“Rage Becomes Her” is one of the most important things that I have read recently. It will probably make you angry and it might fill you with rage, but it will also give practical advice and empower you to reconnect with the anger that you may be suppressing.
Soraya Chemaly explains to us (with data, research, references, and personal stories):
- The reasons that women are angry. (There are so many. Oh, so many…)
- The ways that society has punished women for their anger and conditioned us to suppress it.
- Why hiding our anger is harmful.
- The power that our anger has to drive change.
- And, how we can work towards reconnecting with and expressing our anger productively.
I connected with this book – both as a woman and as a mother that is trying to raise strong and emotionally healthy daughters. (Note: I only have daughters. I would try to raise strong and emotionally healthy sons too, if I had them.) I have been a proud feminist for as long as I can remember and I’ve been intentional with bringing this into my parenting in as many ways as I can. I’m trying to give messages at home that counter the messages from society. You don’t have to be who society says you are supposed to be. I’ve also made it a priority to acknowledge and validate my daughter’s feelings. I’ve taught them that feelings on their own aren’t right or wrong. It’s okay to feel anything that you feel. It’s okay to be angry. What matters is what we do with those feelings. I didn’t think I was missing anything major here, but I honestly hadn’t thought much about anger in particular compared to any other feeling. I hadn’t understood how society may have shaped my relationship with anger or what I might inadvertently be passing on to my daughters. This book was so important in helping me to realize all of this. It also provided real and practical advice on how to change my relationship with this feeling and how to guide our girls to do the same.
The book is full of excellent information and Chemaly provides the following advice (described in better detail in the book, of course) at the end:
- Develop self-awareness. Work to recognize when you are angry, to understand what makes you angry, and to communicate your anger in constructive ways that can bring about change. “People who understand how they are feeling are able to be patient and thoughtful in anger. They develop a liberating detachment that enables them to decide what solutions will work for the problem they face.”
- Distinguish the three A’s: Anger, Assertiveness, and Aggression. These are often grouped together, but they are distinctly different things. Assertiveness is stating a position with confidence. Aggression is directly confrontational and less civil, but can still be respectful. You can be assertive and aggressive, but not angry. You can also be angry and neither assertive or aggressive. Learn to recognize and differentiate these.
- Be brave. It can be hard to speak out about things that make us angry, but learn to say what you think or need. “Be brave enough to stop pleasing people, to be disliked, to rub people the wrong way.“
- Take (deliberate) care. One of the things that women often feel angry about is the expectation that they will give without limit. This can lead to feelings of being taken advantage of and resentment. We need to take care of ourselves too, and sometimes this means saying no the demands that others make of us “Most women take on what they do not only because they are expected to but also because they love and care and want to. But the expectation that we do so infinitely and selflessly, and the demands that such expectations produce, exhaust us. Care with purpose.”
- Set clear boundaries.
- Ask for help.
- See your anger not only as a possible symptom but also as a way to recover yourself. Suppressing anger compounds the negative effects of that anger. Dealing with it helps address the source of the anger and the negative effects of suppressing it.
- Rethink forgiveness. Forgiveness is often prioritized over resolutions when women feel betrayed, disappointed, or taken for granted. We need to move away from the expectation that women will forgive everything – especially when nothing has changed. “Forgiveness is valuable and important to relationships, but if your instinct is to withhold forgiveness, it’s probably a good one.”
- Teach people around you to name and talk about their anger. Talk openly about anger with your children and model healthy habits.
- Consider a therapist. Explosive, vengeful, and unpredictable anger is destructive and is usually a symptom of some unaddressed issue or long history of not expressing anger in healthy ways. Therapists can help you sort this out. (Just make sure to interview potential therapists to ensure you have someone that will be helpful in challenging gender inequities rather than enforcing them.)
- Cultivate body confidence. When we objectify ourselves, we are less able to feel our anger or productively work with it. Self-objectification “contributes to low self-esteem, self-silencing, and a heightened likelihood of self-harm, anxiety, and depression….The route you take to body competence doesn’t matter…The point is that you cultivate a strong sense of your body, its capabilities, and your use of it.”
- Take your anger to work. Women that suppress and silence their anger at work (related to feeling taken advantage of, disrespected, feeling abused, or discriminated) are more likely to misplace this frustration and respond explosively at home. On top of that, silencing yourself and suppressing this anger doesn’t help change the source of these frustrations in your work environment. “The communication of anger can improve organizational functioning and workplace environments, and can benefit not only you but also those around you.“
- Cultivate communities and accountability. “Finding communities that validate and share your anger creates powerful opportunities for effective collective social action. In these settings, anger is often a source or energy, joy, humor, and resistance. Anger, awareness, listening, and strategizing are all key components to social movement.”
- Challenge binaries. Chemaly is describing binaries as things where we see distinct divisions between two things. There are many examples of this. “They mark the difference between home and work, personal and professional, private and political, and emotional and rational.” Women may feel comfortable to express anger in private, but not in public, for example. The distinction between emotional and rational is also used to invalidate women’s anger. “We envision our emotions battling our reason” because that is how we’ve been trained. We don’t have to play by these rules, though. “To have feelings is to react to your environment but also to your rational thoughts.” Anger can be both emotional and rational.
- Trust other women. Part of society’s silencing of women’s anger has been to teach women to police each other. Women also tend to hold other women to a higher standard. We should be careful not to focus our anger on each other unfairly or to silence each other’s anger.
- Accept a desire for power. Many people hold biases that associate power with men, but the reality is that women are just as motivated by the desire for power. Imbalances of power in relationships are also often connected to women’s feelings of anger. Attempts to even the power balance are often met with resistance fueling more anger. Own your desire for power and influence. “We rarely get to express anger, and the moral judgments it implies, form a position of actual institutional power…. Stand up for yourself and hold the communities and institutions you are part of accountable…. The more comfortable we become with claiming ownership of public and institutional spaces, in anger, the more effective our efforts will be.”
“Anger has a bad rap, but it is actually one of the most hopeful and forward thinking of all our emotions. It begets transformation, manifesting our passion and keeping us invested in the world. It is a rational and emotional response to trespass, violation, and moral disorder. It bridges the divide between what “is” and what “ought” to be, between a difficult past and an improved possibility.”
Please read this book! And, let’s all take our anger out there to change the world. ❤