Kavanaugh, Trump and a year of #MeToo: Women are angry and Soraya Chemaly says that's a good thing
'Anger is also what is behind the compassion, and empathy and drive for social justice'
By Rachel Giese
"Women are fed up. They're tired. They're exhausted," said U.S. author and activist Soraya Chemaly. They're also, she adds, very, very angry.
Chemaly spoke to me on Day 6 this week about her timely new book Rage Becomes Her: The Power of Women's Anger. In it, she examines the roots of female fury: structural inequality and sexism, stifling gender norms, and the cultural taboos against women voicing anger.
The past few years have given Chemaly plenty to write about. From U.S. President Donald Trump's boasts about grabbing women to the allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, and from the #MeToo movement to the global women's marches, a new, angry energy is fueling feminist activism and political engagement.
Rage Becomes Her joins other recent releases, including Rebecca Traister's Good and Mad and Brittney Cooper's Eloquent Rage, which encourage women to lean into their anger. Writing about these books in The Nation, Katha Pollitt argues that women are taught from the start to be pleasing and deferential to men: "From the moment you were born, you were told in a thousand ways that men liking you was the real measure of your value in the world. And without even realizing you were doing it, you learned to make yourself likable. To attract men, to disarm them, to manage them, to comfort them."
Women's anger, Chemaly says, is an affront to that traditional expectation. She points to the contrast in demeanour and tone of Brett Kavanaugh's testimony and that of his accuser Christine Blasey Ford.
Kavanaugh was "petulant and indignant," Chemaly said, at the idea "that a woman could hold him accountable in a public court and call into question his status. The kind of anger that he displayed, and the other men in that room displayed, is a social entitlement." Rage in men is valorized and seen as the sign of leadership.
And what if Ford had yelled, cried and barked at senators the way he had? "That would have been perceived as incredibly hostile and transgressive," Chemaly said. "She would have been dismissed as hysterical and hormonal and irrational."
And it's even worse for women with less social status and privilege than that of Ford. Chemaly says that women of colour are frequently seen as hostile — think of the damaging stereotype of the 'angry black woman' that's been levelled against Serena Williams and Michelle Obama — when they express the slightest bit of emotion.
Chemaly also talked about the rage that is directed towards women. Chants of "lock her up" continue to been heard at Trump rallies — more than a year after Hillary Clinton lost the presidential election — and the slogan has been used to attack other female politicians, including Alberta premier Rachel Notley and former Ontario premier Kathleen Wynne.
"So much of the response to a woman like Hillary Clinton, or frankly any woman who actively and openly pursues power, is revulsion, disgust and contempt," Chemaly said. "And a lot of that comes from the sense that people who break rules should be punished."
Despite the backlash, Chemaly says that this moment is exactly when women should use their anger to effect change. Rage is potent, Chemaly says. And she wants women to stop dismissing and downplaying it.
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