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When anger is all I have and why anger is my feminist stand

I thought I would write about the myth of choice. How when we talk about choice in a feminist context we mean “We want people to have a choice in terms of how and when they get pregnant and if they carry that pregnancy on”. How we want people to have a choice on their jobs, we want them (ourselves) to have a choice in the kind of relationships we establish, how we conduct them, who we associate with, how frequently (if at all) we have sex and with whom. Choice, the magic word that would liberate us from the chains of Patriarchy and set us free to live as fully realized human beings. Except that these choices are not removed from our overall sociocultural contexts. Except that, for some, the choice is between a rock and a hard place.

There are hardly any real choices. We live in a system where for many people, the choices available are not only limited but framed in a way where we can only chose, from this narrow pool, those options that are barely related to basic survival. And I am genuinely angry that due to recent political developments pretty much all over the West, so many of our basic choices are presented as unnecessary, as undesirable, as the only choices we should have access to.

So, instead of writing about choice I needed to pause and examine my anger. This anger which is cumulative, which grows inside me and overtakes my capability to articulate bigger pictures; this anger which, I am constantly told, is not “productive”. Because being angry in and by itself, it seems is not part of a political position. Well, I have news for those who obturate discussions on the basis of undesirable anger: MY ANGER IS A RADICAL POLITICAL STANCE. My anger is the basis of my actions. It is my drive and my reason to fight. Right here, right now, let me tell you this: I AM AN ANGRY FEMINIST. And I refuse to be shamed for that.

As I write this, Dominique Strauss Kahn remains in detention for his alleged connection with charges of ‘complicity in pimping’ and “misuse of corporate assets”. I read “All of the women, who are mainly French and Belgians from immigrant backgrounds, claim to have had paid sex with him while he was IMF chief”. I need to collect myself in face of this new evidence. The anger overcomes me. So many words I wrote this past year devoted to this man and to what he represents. So much I have said about him that speaks of racism and his systematic oppression of non White women, both through his personal actions and through the policies imposed by the very same institution he managed. This anger which is so much tied to my personal history and how this man reminds me of a form of suffering that extends through borders, through the lives of women, children, people who never had choices.

More than one person has complained in the past few weeks about my anger. People who have said that I “rant” about issues like racism or immigration but I do not offer advice on actions they can follow. They are frustrated, they say. They say they wish I told them what to do. Here is what you do: you find your moral imperative and you act. Ranting is one of mine. What is yours? If your anger is only limited to reading these words I string together and then wondering “oh but what can I do?” then I am afraid to say, your anger is not powerful enough. The kind of anger that does not lead you to, at least, google for more information on the topic you just read and then at the very least reflect on what you read and position yourself in relation to the topic and how you could contribute, no matter in which small way to fix it, is not anger. It might be upsetting because you have just been exposed in your complicity with this system of inequalities we are all forced to partake in. That might as well make you uncomfortable. But angry? No, obviously not angry enough if all you have left is to complain because I “rant”. Because, here’s another inflammatory statement: in the vast majority of posts I write about these topics, I do not rant. I spend days (sometimes weeks) doing research. I patiently scout archives, websites, offline sources to document every statement I make with a fact to back it up. To call these posts “rants” is an insult to my work. And moreover, it is testament to the privilege of those who would deem them as such. As if “rants” could not be powerful political statements. As if the stream of consciousness behind a rant could never hold us together in awareness, as if ranting could never be a political act by itself. As if we could ever remove the political action that is initiated through a shared rant. That moment when we stand together in awareness to feel, if only for a fleeting second, less lonely. As if that act initiated by a moment of anger could never be radical.

And so it is from this moral imperative driven by anger that I write. And I refuse to be boxed in the simplified category of “ranter” because I am angry. Because this anger makes me “difficult”, it makes me “alienating”, it makes me “impossible to deal with” and I should just accept that certain things just are.

No.

I refuse. And I also refuse to accept that my small act of rebellion, this moment of refusal driven by anger should place me in the category of “feminist pariah”. The unreasonable one even within our movement. Because you see, when I said my anger is cumulative, I should point out that, as much as I am frustrated by the overall political environment in which I must operate, I am equally angry at this, our movement. When I have to speak up about the failures done in the name of my political affiliation, I also know I am putting myself at risk. The risk of being alienated, yet again, for being difficult, for being angry, for being irrational. But then I read of initiatives, seemingly feminist ones that tell me something like this:

Also, while public harassment motivated by racism, homophobia, transphobia, or classism—types of deplorable harassment which men can be the target of and sometimes women perpetrate—is recognized as socially unacceptable behavior, men’s harassment of women motivated by gender and sexism is not.

And I want to scream in frustration: INTERSECTIONALITY FAIL! This is not how we “Stop Street Harassment”. For some of us, the racism, the transphobia, the homophobia, the classism cannot be separated from the sexism. They are all tragically interconnected to one another. But I should be less angry. And if some random dude in the street harasses me, I should perhaps pause and ask “Are you bothering me because of racism or because of sexism? Can you, fine dude, please elaborate on the root cause of your aggression?”. And yes, I am angry that this is supposedly done as part of my “movement”, that this is supposedly done on my behalf. But I am even more angry by the fact that merely complaining about this lack of intersectional lens would label me “angry” and “difficult” and it would put me at risk of ostracism.

I also happen to be angry with myself. Mostly at my inability to shut up. I am fully aware that it would make things easier for me. Just avert my eyes and pretend I haven’t seen this or that. Just pretend that this or that hasn’t happened. Just go with the flow and accept that both within and outside this feminism I call mine there will be failures. That we live in a world where inequalities are a matter of fact, they happen and I should perhaps redirect this anger towards fixing those that are within my reach. But I can’t, because, see above: moral imperative, etc. Which, in turn, makes me fully aware of the fact that my anger can easily become sanctimony because there is such a small threshold that separates the two. I want to think that this pain I feel inside, the tears I hardly hold when I am angry are what separates me from the sanctimony. But if I am to be intellectually honest, which I also try to be, I need to acknowledge the risk. That moment when the anger transforms in a faux sense of moral superiority.

And so I examine this anger, not necessarily because I do not want to feel it but because I need to understand it. I ponder on the stigmas associated with it, how they have been used as a means to silence those who voice it. I remember the tone arguments, the stereotype of the “angry, hysterical, screaming Latina”, the way every time a person dares speak about their frustrations, people can be dismissive on the basis of “anger” and “irrationality”. As if the reasons why we are angry were less legitimate because we articulate from a place of passion. Because yes, I am deeply passionate about my and our survival. But I also want more than merely surviving. I want us to thrive, I want us to have real choices and not just those the system we live in deems to be appropriate. I want us to be fulfilled and dare I say it, I want happiness to be a legitimate, if elusive goal. And how could I not be angry when I see all of this denied, taken away, available only to those born in the right places, with the right bodies, with the acceptable genders and sexualities. How could I not react with passion and with fury?

This I’ve heard so many times: loca, bitch, puta; you are an embarrassment, nos haces pasar verguenza; all those words that have been hurled at me every time I was angry and I spoke. I raised my voice. I was compelled to say something but my wrath obscured reason and because of that, I gave others a justification to ignore me. I’ve had enough of that. If anger is all we have left then anger will be the expression of my politics. This frustration I experience because so many rights we have gained are slowly being taken away from us; because we have to witness how States perpetuate policies of oppression, how people are divided in categories of humanity, how men like Dominique Strauss Kahn are in charge of the administration of people’s lives and how his actions and the current allegations speak of his entitlement to the bodies of the women who are already objectified and abused on the basis of their ethnicity, and how we are forced to endure it all and pretend it was a choice. I cannot dismiss this anger I also feel right now by the lack of intersectionality within our movement which compels me to denounce it, even if it is at the expense of my own reputation. This anger that drives me to consciousness and to action is, right now, all I have.

I AM AN ANGRY FEMINIST. And I dare anyone tell me there is something wrong with that.

25 Comments

  1. Kiri wrote:

    The most horrific abuse I’ve suffered in my life was at the hands of “calm”, “polite” people. Meanwhile, it’s only because of angry activists that I am even still around.

    What I’m trying to say is, thank you, both for being angry and for standing up for those of us who are.

    Wednesday, February 22, 2012 at 3:04 pm | Permalink
  2. Annaham wrote:

    To call these posts “rants” is an insult to my work.

    YES. And calling something a “rant” also makes it easier for the person doing that calling to dismiss–”Oh, it’s just a *rant*, so I don’t have to engage with this blogger’s points at all.”

    Wednesday, February 22, 2012 at 5:48 pm | Permalink
  3. jagosaurus wrote:

    Thank you. I am also tired of a lifetime of being told that my angry activism (and just plain old anger) is unbecoming or stupid or cute, even.

    Wednesday, February 22, 2012 at 5:48 pm | Permalink
  4. j.a wrote:

    YES! I get this all the time – I do a weekly radio show where I talk about all kinds of issues, I often interview well-respected people, I spend days and days doing research – years, really, if research, like anger, is cumulative – and people still ALWAYS describe what I’m doing as “ranting”. It does not matter how carefully researched and composed my words are – and they always are – “rant” is what I get. It is absolutely infuriating, and sometimes, like recently, gets me real down. So thank you, once again, Flavia.

    Wednesday, February 22, 2012 at 8:16 pm | Permalink
  5. @j.a. earlier today I was joking on Twitter: “When a manly man dude writes a rant we call it “Op-Ed”. When a feminist woman writes a rant we call it “anger”.”

    Wednesday, February 22, 2012 at 8:19 pm | Permalink
  6. KristalC wrote:

    Thank you for speaking up. I can’t tell you how many times the angry, loud, black woman stereotype has kept me silent. It is a ok and even seen as an admirable quality when men stand up and say “Im as mad as hell and Im not going to take it anymore!” but women need to be small take up no space and hush especially those threatening women of colour. Im so tired of living with what that has done to me. When someone knocks me over I apologize so as not to be the loud black woman and my voice which was loud and full of laughter as a kid is now a mousey whisper. Im tired of that and Im learning to speak up thank you for providing a space where it is safe and welcoming to do so.

    Wednesday, February 22, 2012 at 8:37 pm | Permalink
  7. MC wrote:

    “I want us to thrive, I want us to have real choices and not just those the system we live in deems to be appropriate.”

    So much yes. I think the dismissal of this anger also dismisses the deep (and exhausting) compassion that fuels a desire for a world in which thriving is possible. People are so unwilling (and terrified) to fully recognize the structural inequalities that affect every single aspect of our lives. And ultimately I think that deprives them of this powerful compassion and anger you’ve articulated so fantastically. Thank you, thank you.

    Wednesday, February 22, 2012 at 9:09 pm | Permalink
  8. Caitiecat wrote:

    I AM AN ANGRY FEMINIST. And I dare anyone tell me there is something wrong with that.

    This is awesome. And not only wouldn’t I say that, I’d say your anger makes you a better progressive, a better feminist. Who could look on the injustices we experience, every single day, as women, and not be angry? Compounding that with our intersectionalities only compounds the anger.

    Excellent post, Flavia, thank you.

    Thursday, February 23, 2012 at 2:14 am | Permalink
  9. Baeraad wrote:

    Hell yeah.

    Anger has an undeserved bad reputation. Contrary to what all too many people seem to think, it’s not clever arguments and intricate understanding that wins hearts and minds, it’s passion.

    Look at the damn stupid Tea Party. They do nothing but yell and scream and stomp their feet and demand that none of this (with “this” being, more or less, the fact that there is a black man in the White House and that he occasionally uses words like “empathy” and “compassion”) be happening. Remember how we all laughed at them when they were starting out? I know I did. And then, just by yelling and screaming and refusing to budge, they turned themselves into some kind of super-Republicans that dragged the debate even further to the right.

    Or look at a more recent and more hope-inspiring thing, the Occupy movement. It constantly gets accused of having no solid agenda. And you know what? It’s true. I’ve been part of that movement to and fro, and as far as I can tell, there *is* no agenda beyond “a lot of things that we have stopped questioning actually REALLY SUCK, and they are getting worse, not better.” But you know what else? Just by existing and being loud, the Occupy movement has forced people to start debating left-wing points for the first time in years. Hell, for what feels like the first time in my adult life!

    And I’ll take an angry feminist any day over one that claims to be “amused” by all the messed-up cultural nonsense that’s floating around, and makes long posts about how “amused” she is by it. If sexism is so damn entertaining to you, why do you want to get rid of it in the first place? (yes, I have my own long-standing personal beef with certain elements of mainstream feminism, I won’t deny it) Anger is good. Anger shows people that what you are talking about *matter.*

    Thursday, February 23, 2012 at 6:22 am | Permalink
  10. Hari wrote:

    Outstanding! I thank you from the bottom of my angry, loving, AWAKE feminist heart for your words here.

    The other day, I was having a conversation with my 13yr old son about the bullying, sexism and gender-expression enforcement, racism and homophobia he witnesses and experiences every day at school. He often expresses about as much distress over what he witnesses, as what is actually turned upon him (for being a gender-bender who rejects the imperatives of ‘masculinity’).

    In the end of this difficult conversation (difficult for me because how does a parent help their child become ok with all the hate in the world?)–I told him: I know you’re hurting, and that is so hard. Just know that you’re hurting because you’re still alive and awake, rather than numb to all of this. You hurt, and feel angry, because your heart is awake–if we are to be able to truly love, and feel tenderness, joy, we also have to know anger and pain. It’s hard to feel the pain! And still–it means your heart is still awake and alive, still able to truly love– and that is a good thing.

    That is the same as I try to remember for myself in so many situations–and perhaps never so much as when accused of ‘ranting’. Yes, I am an angry feminist–because I am an alive, awake, fully-responsive being who refuses to numb myself for the sake of fitting into a world where collective deadening of the heart is the very reason that humanity is suffering so much as we busily create a worldwide killing machine that threatens all of our lives, and Life on the whole, every day.

    Again, thank you for your wild, wise, affirmative words that help me keep on keeping on.

    Thursday, February 23, 2012 at 6:27 am | Permalink
  11. Linds wrote:

    Incredibly powerful stuff. I love your work, Flavia. You help me find the words and concepts to articulate my own anger. Thank you.

    Thursday, February 23, 2012 at 7:54 am | Permalink
  12. APQNZ wrote:

    Thank you. I really needed to read this and feel this as an angry woman of color. How can you not be angry if you have eyes and let yourself be present in the world around us? 2 days ago I was called a b*tch and a c*nt by a cis man who was bullying me in a coffeeshop the manager did not ask him to leave. I had to leave. Not a single person said anything. There were children present. These acts of violence accumulate. I’m trying to figure out how to manage my anger so a) it doesn’t paralyze me, which it often does as this kind of crazy sh*t happens to me at least every week, probably b/c people know that I am someone who will not put up with their sh*t and b)heal. Cuz right now I don’t know how. Reading words like this certainly help to survive, just wish I had a real life, in person community of women like you and those who commented here.

    Thursday, February 23, 2012 at 12:19 pm | Permalink
  13. Angie unduplicated wrote:

    Flavia: Please don’t shut up. Ever. Intelligent, articulate anger in the face of structural inequity and against unimpassioned, calm, self-justifying exploitation and abuse is a superb weapon. Those who try to silence (y)our dissent, use their lack of perceivable emotion as a weapon against disagreement and (y)our noncooperation with their exploitation. Rant? That’s when you have a huge pile of facts to throw at their one or two small lame excuses. Don’t let the insults throw you off.

    Thursday, February 23, 2012 at 1:05 pm | Permalink
  14. Romeo wrote:

    A well researched rant is still a rant. That is not to be dismissive or undermine your feelings or opinions. Rants come from a place of passion, and I for one will never deny any one there passion. People have right to there anger, and people have right to express there anger. That what you say is expressed in the form of a rant does not make it wrong, does not make it invalid, does not undermine it’s content in any which way.

    Do you rant a lot? Maybe.

    To me it bags the question. So what?

    In the end I can speak for no one but myself, and I say “Rant on you shiny diamond you.”

    Thursday, February 23, 2012 at 3:48 pm | Permalink
  15. Roz wrote:

    Sigh. I have dealt with many individuals that are upset with the label “angry feminist.” I hope you find some peace in your life, or Jesus, or both. I am not disputing the validity of your emotions; however, I think it is important to acknowledge that anger is but one part of a process of grieving a loss and it is not the last part. Feeling anger as an emotion is better than denial or lack of any emotion, but just as it is possible to move beyond denial or depression, it is also possible to move beyond anger. There are many comedians who have developed this skill. Anyways I am feminist too and I can understand, if not relate, to what you are going through. Good luck and don’t forget to breathe.

    Friday, February 24, 2012 at 2:29 am | Permalink
  16. Dom wrote:

    Yes, yes and yes. Calling someone “too angry” is not an argument and refutes nothing. It’s a lazy way to try to discredit someone. As an attack upon the person, it has to be treated with the utmost skepticism.

    Friday, February 24, 2012 at 11:52 pm | Permalink
  17. Slinger wrote:

    Thank you for this post. Our culture has a long history of silencing women’s protests by labeling any expression of emotion — be it sadness, fear, or anger — as “over emotional.” Men are “passionate” while women are “hysterical.”

    Categorizing women as “hysterical females” when they speak up has been a handy tool to dismiss half the population and maintain the status quo: hysteria eradicates rationality, therefore their arguments lack all legitimacy. In these cases anger is dismissed as just another form of hysteria, another sign of personal weakness.

    We have the slur of Angry Feminist, Angry Black Woman, Angry Lesbian — and it’s no coincidence that these are all groups who are marginalized.

    Awhile back, during a similarly dark political time, an obviously irritated friend made the comment that I was “so negative all the time lately.” And my response was this:

    “I’m not negative. ‘Negative’ is sullenly complaining for 15 minutes because my pizza arrived 10 minutes late, or someone cut me off in traffic. I’m not negative, I’m *angry*. And I’m angry about things *worthy* of anger. Human rights violations. Implemented rape culture. Excused misogyny. Maybe if *more* people were angry about them we wouldn’t be experiencing these problems.”

    I’ll go a step further to say I’m not an Angry Person; I’m a Passionate Person. Passionate people don’t express their beliefs, or their emotions, in mild gestures or generic language. Look at acclaimed writers, artists, musicians, dancers, athletes, historical figures and even some elected officials — they’re deeply passionate. Passion is what has driven them to do extraordinary things. Passion and Reason are not mutually exclusive. Nor are Passion and Productivity.

    I am not ashamed of my anger. My anger is an expression of passion, because I passionately believe that sexism and misogyny should not be treated with tolerance. And anger can give us the courage of our convictions.

    The same way that “feminist” has become twisted to mean something negative, to the point that many women will now deny the title, so has “anger.” So yeah, call me an Angry Feminist. I think it’s time we reclaim both words.

    Sunday, February 26, 2012 at 5:05 pm | Permalink
  18. bfr wrote:

    I sometimes try to establish that I am feminist because I am angry, rather than being somehow magically angry because of being feminist, in an attempt to legitimize my anger and my message in the face of calm, silencing attempts to silence my anger.

    But then, why should I not be angry? I have so many things to be angry about! That is legitimate all on its own! So what I’ve been moving towards lately is this: “MY ANGER IS A RADICAL POLITICAL STANCE.” Far from being a distraction or flaw in my feminism, it is the root of my feminism. It is my feminism. (As is, sometimes, my joy. My fear. My hope. Etc.)

    Thank you for writing this. Let us all embrace our anger.

    Monday, February 27, 2012 at 11:53 am | Permalink
  19. aravind wrote:

    Thank you so much for writing this. Not to dump my whole life story on here, but I was raised by a lesbian couple and the sperm donor (who sued them for custody, breaking the agreement they had). He was always angry with them, saying that they stole his sperm, were denying him his right of access to me, those sorts of things all the time, and yet, to hear him talk, they were the ones that were always angry, they were the ones that were out of control. Accusations of being “angry” (like most negative emotional descriptions) seem pretty must like little more than tools that people (particularly men) can use against others (particularly women) in a kyriarchic manner that’s just disturbing.

    I was in a really asymmetrical and problematic relationship at one point in my life, and I didn’t realize it until afterwards when the other person told me that I, and other people who try to fight against sexism and heterosexism and other oppressive structures so that no one has to experience what my family did, are “too angry”. Even though I didn’t have the vocabulary for responding that I do now, I realized then that those comments essentialized Feminists, erased the clear argument in their demands for justice and equality, and delegitimized them with a noxious tone argument. That sort of a discussion is literally unacceptable.

    Monday, February 27, 2012 at 5:09 pm | Permalink
  20. Berenjena wrote:

    “You look pretty when you’re angry.”

    “Calm down and let’s discuss this normally.”

    “You aren’t listening.”

    “You just don’t understand.”

    “You speak from utopian points of view, I am just being pragmatic.”

    Fuck you fuck you fuck you fuck you all. Every single time you get put down, scream louder. I will not be shamed. I will not feel ashamed.

    My sister, my parents, everyone tells me I am too angry and too negative. But if I didn’t express my anger out loud, it would eat me up and I would become worse. What do they expect? Silence and compliance with the shit that happens?

    In my classes (I study politics) the people look at you shocked when you are outspoken. There are very outspoken extreme right wingers, and some smart asses, and then everyone else stays silent (almost). Whenever I speak up about something, I feel put on the spot and judged.

    But I never keep quiet anymore.

    Thanks Flavia for yet another great post. Yo también soy una feminista cabreada.

    Tuesday, February 28, 2012 at 7:15 am | Permalink
  21. caroline wrote:

    It feels good to know you’re not alone, which is how I feel after reading this.

    I still find myself apologizing for my “rants” a lot of the time. I even silence myself before anyone else can do it the majority of the time. And that, is some bullshit. Thanks for calling me on it.

    Saturday, March 3, 2012 at 2:36 pm | Permalink
  22. Helen wrote:

    It’s impossible to be feminist and not be angry.

    Sunday, March 4, 2012 at 3:45 am | Permalink
  23. Annie wrote:

    “It’s impossible to be feminist and not be angry.”

    If you don’t have the same emotional response as me, you are not a feminist.

    Monday, March 5, 2012 at 12:22 am | Permalink
  24. JROO wrote:

    Flavia, you are my favorite-est writer in all of the feminist blogosphere (and I read A LOT!)

    And that is BECAUSE of your anger! But also the eloquent passionate and graceful way that you deploy it.

    I was trying to think of my favorite blogger in a conversation with my boyfriend, and I impulsively thought of another blog that I frequent, with another excellent writer, but then I thought of all the individual articles that I liked more than anything, and they were ALL BY YOU! I LUB YOU! I AM A TOTAL FANGIRL I GUESS

    Thursday, March 8, 2012 at 12:16 am | Permalink
  25. Liz wrote:

    I like BAERAAD’s analogy with the Occupy movement. I think a lot of the whole “but what do I do now?!” comments come from an older style of activism – “get ‘em worked up, and send them out there to DO STUFF!” Sort of a two-part anger->action scheme.

    But we can see through the Occupy movement and great bloggers and writers of your ilk that there’s a place for a different way – just showing what’s wrong and leaving folks without an explicit action plan to follow. And I do think this makes folks uncomfortable – they want you (generalized you) to tell them what to do now. You’ve shown them what’s wrong, and now they expect you to tell them how to make it right.

    In many ways, I think this might be stronger – *because* of the discomfort of being left hanging. There’s a break there of expectations that drives home the point even more strongly and if they turn on the Occupiers and the “angry ranters” (scare quotes firmly in place) I think it’s only because they recognize the right of what you say and don’t know where they’re supposed to go with the feelings that have been stirred up.

    Tuesday, March 13, 2012 at 10:21 pm | Permalink