Allowed To Be Angry: Women, Rage And The Way Forward

Oct 3, 2018
Originally published on October 4, 2018 1:14 pm

A song by Solange Knowles goes like this: “Man, this s**t is draining / But I’m really not allowed to be mad.”

We need only to look at Serena Williams’ penalization at the U.S. Open to know that there is a double standard regarding women’s anger and men’s.

From Bustle:

Because whether it be at work or at home, in public or in private, women — especially women of color — are not allowed to express their anger, lest they be labeled “emotional,” “irrational,” or “hysterical.” Displays of female anger can cost them their reputation, their relationships, their careers, and, in Williams’s case, $17,000. Why are men allowed, even encouraged, to be mad while women are so often punished for it? That is just one of the questions award-winning writer, activist, and Director of the Women’s Media Center Speech Project Soraya Chemaly seeks to answer in Rage Becomes Her, a provocative new book that explores women’s anger, how society seeks eliminate it, and the ways in which women are finding powerful ways to use it to fight back.

And journalist Rebecca Traister agrees — because she was having a hard time expressing her own rage after the 2016 election, and in the middle of the #MeToo movement. Here’s what she told NBC’s Chris Hayes.

It’s an instinct. You know, there are certain things you know. If I scream right now, I’m going to be the crazy one, right? Even if there’s, even if I have perfect reason to scream, even if it’s ultimately fundamentally the most rational, reason-based response to whatever the situation is. There’s like a set of instincts that we build up, that’s like I can’t yell, I have to keep my voice under control. Like we have instincts about how to best express ourselves in ways that are going to go over well and serve our point and serve our argument and they’re not wrong. Those instincts aren’t wrong. That’s the tough thing in thinking about this. Women’s anger goes get read as irrational, right

Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony resonates in a similar way. Throughout the hearing, Blasey Ford’s voice broke several times. But she never raised her voice, or interrupted. Judge Brett Kavanaugh, on the other hand, shouted and wept, and shot back at senators who questioned him about his drinking habits.

How can we eliminate the double standard?

Dr. Brittany Cooper has one suggestion, outlined in her thesis about “eloquent rage.” She told The Washington Post what that meant.

Eloquent rage is a way to think about black women’s anger as a political response. Rather than thinking about anger as an emotion we should attempt to quell or suppress, that anger is the emotion that keeps us honest. Typically when you see black women’s anger being expressed in public, it is in response to systemic levels of injustice, and that anger is what I call clear and expressive. You know why black women are mad. In many ways this book is a celebration of that rage in the face of the angry black woman stereotype.

Produced by Bianca Martin. Text by Gabrielle Healy.


Soraya Chemaly, Director, Women’s Media Center Speech Project; writer and researcher on gender in culture, with a focus on sexualized violence and technology; Author, “Rage Becomes Her: The Power of Women’s Anger;” @schemaly

Rebecca Traister, Writer at large, New York magazine; author, “Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger” and 2016 book, “All The Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation,”@rtraister

Brittney Cooper, Associate Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies and Africana Studies, Rutgers University; Authoress, “Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower” and “Beyond Respectability;” @ProfessorCrunk

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