I walked into the bathroom. Lifted the seat. Sat there and put my palms to my face and I bawled. I cried for seconds, then minutes, and then hours. My red hot face, clenched jaws, sweat beads and tears. This was routine. Because where else could I go cry? What was I crying about? Did it really matter? Why did I have to hide to cry? Because women don't get angry in public. I wasn't crying really, I was letting out my anger. So we all resort to our bathrooms, our boxing punch bag, our pens and typewriters, our heads under the pillow, our solo holidays to let out our anger. Because how can we... who are we to get angry? Turns out women were made only to absorb anger of others. To comfort but not get comforted? Anger and women is a relationship that can be transformative only if we stand for emotional equality.
The world is unequal and so is anger. And we need to change this.
Women get angry just as men do. Anger and the way we transform from it, can set off change in a way we cannot even imagine. In my column today I detail a recent TEDx talk where I first reflect on some of the biases we must know when women display their anger. And later I will argue why we must. We must be angry.
1. Control vs Out of Control: Anger in the office hurts women more and for longer time. We have only been conditioned to watch men get angry. A loud, upset, aggressive man in the office is a guy in control. A loud, upset, angry woman in the office is a woman who needs an aspirin, who will be told she has no team skills. Some will go to the extent that leadership is not about 'talking' but 'listening.'
2. Ideas Lost: Why is it that an angry woman won't be heard and her idea will be discounted? But soon after a man will come and make the same point, and he will be lauded for his foresights.
3. Public Eye: You will hear this from so many successful women. When a woman shows anger in institutional, political, professional or public fora sort of settings, people will be the gender 'card' against women. Which is to say, suddenly everyone would like to remind the woman that she is a woman and shouldn't be speaking 'like this'. Instantly, she is met with resistance and is given less importance even though the points she makes are critical to the conversation.
4. At Home: While parents talk to girls about emotions and relationships, the one thing they forget to discuss is anger. In the event they do, parents will urge women to not be angry because they must be 'graceful.' Parents could do with becoming the starting point of change, by encouraging their daughters to speak up, argue, sharpen their arguments, and take the world one. Aren't we done with this 'fitting in' training?
The world is unequal and so is anger. And we need to change this. Women get angry just as men do.
How do we change this? How can we bring in emotional equality? Your anger and mine ought to be equal and deserve and equal hearing. I think a starting point is that transform the way we talk about women. A straight talking, to the point woman with a plan isn't bossy, she is the boss.
ANGER FOR CHANGE
How should we perceive the idea of anger? Thus far the best explanation I have read is from Soraya Chemaly, who in her book, Rage Becomes Her explains that women’s anger is one of the most powerful tools for transformative change. That it is one of the most forward thinking emotions.
Stories of angry women must be told without stereotyping and bias
Which revolutions in history happened when women were not angry? #MeToo campaign is reflective on how long women have keep quiet bottling their anger on mental and physical assault. Women have just had to hide. Or release their anger by themselves.
Another author Rebecca Traister in her book Good And Mad makes some powerful observations. She shares, that anger “has rarely been acknowledged as righteous and patriotic when it has originated with women, though women have often taken pains to mimic or reference the language and sentiments of America’s founding while making their own angry demands for liberty, independence and equality.”
HOW WILL IT CHANGE?
We need to think about how we reflect, celebrate, showcase and report women in our country. We are raised on a feed of normative behaviour where we give in to men. To their needs, to their anger, sometimes to their violence. We need to stop that immediately. Not being angry or holding it up is nothing but a facade that we have in front of society. Why should we?
Should we not ask ourselves and our society why women must internalise their anger and not leverage it? Take the example of Rohini, who was raised to be an educated young woman. When it came to working, the village didn't have opportunities and as a girl they wouldn't let her leave for the city. When it came to getting married, they told her she was over educated as an MA for the parents to find her a suitable match. She was upset and angry. She did marry however but her anger was far from gone. Her husband left for the city and that's when she decided it was time to turn that anger into something. She trained on how to use a cell phone and the internet and has set up a honey making, bee keeping set up in her village. When I met Rohini she said to me in marathi, "sometimes when women are angry, they find ways to do something for themselves. Other wise from birth to death we will only be serving the needs of others."
Here's another story. Across India we report and talk of farmer suicides and our newspapers carry detailed reports. But the ones we forget to talk about are the women who are left behind when these farmers are dead and gone. The men who took the loans aren't around to repay but the wives and daughters must. Women resort to prostitution, some sell their children and it only gets worse. Why don't we tell these stories? Another example of women who are angry but have little choice. And we don't even bother to report their plight. Should they not be angry? Should they not express their anger? We need to report this anger. We need to talk about it. For that's when we will force people to take notice.
We are talking of anger at a time women around the world as angry as hell. And for many reasons from equal pay to having a voice on the high table. Reading Traister and Chemaly's books, observing the #MeToo movement and the patriarchal baggage our societies have, I think it's time to let this anger out. Because to me women don't make history sitting and smiling. They make history when they stand up, march and speak up. When they rage and they roar.
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