by telling him that I don’t hate men. I participate when I shave my legs, put on makeup or wear a cute dress, because I am helping to further the idea that there is one narrow definition of how women should look. And sure, I like doing these things, but I also realize that I want to look a certain way because the idea this is what my appearance I should be has been pushed on me for my entire life.
I participate in the patriarchy when I write for the Good Men Project, trying to make my feminism safer, more palatable, in an attempt to convince you that I’m not like those other feminists, the feminists that some of you hate so much. And just to be clear, these posts have been my own choice to write, and I have come up with both the content and the subject matter, so don’t think that I am trying to obliquely criticize the project or its editors. I chose to try to sugarcoat feminism, and now I regret it, and I have to own that.
But make no mistake, I am an angry feminist. I’m angry at the way that society treats women, angry at all of the big and little examples of casual misogyny that I see every day. I’m angry that our culture still puts so much value in a woman’s appearance, rather than focussing on her brains or personality. I’m angry about lack of easy access to birth control and abortion, and the way that some conservative politicians seem to view women as nothing but a uterus on legs.
I’m angry at the people who have told me that no one will respect me because I call myself a feminist.
I’m angry at the people who have told me that I’m too reasonable, caring and compassionate to be a feminist.
I’m angry that when I do call someone out on their misogyny, I end up being castigated for coming across as too outraged, too abrasive, just because I’m not always willing to kindly, sweetly educate.
I’m angry that the onus is always on women to explain, to be patient, to understand, when the person you’re being asked to educate could just as easily educate themselves, should they want to.
I’m angry at how often I find myself stroking men’s egos, promising them that promoting women’s rights will be a benefit and not a detriment to them.
I’m angry at how often I find myself excusing my actions and words based on the grounds that I’ll catch more flies with honey.
I’m angry at how often I feel obligated to be nice, because I feel that people won’t take me seriously otherwise.
I’m angry at the fact that there are tons of people who won’t take me seriously anyway, whether I’m nice or not, just because I’m a woman.
I’m angry at the way the patriarchy ingrains a deep-seated self-hatred in women, a hatred that begins at a very young age.
I’m angry whenever women feel the need to behave in a certain way just because they’re women.
I’m angry whenever other women happily take advantage of all the rights that they’ve gained thanks to the feminist movement, then turn around and say that they’re not feminists.
I’m angry whenever people talk about how good women had it a century ago, because social codes dictated that men had to be more polite to them or some bullshit. As if having someone feel obligated to hold the door open for you totally makes up for not being able to own property, vote or have any kind of bodily autonomy.
I’m angry when people say that women were “given” the vote, as if suffragettes didn’t fight tooth and nail, enduring prison, physical violence and sometimes death just so that we could have this right.
I’m angry about a lot of stuff, but I think that’s a good thing, not a bad thing. I think that anger can be a good way, sometimes the only way, to fuel change. Anger at injustice is often the spark that ignites political and social movements, and anger can keep you fighting the good fight even when all your other resources feel used up. Anger is transformative, and can mean the difference between passively accepting oppression and waiting for someone else to deal with it, and suddenly realizing that if you want to see change, real change, you have to be the one to stand up for your beliefs.
And yes, sometimes I am angry with specific men, when they’ve done or said something that’s sexist, misogynist or just plain hurtful. Sometimes I’m angry with specific women for the same reasons. But that doesn’t mean that I hate men or women as a whole. And sometimes it can be hard to maintain this perspective, when I’m faced with an onslaught of negativity about women and feminism, but still, I manage to separate the individuals from the group.
So my hope is that, while reading this, those of you who have had negative experiences with individual feminists will try to understand that the unfair actions of one particular person don’t mean that you should write off the feminist movement. Please don’t conflate your anger at things that have been said or done by people who label themselves as feminist with anger at feminism in general – because I promise you that no one single person (or even group of people) is representative of the whole.
Instead, maybe you could join me in directing your anger outward, to all the injustices that both men and women deal with in the face of the patriarchy and its desire to impose strict gender roles on all of us. Because I can tell you from personal experience that the patriarchy hurts men, too. Because I don’t want my son to grow up believing that being a boy means that he can only like certain things or behave in certain ways, in the same way that I don’t want to feel constricted by my gender, either.
Because honestly I think that if we were able to stop fighting with each other and instead use our anger to fight oppression, everyone would win.
Photo by painteverything