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‘No longer reasonable’ – the power of angry women

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Sarah Cheverton
WVoN co-editor

“…because we lack the capacity to be reasonable and emotions they said must be distrusted because we are filled with rage that where emotion colours thought because we cry out thought is no longer objective because we are shaking and therefore no longer describes what is real shaking in our rage, because we are shaking in our rage and we are no longer reasonable…”

 Susan Griffin, Woman and Nature (1978)

While male anger is seen as a legitimate response to the events around them, women’s anger – as the quote from Susan Griffin above shows – is more likely to be dismissed as irrational and unreasonable.

Angry men have a cause. Angry women are told to: ‘Calm down, dear.’

As Litsa Dremousis wrote recently, when expressing: “proportionate anger or irritation, the blame somehow boomeranged back onto me. I’d been expected to remain amiable, though by any objective measurement, that expectation was ludicrous.”

Women’s anger is less likely to be viewed as legitimate. But when it is, women experience anger as power. This is especially true when women’s anger is expressed collectively.

Remember the frosty reception Tony Blair had from the UK’s Women’s Institute in 2000?

I bet he does.

As Allan Johnson writes in The Gender Knot:

“Anger is unacceptable [for women] because angry women are women in touch with their own autonomous passion and power, especially in relation to men, and this threatens the entire patriarchal order.”

For many women, though, collective experiences of anger alongside other women are relatively rare. Unless, of course, you’re a feminist

Feminist anger is seen as equally, if not more, threatening than the anger of individual women and it has long been at the centre of feminist activism.

The consciousness raising groups of the ’70s movement offered women-only spaces that not only approved of but actively aroused anger in its members.

Psychologist Naomi Weisstein remembers her experiences in a 1990 Ms Magazine article:

“…we found that we couldn’t stop talking. We talked about the contempt and hostility we felt from men…about monogamy…and community.”

Similarly Ann Battersby remembers in ‘Sweet Freedom’:

“the bells rang and the connections were made and there was a feeling of militancy that I’d never experienced before…”

Arguably as a result of this newfound collective anger, feminist activism became more militant. The late 1960s and 1970s were the age of the Miss World demonstrations, the S.C.U.M. (Society for Cutting Up Men) Manifesto and the first International Women’s Day March, when 4000 feminists took to the streets of London.

By contrast, the liberal feminist models of the 1980s and 1990s focused – quite rightly – on achieving the legislative equality that women desperately needed.

The militant anger of feminist activists did not disappear altogether.

In 1981, radical feminists in the English city, Leeds, launched a series of destructive attacks on sex shops throughout the city, while in other parts of the UK and USA, feminists collectively sabotaged showings of the increasingly popular ‘slasher’ movies in protest at the commonplace violence against women frequently depicted.

However, liberal feminism placed women’s rights in an institutional context that came to divide women activists, creating a reality where it was – and still is – possible for women doing ‘feminist work’ against domestic abuse or sexual violence, for example, not to self-identify as feminists.

At the same time, the narrowing focus of ‘identity politics’ and the rise of, for example, black, working class, and lesbian feminism also created smaller communities of feminists, narrowing the frame in which collective radical actions could take place.

As a result, there seemed to be a shift in focus in feminist activism from revolution to reform.

Now, the growing spread of the internet, social media and digital technologies has allowed feminists to create global communities. It has allowed us to re-explore shared experiences of oppression as women, in new ways.

Through a global community of feminist activists, we draw links between female genital cutting and labioplasty, and between the honour crimes of ‘other’ cultures and Western gender regimes.

Our collective anger gives rise to collective action – worldwide – signalled by the rise of international protests like Slutwalk.

As women, we must continue to give legitimacy to our shared experiences and anger, just as the consciousness raising groups of the 1970s did for small groups of radical feminists.

Our shared anger is the basis for a shared dream of freedom.

If a global feminist movement is to unite and fight, it is vital that we carry on making connections, not only to explore our global oppression as women, but to give voice to the anger we all share.

As Robin Morgan wrote in 1970:

“We are rising; powerful in our unclean bodies; bright glowing mad in our inferior brains; wild hair flying, wild eyes staring, wild voices keening; undaunted by blood we who haemorrhage every twenty eight days…

“We are rising with a fury older and potentially greater than any force in history, and this time we will be free or no one will survive. Power to all the people or to none. All the way down, this time.”

Robin Morgan, Goodbye to all that.

  1. Wow Sarah, here is a manifesto for all feminists to continue the work of feminists throughout history. I have been reading Vindication of the Rights of Women and am staggered at how relevant a lot of it is still. Particularly Mary Wollstonecraft’s anger at the way women are educated for pursuing trivia, and discouraged from using their intellect (think OK magazine etc.).

    Thinking of endemic VAWG, sexualisation of women in mainstream culture, glass ceiling, men still not taking equal share of childcare and housework, pay gap, women’s underrepresentation in many areas of political and cultural life, there is a lot to be angry about.

  2. Pavlov's Cat says:

    I loved this post and I’m sorry to gripe, but that last quote is an example of a thing that really gets my goat.

    “we who haemorrhage every twenty eight days…”

    Because those of us without a menstrual cycle that functions like clockwork are what? Not women? Not feminists? Not rising?

    I’m sorry, I don’t find that quote sits well in a manifesto for all feminists. I’ll try to stick with you on the sentiment though.

  3. Thanks Jane – I was only writing about Mary Wollstonecraft today in preparation for International Women’s Day. Have you checked out the BBC archive for second wave feminism? I discovered it while researching some of the background for this piece. Lots of recordings from late 60s and 70s, Betty Friedan, Kate Millett, Marilyn French. I was really interested in how recognisable the framework of the debate still is today. Worth checking out – have we really come a long way baby?!

    Pavlov’s cat – the quote at the end was written in 1970 and for me it perfectly captures the anger of feminists at the time, I think it still captures the anger of a lot of women activists today, for the same reason it did then. I’m sorry to read of your offense (and slightly confused – are you angry because she’s only including women, or because she didn’t include women with irregular periods or who might be post-menopausal??) but definitely not for including it.

  4. vicki wharton says:

    Yes, it’s a sad indictment of male and female chauvinists that so much that was written about 40 years ago still rings true today, same shit, different t shirt.

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