International Women’s Day 2019: Rage against the economy

The radical vulnerability of feminised anger, and how we can harness it for good

Working for a think tank that strives to change the rules of the economy means working with anger. Working in our field means for us working with how the economy fails people every day – the breeding ground for anger. Yet, no one says they are angry. We are fine acknowledging a lot of other emotions – joy at a successful piece of work, anxiety around setbacks – but anger? Not so much.

So what is anger and why do we not talk about it? I see anger as an emotion that signals, sometimes very strongly, that our personal boundaries and our sense of freedom have been violated. It’s an emotion that stems from a sense of inequality and injustice, and it powerfully signals a need for change.

But with great power comes great responsibility, right? Which is maybe why we shy away from acknowledging our experience of anger. Also, anger arises when we feel subjected to circumstances and people that are outside of our control, which leads to a sense of powerlessness. Further, the tools we learned to use to manage and express our anger are mostly ineffective and frequently destructive. We rather numb, supress, repress, project, deflect, de-self, rather than acknowledge anger for what it is – a sign of vulnerability. It’s a sign that our personal boundaries are crossed, that our personal values are not respected, and that we are hurt. 

This is further exacerbated by the insufficient tools we have to protect and restore our boundaries. Women especially have been taught to either internalise their anger or express it in ways which wider society doesn’t recognise as legitimate: commonly described as nagging, bitching, scheming, being oversensitive, raging, lashing out etc. Angry women are perceived as unreasonable and hysterical. Our anger is not taken seriously, not by others and quite frequently neither by ourselves.

Good activism and good work for progressive change should harness this feminised emotional work

It therefore doesn’t seem surprising that we don’t talk about anger at work, even though we are daily confronted with this emotion. But ignoring anger means we miss out on the healthy and nourishing aspect of anger, as well as its empowering force. Talking about anger productively and constructively however, requires the skill of taking responsibility for our own feelings, which could mean: taking anger seriously and with compassion, distinguishing between the trigger of our anger and the source of our anger, accepting it for what it is without judgment and blame of the self or the other, communicating clearly the needs that are not met when we experience anger, and then channelling this energy into action that actually makes a difference to the situation and not just elevates anger in the short-term. 

The focus on feelings, however, is mostly associated with the feminine, and therefore sometimes deemed frivolous, especially when it comes to anger – but good activism and good work for progressive change should harness this feminised emotional work. Understanding your own emotional reaction to events is empowering and means you can approach solutions with constructive accountability.

Yet, no matter the colour you identify with on the gender rainbow, it takes courage to look anger straight in the eye, but if we redefine anger from a more feminine perspective maybe, there is so much to discover in this strong emotion as Soraya Chemaly explores in her book Rage Becomes Her: The Power of Women’s Anger”:

Anger is an assertion of rights and worth. It is communication, equality, and knowledge. It is intimacy, acceptance, fearlessness, embodiment, revolt, and reconciliation… Re-envisioned, anger can be the most feminine of virtues: compassionate, fierce, wise, and powerful. The women I admire most — those who have looked to themselves and the limitations and adversities that come with our bodies and the expectations that come with them — have all found ways to transform their anger into meaningful change. In them, anger has moved from debilitation to liberation. Your anger is a gift you give to yourself and the world that is yours. In anger, I have lived more fully, freely, intensely, sensitively, and politically. If ever there was a time not to silence yourself, to channel your anger into healthy places and choices, this is it.”

If we don’t acknowledge and express anger we miss out on its beautiful urge to create change, which is the powerful antidote to the initial feeling of powerlessness. Anger calls for change to protect and restore our sense of freedom and our personal boundaries, and if we follow this call, it is possible to demand accountability and responsibility from ourselves and others in much more creative ways than most of us have learned so far. It’s a complicated thing to enact, which is why I think it’s important to talk about anger. Handling anger proactively, questioning it, and using dialogue to find constructive ways of expressing the violation of one’s values and boundaries, as well as collaborating to restore and protect them, bears so much potential for changing the rules.

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