The director of the Women’s Media Center Speech Project interrogates the nature of modern female anger and outrage.
In this powerful essay collection, Chemaly draws on interviews, research, and personal experience to examine why patriarchal Western cultures continue to demand that women silence their rage, much of which is well-earned. From early childhood, girls are taught that expressing anger is taboo; to gain social acceptance, they must learn the lesson of object utility. When the author spoke at a New England college several years ago, she was confronted by a 19-year-old male student who implied that women were “inert, possessions to be used, and lacking in self-determination.” Internalized rage, which society encourages women to mask with smiling benevolence, often takes the form of bodily ailments that run the gamut from headaches to depression and fibromyalgia. Chemaly argues that when women express the pain that doctors too often dismiss, they are “actually conveying…that having a female body hurts and endangers us.” Regardless of what women may desire and no matter their ambitions, modern society teaches them that their proper role is as caregiver, “despite the stress and economic vulnerability [that role] cultivates.” That role receives its ultimate codification in motherhood, which Western culture still sees as a woman’s obligation rather than choice. Women who step out of line to assert themselves become targets of what Chemaly calls the corrosive “drip, drip, drip” of microaggressions that ultimately become “the building blocks of structural discrimination” (among countless others, see: Hillary Clinton). The author goes on to assert that much-critiqued worldwide movements like #MeToo are crucial because they offer spaces where women can tell their stories and be heard. To help women use anger productively, Chemaly ends by offering a 10-point plan of action to help redress the gender imbalances that threaten not only them, but democracy itself. Intelligent and keenly observed, this is a bracingly liberating call for the right of women to own their anger and use it to benefit a society “at risk for authoritarianism.”
Important, timely, necessary reading.