Female Rage – The Power of Women’s Anger

It used to be frowned upon for women to show anger. But the anger-gender-gap is widening, and women are becoming increasingly angry about everything from police brutality to domestic inequality – rightfully so. A brief rundown of female emotions and the power it holds. 

The image of the angry woman is vivid: fierce eyebrows, a scathing tongue and eyes burning with fire as she seeks out those who have wronged her. Perhaps she’s found her husband with a mistress, and she’s laid waste to the homewrecker in her bed. This is the woman familiar to local and international media alike.But the image of the (quote) “hysterical woman” is certainly not the only superficiality the media has allowed itself over the decades. While a woman tears her hair out when a love affair is spurned, a tear rolls out of the corner of her eye at most when she experiences loss and grief. Carefully, almost delicately, she wipes the wetness from her cheek – always trying not to draw attention to her obvious misery.  

However, this age-old archetype of female rage is a superficial one that has already run its course. Women scream, cry, slap and pull their hair, but their anger is often much more deeply rooted and can take many forms other than melodramatic outbursts in key scenes. I see a similar cultural awakening in recent events. Around the world, women are becoming more intimate with the layers of their anger. We’re becoming more articulate and expressive about it. More studied in the way it binds together the personal, the professional and the political. And more aware of its immense, historic, paradigm-shifting power.

Female rage films. The ‘good for her’ cinematic universe. Gaslight, gatekeeper, girlboss literature. If you frequent the same corners of the internet as I do, and regularly look for recommendations of what to read and watch, you may have noticed these ‘genres’ slowly appearing. 

Unlike science fiction, romance, fantasy, this genre does not simply do what it says on the tin, its content – and motive – is far more complicated than that. This raises a number of questions. What defines ‘female rage’ in the media? Where does it come from? And why do so many women around the world connect with it on such a deep level?

In the media we consume, we are typically shown violence against women. We have become desensitised to it. Crime dramas such as Law & Order and Criminal Minds – a mainstay of our television screens – feature the violent murder (and invariably sexual assault) of women week after week for the sake of entertainment. In fact, in some genres, violence against women is a necessity in order to be considered ‘accurate’. Historical dramas and fantasy shows such as Game of Thrones bring graphic sexual violence to the forefront of our screens, with female characters’ arcs revolving solely around this violence.

Put simply, when we turn on our television screens or open the spine of a novel, we often expect to see some form of violence against a woman, almost always at the hands of a male character or author. For many female viewers, this experience is horrifying and alienating. This is not the stuff of fantasy that can be turned off or ignored, but a real and oppressive fear that is present in many women’s lives. With so much violence perpetrated by men against women, it seems natural that people would look for stories where women are in control. In all the types of violence we see so often on our screens, female characters are stripped of their agency. When we are so used to seeing representations of women as helpless and damaged, seeing women take control of violence can be a cathartic experience. 

Bloody revenge plots become a fight against the oppression that has filled our screens and novels for too long. The unfamiliar subversion of the expected role of women as gentle, kind and caring is thrilling. In these texts, women are now agents of the story, in control of what happens. They make the striking move of being objects rather than subjects of violence. 

It is exhausting to see women having to be good in the face of constant violence. It is liberating to see them be vile. Let them rage on.

In Rage Becomes Her: The Power of Women’s Anger, Soraya Chemaly writes that anger has a profound purpose: it is a moral smoke signal, alerting us to inequality and injustice. (“Anger is loaded with information and energy,” Audre Lorde said in 1981.) And that’s precisely why women, in particular, are taught to isolate themselves from it.

“It is hard to overstate how problematic the transfer of anger as a resource from girls to boys and from women to men is, not only for us as individuals, but also for our society,” she writes. “This transfer is critical to the maintenance of white supremacy and patriarchy. Anger remains the least acceptable emotion for girls and women because it is the first line of defence against injustice”. Rebecca Traister’s Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger, out this week, takes a historical long view, examining how women’s anger has fuelled political movements over time. In the epilogue, she describes how energised and clear-headed she felt while writing her book, and how she came to reject the notion that anger itself, rather than its repression, is unhealthy

So how do we capitalise on this wisdom and undo the cultural dynamic that undermines the power of women’s emotions? “We can change it by doing what the world doesn’t: acknowledging, noticing, respecting, and not shying away from other women’s anger,” Traister writes. “Seek it out, notice it, ask women what makes them angry, and then listen when they tell you. If part of what they’re angry about is you, take it in, acknowledge how their frustrations might reflect your own, even if they’re directed at you. While there is still a long way to go in dismantling the media’s notion of female rage, there have been efforts to show the true multidimensional nature of a woman, her anger and her capacity beyond vulnerability – made possible by the women who have braved the male-dominated media industry.