I’ve been reading Hazlitt recently (brilliant, if occasionally too clever, and pretty much unaware of women as people), specifically his 1826 essay “On The Pleasure of Hating.” Hazlitt had some sucky chapters in his life (although he inflicted a lot of the damage on his own), and OtPoH came out of his own, well-stocked store of personal bitterness. The essay is worth reading on its own merits, but it’s got me thinking about my own bitterness. So, given the intimate relationship I have with my own spleen and its venting, and with the hopes of making lemonade out of shitberries, I offer a few thoughts on anger and its uses for feminists.
1. Anger is not disgust. While the two may be related, disgust is a dead end, while anger is a font of energy. I find Vice magazine and cosmetic fillers disgusting, but… But nothing. I am not angry about them. “Eww, gross!” is neither a convincing argument nor an effective policy.
2. Anger is not rage, either. We all get the HULKSMASH! impulse, but it is of limited use. It may feel good to vent, to holler or swear, to break crockery or noses—or at least to think about these things—but 1) it is impractical (crockery and noses are expensive to replace) and 2) it doesn’t change a thing. One of my favorite girlhood books was Frances Hodgson Burnett’s A Little Princess, and one of my favorite lines from that book is this: “There’s nothing so strong as rage, except what makes you hold it in—that’s stronger.” Anger is stronger than rage. Rage is out of control, anger is focused. Rage is a wildfire, anger is a blowtorch. Your anger can help you take action through clear-headed, strong-hearted words and deeds, on whatever scale is appropriate.
3. Anger means you care. Anger, real anger, lights up your brain and gets your heart pumping. It is the opposite of apathy, despair, and resignation. Women are socially conditioned to avoid, repress, or mask their anger, or at least apologize for it: “I’m sorry if this sounds angry, but…” Don’t be sorry. You’re angry for a reason. Honor your feelings. Take action. That you’ll have to pick your battles is as true as the fact you’ll never run out of battles (if you’re paying attention). Anger is going to help you fight the good fight.
4. Anger makes you visible. Because it prompts you to speak and/or act (whether on your own behalf, or others’), your anger will make you visible in a way that you weren’t before. “Well-behaved women seldom make history,” right? Even if you not interested in making history, your anger can help make the world a better, more just place. While you may fear that your words and deeds might make you a target for some, and while you may indeed become less popular with some (jerks), it’s even more likely to make you feel strong, and proud of yourself, and will show you to be someone who won’t be bullied.
5. Anger makes you dangerous. This is awesome. When channeled correctly, anger gives you power. It’s an engine for action and change. It’s what makes you say “no” to people who want to take advantage of you, or silence you, or insult you. Anger taps into your resources and can bind you to allies. A lot of the assholes in your life are actually cowards, and if you start using your anger productively, you’ll see them for what they really are. And they’ll see you, too, and slink away.
6. Anger turned inward is the worst. I know from this. I think most women do. It’s nearly impossible to not be poisoned by patriarchal messages that you’re not a full human and not fully deserving of human rights. When you’re told that you need to apologize for your thoughts and feelings and looks and weaknesses and strengths and, and, and, it’s too easy to think that you are always the one at fault. For all my advocacy of anger’s usefulness, I also have to say “be careful.” You can burn yourself pretty badly with a blowtorch.