Alison is just a really angry person who has been blessed with being UTS Wom*n’s Officer for 2013. Alison liked to write letters to the editor before the internet made it the bastion of time-rich conservatives. In leiu of this, Alison likes to be an advocate and, short of a serious criminal record or parking fine, will hopefully one day be of the silk or in a suit, yelling at people for a living.
Wom*n’s bodies have been the site of patriarchal conquest for aeons, and if you’re reading this blog, I’m sure I don’t have to delve much into that conquest. But how often do we think about the conquest of more abstract rights, bodies and expressions of wom*nhood and feminism? And how do we negotiate these when, as wom*n, we have internalised a great deal of social boundaries regarding what conduct is proper?
I’m talking about emotions, specifically, anger, and its expression in feminist circles.
Why is it that a man’s anger on wom*n’s issues (read: White Ribbon Day) is noble and righteous, but a wom*n’s (read: Every Other Frickin’ Day) is unreasonable, embarrassing and laughable? For a man to sway with rhetoric and quaver his voice with passion was the sign of a good speaker. A wom*n’s furious vibrato is nothing but hysteria.
For an embarrassingly long time, the man thinkers of the day treated a wom*n’s unruly emotions in the most patronising, pathological and bizarre way. It was considered that an angry, upset or noticeably emotional people with egg-producing reproductive organs had the condition hysteria, and for some time, it was thought that egg-producing reproductive organs were malfunctioning, spurting hormones everywhere or leaping about the body, inducing within the wom*n some unnatural and perverse state in which she expressed unpalatable feelings, often relating to grief.
The vibrator was invented as a more automated treatment after doctors subjected wom*n to manual stimulation (read: sexual assault) in order to ‘cure’ this grave condition and the scourge on society that an angry wom*n was.
In particular WOC and ATSI wom*n have suffered significantly under this construct, denied rights and believed to be racially inferior due to their non-complicity with colonialism (see: Sapphire caricature). It’s apparently funny, even meme-worthy, for a WOC or ATSI wom*n to express fury or upset. Some of my un-favourites include “Aboriginal Woman Yells at Man on Train Lolz” or, if you want to delve into history “African-American Woman Gets Angry When She’s Catcalled ROFLMAO”.
We have a long and grievous history in which we have been subjugated, bodily, ideologically and physically based on our anger for an infuriatingly long time.
Cut to today and one would guess that this would be an issue solved and lain in our past.
I wish it was so.
Feminism has this bizarre lateral trend which I have noticed where we call out people for calling out, we bring shame and scorn upon those wom*n who yell at the patriarchy. We are happy to make subversive bunting, but very unhappy to back a wom*n up in a confrontation against her cat-caller, a misogynist bro in caucus or in a fight with a microagressively sexist friend.
And I’ve tried this ‘Nice Wom*n: Please, Sir, I Can Haz Rights Nao’ thing, and it is soul-destroying. I grew sick of explaining things to people for whom patriarchy and feminism was a series of non-sequiturs and strawman arguments. When people would see a wom*n’s cheeks become flushed as they pick apart her experiences under a lexical microscope and laugh because she takes it too seriously. But a Daily Life, Mama Mia, Kochie’s Angels brand of feminism is riling against that, saying that we’re something more, that Angry Feminism is something that we should move beyond, that it’s a stereotype and that Feminist Killjoys and Misandrists are forcing everyone to shy away from the big F word.
I’m not for a second going to tell you what to feel or how to act, and I can tell you that acting on my feminist anger has won me exactly zero friends, zero jobs, and zero Mama Mia articles on my nifty range of cunt-cakes, yet has stirred within me a huge affirmation for my ideas, an understanding of my self-worth, a more complex contemplation of intersectionality and my role in the activist realm. My anger is a great enabler, it drives me to get things done, it drives me to examine privilege and it drives me to consider my feminism in forever changing lights and to temper my anger with pragmatic empathy, not to those who perpetuate ‘-isms’, but with those who are subject to them.
This is not a free-for-all pass to screaming. We must also consider the safety of others. But we must also consider substantive violence. A yell here or there may be nothing compared to years of lateral ideological subjugation and cruelty. A yell may be just and furious and fitting in all the right ways for a person who has been subject to this cruelty and, though it is not the focus, may bring a shameful call to action for the receiver. A yell, though, may also trigger a stander-by with significant history, and so we must be careful.
But these things haven’t really been mapped out yet, or set for negotiation, because respectability politics and the cringe of the modern feminist at the howling, unshaven, buzz-cut hulk of a feminism supposedly passed, have yet to really shift and make space for such a discussion. The answer has always been a resounding ‘No’, even from our own, an ejection from the feminist table.
It’s alright, if you want to, to be that rabid, furious, screaming, crying feminist, because it is nothing else but your prerogative, your right, and potentially, your joy.
And, in the face of things, there’s a lot to be furious about (here’s a sampler of some pretty standard run-of-the-mill bullshit).
- With every student/pensioner/everything discount you can pull, the average cost (excluding transport, accommodation, time off work, recovery and pain medication) of a medical or surgical termination from a not-for-profit is $300;
- Forced sterilisation of (dis)abled wom*n is still happening;
- Revenge porn is a thing;
- Sistagirls (trans* ATSI wom*n) are still dying in custody in men’s prisons and no-one’s saying a word;
- Nice Guys ™ are everywhere right now, and they’re going undercover, without their fedoras and chain wallets;
And my un-favourite;
- We’re encouraged to be polite in the face of all this.
UTS Womens Officer 2013
Nice one Alison! It’s certainly the case that women pointing out sexism are angry, and angry women are definitely irrational and incapable of achieving. Feminist women’s points don’t need to be argued with, we’re just automatically less rational than anyone making an unsupported assertion! Because the bourgeois myth is true, that those who don’t care enough about an issue to really think about it or appear passionate for that reason, are still more right about it! The ignorant have correctness coming out of their ears!!!
The issue you raise of jumping down women’s throats when we attempt to point out sexism is also one feminists need to address more, I think. People are too prone to assuming women are being nasty in attempting to address sexism, or that we always point it out the first time it happens rather than having been quite patient … The fact is also that women are socialised to know, implicitly if not consciously, that those of us who put down other women when attempting to address sexism, will be accorded slightly better treatment by sexists. This is a dynamic comparable to those in all oppressed groups – we scramble to put others in our group down, in order to get crumbs for ourselves. But that’s not the way to go. Being ‘patriarchal enforcers’ might help a few of us rise to the ‘top’ (of government, businesses or left organisations), but even that’s not much of a guarantee, and it’s a privilege dependent on maintaining this women-suppressing behaviour. A feminist move out of place, and it can be yanked directly away. Solidarity is where it’s at.