Angry Women

Angry Women

By Jan S. Gephardt

“Oh, now, honey, let’s not get hysterical.” If this phrase or its moral equivalent has never been directed at you, you probably aren’t female. Fact is, there are few things more socially unacceptable than angry women.

Even the word “hysterical” has women at its root. As far as I can tell, throughout the ages there have been angry women. And for just as long, there have been men and other women who were terrified and/or outraged by them. Take your pick: terror and outrage are often two sides of the same coin. But it  all adds up to this: society does everything it can to make angry women shut up. Even when they have every reason to be angry.

Two quotes here: “There is not a woman alive who does not understand that women’s anger is openly reviled.” by Soraya Chemaly, and "It's a very difficult thing for people to accept, seeing women act out anger on the screen. We're more accustomed to seeing men expressing rage and women crying." by Rebecca De Mornay.
Society discounts and looks away from angry women. (See credits below).

The Molten Core

If “Oh, now, honey, let’s not get hysterical” didn’t punch a few buttons and raise your blood pressure a bit, (1) you’re probably male and (2) but wait! There’s more. Millennia of patriarchy have piled on enough indignities, disrespect, and exploitation to fire up the molten core that seethes within most women. Consider the following to be a very small sampling.

Two more quotes: "Most women have no characters at all." - Alexander Pope. And "When a woman gets angry, she cannot speak reasonably." - anonymous (or possibly in hiding?)
Here are two examples of the sort of disrespect women deal with. (See credits below).

And let’s not forget the widespread illusion that there is no way for a man to understand “what a woman wants.” If angry women puzzle and confuse you, then you’re part of the problem.

Three quotes here: "Women are meant to be loved, not to be understood." - Oscar Wilde. "If a woman is upset, hold her and tell her how beautiful she is. If she starts to growl, retreat to a safe distance and throw chocolate at her." - Anonymous (and he'd be wise to remain that way). And, “Behind every angry Woman is a man who has Absolutely no idea what he did wrong.” – Again, by Anonymous (he spouts off a lot).
It’s an ancient trope that men don’t know what women want. Have they ever considered respect? Or listening? (See credits below).

For women, the whole business of navigating life has, for centuries, been one long steeplechase of often-unavoidable hazards. One scarcely has to look, before examples leap to mind (if you’ve been paying attention).

I’ll pull two from art history. Consider the treatment of Artemesia Gentileschi at her rape trial – an experience all too much like the experiences of contemporary women. Or the fact that the famous artist Rosa Bonheur had to get special permission from the police to be allowed to wear a smock and trousers when she went to a slaughterhouse to study animal anatomy (in order to do her life’s work).

Why talk about Angry Women?

I’ve been thinking a lot, lately, about women’s anger and the curious way it’s been ignored, overlooked, and otherwise disregarded by pundits and political analysts. Particularly, in the wake of the Dobbs decision that reversed Roe v. Wade.

It wasn’t only angry women who rose up on their hind legs last week to deliver a resounding “NO” to the “Value Them Both” referendum in Kansas. Men definitely participated in that result. But a lot of the momentum came from a sustained “ground game” by volunteers all over Kansas. Volunteers who included a lot of young, angry women. And the voters who responded in unprecedented numbers also included a lot of young, angry women.

Now, there are a lot of Libertarians-at-heart (of all genders) in Kansas. Their reaction to a threat of egregious government overreach also forms an important part of the “No to Value Them Both” story. And on the face of it,  it’s downright un-American to nakedly foist one narrow set of religious views on the general public. Especially while removing important rights to life and liberty in the process.

Here are three more quotes, of a higher caliber than the last batch: “No person is your friend (or kin) who demands your silence, or denies your right to grow.” - Alice Walker. “Life without liberty is like a body without spirit.” - Kahlil Gibran. And "Independence is a heady draft, and if you drink it in your youth, it can have the same effect on the brain as young wine does. It does not matter that its taste is not always appealing. It is addictive and with each drink you want more.” - Maya Angelou
Liberty with agency: wouldn’t you say it’s what everyone wants and deserves? (Country Living).

What’s wrong with this picture?

But most of the “experts” inside the Beltway and among the national media appear clueless about many aspects of this story. In underestimating rural people’s intelligence, they definitely blew it. There was a widespread fear before August 2 that the ignorant backwoods rubes would fall for the deceptive name, wording, and hype. But the underestimation is even greater when it comes to the angry women.

I used that metaphor of “the molten core that seethes within most women” earlier, for a reason. I think a lot of people are ignoring “seismic indicators” in the social realm. Volcano experts learned to predict when volcanic eruptions will happen soon. They’ve learned what to look for – the signs that indicate a given place is building up to an eruption. Pinning down exactly when it will happen is still difficult. But they can be pretty clear on it when an eruption seems imminent. They know they must monitor certain telltale indicators.

Mt. Stromboli erupts spectacularly at night.
Stromboli subtly inflates just before it explodes. (See credits below).

Angry Women Suppress their Emotions for a Long Time

By contrast, I believe a lot of political observers are consistently missing telltale indicators that we’ve been seeing in recent years. I think this is because our society consistently refuses to take women’s anger seriously. Women (and their families) have endured one provocative outrage after another in recent years. Seems to me  that inexorable drumbeat is eventually going to bring on a history-changing “eruption.”

The chances look good that a lot of so-called “experts” will be astonished when it happens. Just as they were blindsided by the referendum results in Kansas. That’s because it takes a lot of outrage and a long buildup, before angry women explode.

Two quotes here: "When a woman cries it's not usually over one thing. It's built up anger and emotions that she's been holding in for too long." – QuotesGate. And "So many women keep their anger inside and let it build until they explode and then people blow them off again." - Rosalind Wiseman.
Women are trained to hold their anger in. But that only lasts so long. And when people blow them off, that starts the cycle all over again. (See credits below).

Seismic Indicators

Let me offer a few items for consideration. Do you remember the Women’s March of 2017? It followed the election of a man who clearly had no respect at all for women.

"When you're a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab them by the pussy . . . You can do anything." - Donald J. Trump
When challenged, he doubled down. Worse, he still won the election. (The Guardian via Twitter).

About that same time came the fall of Harvey Weinstein and the massive expansion of the #Me Too Movement. In early 2018 we learned about Larry Nassar and his protracted run as the chief sexual predator in residence for USA Gymnastics. Outrage piled on outrage until it was intolerable.

Most of us also remember the 2018 Mid-Term Elections, in which the Democrats re-took the House of Representatives and a record number of female representatives were elected. Observers noted that angry women had played a part, but after all – the sitting President’s party “always” loses ground in the mid-terms, right? How much role did women really play? It was easy to dismiss or overlook the angry women.

More Fuel to the Flames of Indignation

The botched handling of the Pandemic led to the needless “extra deaths” of thousands of elders and lower-income workers (read that predominantly Black, brown, and female, although men died in droves, too). Misogyny and racism reared their heads more nakedly than we’d seen them for a while.

Mass shootings do not only concern women, of course. But as the steady drumbeat of mass shootings also mounted, women-led groups grew. I’m talking about our local Kansas City Mothers in Charge, and on the national-level Grandmothers Against Gun Violence. Another group heavily threatened by gun violence is victims of domestic violence, who are disproportionately women. And yet, a lot of people overlooked how much of an active role women played in the pushback.

This huge crowd of protesters was one of millions who turned out worldwide.
The Black Lives Matter movement started with the initiative of three Black women (Safe Journalists).

The police killings of Black people such as Philando Castile, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd sent thousands into the streets in the summer of 2020. Angry women of all races and gender expressions joined angry men to voice their outrage. In 2020 voters kicked Trump out of the White House and gave Senate control back  to the Democrats. This country had ample reasons. It wasn’t only the work of angry women. But who spearheaded the Black Lives Matter movement, for example? Women (specifically, Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi).

Is Dobbs the Final Straw?

The proverbial camel could only take so much weight. Throughout history we’ve seen long-simmering resentments against injustice finally reach a tipping point. If it wasn’t possible to turn back systemic injustices and the denial of rights, there would have been no successful suffrage movement for women. No Civil Rights era could have occurred (although it seems we’re about ready for another chapter of that struggle). There would have been no end to Prohibition.

Let’s wrap up with three more quotes: "I am angry nearly every day of my life, but I have learned not to show it; and I still try to hope not to feel it, though it may take me another forty years to do it." [Character of Marmee in Little Women] - Louisa May Alcott. “Anger is not an accepted thing for women. And, you know, I do get angry. I feel it’s a very honest emotion.” – Rosamund Pike. Finally, a closing thought from Soraya Chemaly: “A society that does not respect women’s anger is one that does not respect women.”
Anger has been an ongoing challenge for women since at least the dawn of patriarchy. But it’s a real emotion we can’t help feeling. When will our society respect it? (See credits below).

Never doubt that the eruption is coming. Respect repeatedly denied demands redress. The repeal of long-established rights – and the threat to repeal more – isn’t something people (certainly not Americans) will just roll over and take. And life-destroying, unjust mandates, exacted by a small, ignorant, over-controlling and unrepresentative group (looking at you, wealthy, privileged elders without vaginas) won’t stand forever.

I can’t tell you exactly when the eruption will come. But when it does, angry women will fuel it.

IMAGE CREDITS

As ever, we have lots of people to thank for the photos and illustrated quotes that punctuate this post. The author, Jan S. Gephardt, selected and assembled all the montages. Many thanks to Quotefancy for Soraya Chemaly’s words, and to Quote HD for those of Rebecca De Mornay, in the first montage.

For the second, we’d like to thank Inspirational Stories for the Alexander Pope quote (although we’re not sure what it might inspire beyond anger or contempt). Status Mind contributed the incendiary “When a woman gets angry” quote/image. Though perhaps we’re being hysterical to call it that, despite the grass fire in the background?

For the third montage, we thank SaveDelete for the condescending Oscar Wilde quote. Funny All Women’s Talk brought us the (not so funny) “throw chocolate” quote. And thanks to Amazon for the “Behind Every Angry Woman” design (they put it on a notebook). In light of boneheadedness such as this, are angry women a surprise?

Liberty, News, and a Volcano

All three of the “Liberty” quotes in the fourth montage come courtesy of Country Living. Quanta Magazine provided Rainer Albiez’s dramatic photo of Mt. Stromboli erupting. The next montage combines a quote about women’s frustration from MEME with a wry observation from Rosalind Wiseman courtesy of Idle Hearts.

UK publication The Guardian posted The Infamous Trump Quote on its Twitter feed (many thanks!). It inspired more angry women than he would believe. And the unattributed photo of a Black Lives Matter protest in 2020 came courtesy of Safe Journalists. Read their accompanying article for an overview of outrageous attacks on well-identified members of the press during the 2020 protests.

The final montage consists of three more quotes about angry women. The Louisa May Alcott comment comes from All Author. Picture Quotes provided an observation on anger’s honesty from Rosamund Pike. And we wrap up as we started, with an appropriate thought from Soraya Chemaly. This one comes from Stacey Rosenfeld’s Mental Health Service Facebook Page and Gatewell Therapy Center. Many thanks to all!

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