As I type these words the desire rises in me like a consuming fire to spit them on the screen with venom, pound the keys with all my pent up frustration until they pop off, flying through the air, plastic missiles haphazardly seeking a target for my anger and vengeance!
But I can’t.
I’m a woman, and there are expectations placed on my behavior and demeanor that will affect how my words are received. If I “rant and rave” you won’t listen to me. And that needs to change.
Yes, yes, I know it isn’t just women who face the tone-policing of their attitude and words. Speaking-or writing-calmly and with reason will get both men and women a lot further in proving their point. Or at the very least, being heard.
But the expectation is still different for each sex. Just look at Rush Limbaugh, Glen Beck, Bill O’Reilly on occasion, and even Jon Stewart and John Oliver. They each can get angry, loud, animated when speaking. Doesn’t appear to have hurt any of their careers. In fact, some of them have made an entire career about being angry and tapping into the latent anger of the oppressed white male.
But if Rachel Maddow gets heated, or the ladies on The View, then they’re labeled shrill, vulgar, and unfeminine. We saw it in the election with jibes against Hillary Clinton’s voice and the aside from Trump about “a nasty woman”. There were Trump’s comments about Megyn Kelly and “blood coming out of her . . . wherever”. Sure, that’s sexist, but it was more than that. He was casting aspersions on her character because he perceived her as angry. And angry women are just crazy, insane, emotional, unstable.
It’s worth noting that the stigma is far worse for black women than white women (and I think it’s pretty bad for us). I see it on Twitter on a daily basis. A black woman, or any woman of color for that matter, but especially a black woman, will get hounded relentlessly because she displayed “anger” at a racial slur, appropriation, or any other racist or sexist issue. She’s told, “If you would just be nicer, people would listen more” and “Why are you so angry all the time?” The onerous is never set on the actual racist act or problem, but rather on the black woman who “overreacted”.
Think about how angry it makes you (white women) to hear you’re “irrational” or “calm down” when you get upset about something a teacher did concerning your child, or when a male coworker or boss belittles you or your work, or male legislators pass laws concerning your body without input from you. Now add on to that racial slurs and stereotypes, and you might have a tiny taste of what black women deal with every. Damn. Day. (Oops, I swore. Hope you’re still listening.)
Invoking the angry woman narrative is a form of control to discredit women, especially when they are perceived as having or seeking power. I’ve had it done to me many times, and most recently on Twitter. I didn’t get a screenshot, but basically a conservative white male didn’t like something I posted on twitter, so he tweeted pictures of shouting women at me because I was an “angry woman”. This is not the first, last, nor even most upsetting time the angry women card has been thrown at me. It was just his ineffectual attempt to silence me. The funny thing was, the whole tweet argument contained no anger whatsoever from me. He chose to label me an angry woman because in his mind it made whatever I said mute because I was already negated by his stereotype.
It even comes in the form of men expecting husbands to monitor the behavior of their wives. A liberal friend of mine in our very, very conservative town, was told by her husband that his friend felt he should “get her under control” concerning her Facebook postings on Trump. If you’ve ever told an upset woman to “calm down” you know how it’s usually taken. My friend, by my standards, has been fairly disciplined in her social media condemnation of Trump, yet someone felt that she was “out of control” by posting a few articles and giving an opinion. Her husband (who has no interest in “controlling” her, by the way) wouldn’t give her the name of the friend. I’m sure he was trying to prevent a huge blow out. So instead, my friend took to Facebook to express her discontent (shall I say outrage?). I don’t think anyone else will be trying that again.
And it doesn’t just come from men, either. Ana Navarro, a conservative political commentator whose blood type is GOP, has been a staunch adversary of Trump’s from the moment he glided so weirdly down an escalator to announce his candidacy. After the Billy Bush story broke and Trump’s infamous pussy grabbing comments came to light, Ana was beside herself with fury at not only Trump’s comments and support of sexual assault, but at his supporter’s lack of care at the egregious offense. When Scottie Nell Hughes became offended at Ana’s “relentless tirade” and the “vulgar” use of the word ‘pussy’ she demanded Navarro stop saying the word. This only led Ana to let loose on a woman who would police Ana’s anger and words, but not care that Hughes’ own candidate said it. Ana’s anger was golden, and she would not let another woman (Hughes) suppress her outrage nor her words by placing a stricture on her that she didn’t place on Trump.
Then there was the Woman’s March on Washington. I didn’t watch Fox News’ coverage of the March, but I heard enough from conservative women to guess what it was. We were called “vulgar” and “angry”. We were cast aside as irrelevant because, “What do you have to be angry about?” Our words, our presence meant nothing because some women spoke angrily, some women carried signs containing vulgarity, some women didn’t act like ladies. I’m guessing those snap shots were all that Fox News aired. They were creating a shrill, angry woman narrative to control how their viewers thought of the March.
Well, I was there. And I watched all 5 1/2 hours of speeches when I got home. Yup, there was vulgarity. We swore. We said fuck. We talked and made signs about pussies, vaginas, and tiny hands. The very pink hats many women wore were called “pussy hats”. I want to tell you that the overwhelming message of that day was love and peaceful resistance (it was) and that there were just as many, maybe more, signs and speeches about climate change, reproductive rights, healthcare, Black Lives Matter, feminism, free speech, and on and on (there were, by the way), but there’s a part of me that doesn’t want to tell you that. Because it negates the validity of the anger that was present as well.
Using vulgar language doesn’t change the importance of talking about sexual assault or the culture of victim blaming we have in this country. Being angry, shouting, is the right of every person, especially people of color, when they rage about the deaths of young black people who should have been celebrating birthdays this year. A shrill voice shouldn’t negate the right of women to have the only say in controlling their bodies.
We have to stop this culture of invalidating what a women says or does because she displays emotions while doing it. Hillary Clinton was subjected to this from the moment Bill entered the political arena (probably before, too). She was too outspoken, or not enough. She talked too much, or not enough. She should be a First Lady, not policy maker, but she’d never be “lady” enough. Her appearance, the sound of her voice, her likability were all criticized from her years as a governor’s wife right through the election of 2016. The truth is, she was never going to be woman enough for some people, and too womanly for others. And therein lies the sexism no one is willing to acknowledge.
But I’ve had enough. We have to create our own narrative. No more allowing the patriarchy to decide how and what we should say about which topics. No more feeling like less of a woman because you get angry. Stop allowing the guilt to affect you because you speak your mind. Try to mitigate that hurt that creeps in when another attacks your demeanor and your words because you aren’t being “lady like”.
We women are not a monolith. This is something I’ve heard marginalized communities speak of often. No one story can speak for all of an identity. And no one set of behaviors can define all women. Women, as an intersectional group, are not a minority, and the time is right for us to act like we are not. Changing the culture will take time, and expecting people to change their attitudes overnight is unrealistic. But it has to start somewhere. It has to start with us.
We have to make room for all voices, no matter how shrill or how smooth. If you choose to speak in a measured tone, applying your disciplined attitude toward furthering your cause, then you do that. But if another woman chooses another approach, one that uses emotions, sometimes anger, maybe swearing, don’t negate her: uplift her! We can all choose the way that we interact with the world on a personal level, but we can also choose to support those who say what we believe, but say it with different words.
Note: I’m just a YA author commenting on what I see in the world. If you’d like more information on this subject, here are links to a few articles that show up with a quick Google search of Angry Woman: (And there are many more, so do more of your own search if you like.)
The Importance of Being an Angry Woman by Dayna Evans on The Cut
People Reward Angry men but Punish Angry Women, Study Suggests by Rebecca Adams on Huffington Post
Why We Love Angry Men, But Hate Impassioned Women by Elizabeth Plank on Huffington Post
Hell Hath No Fury Like a Blogger Impassioned – Why do ‘Angry Women Scare People So Much? by Carey Purcell on Huffington Post