Anger gets a bad name. We live in a world that often equates anger with irrationality, lack of control, lack of restraint. We teach kids and adults alike to manage their anger and move past their anger. Calmness and emotionless have become over associated with being logical, educated, and diplomatic. We are a culture of post-Enlightenment rational subjects who have been taught that anger solves nothing.
This is sometimes, maybe often, true. Anger can be destructive and harmful. Most of us have probably witnessed anger problems in those around us, the kind of anger that is persistent, maybe without an identifiable, “valid” reason, and likely damaging to the person and those around them. We know anger can hurt both the angry and the angry-at.
But anger can also be useful, motivational, and I would argue, necessary, for social change.
Anger is often dismissed in social justice movements.
Who hasn’t heard the pejorative “angry feminist” used to dismiss gender inequality and the work of feminism?
Who, among the feminists reading this, hasn’t at some point feared being thought of as an angry feminist?
Well, I am a feminist and, sometimes, I get angry. Maybe that makes me an angry feminist.
And that’s OK.
Believe it or not, I can be angry and level-headed, diplomatic, and rational at the same time. Anger does not necessarily eradicate rationality.
Women have a lot of valid things to be angry about. LGBTQ* people have a lot of valid things to be angry about. People of colour have a lot of valid things to be angry about. Anyone who has been marginalized or discriminated against because of systemic social injustice isn’t being “oversensitive” or “irrational” when they speak up, make calls to action, or feel anger.
Trying to make outspoken advocates for change feel ashamed or irrational for feeling angry is just another tactic of silencing, erasing, and controlling.
Which leads me to my point: This headline in VICE: “No Jail for the Man Who Texted Photo of Himself Penetrating Rehtaeh Parsons as She Vomited.”
It’s not specifically this headline; this headline is just particularly raw and direct in portraying the crux of this horrendous story (and I think we should be forced to remember just how disgusting this act was). It’s everything to do with Rehtaeh (whose name we can now say once again after the revocation of the publication ban, as a direct result of much protest by many people and supporters, including her parents). It’s the fact that this happened, the fact that this perpetrator isn’t being treated as a criminal, but as an adolescent who made a mistake and now we’re supposed to feel bad for him.
I’m angry that I see more questioning of why she was drinking, why she didn’t leave the party, how she let this happen, than what, in society, has gone so wrong to make teen boys feel compelled to not only rape a drunk 15-year-old, but to photograph it and share it with others.
I don’t know if any word really encompasses how horrific this is. Sickening is a start.
Not just that it happened, not just that her life was made unbearable because of the shame of being a victim of a sex crime, but that she is gone now, and there is no tangible justice.
Maybe the “accused” will live the rest of his life in agony and remorse. Maybe he will never get over what he did. But our justice system isn’t designed based on the promise of remorse. There needs to be something better. If morality – or whatever you want to call the individual impulse to consider the humanity of other people – isn’t enough to keep sexual assault, rape, and online harassment from happening, then properly punish the perpetrators. Full stop.
I’m angry because, as a woman, I still have to convince some people that my brain is not controlled by my uterus. That I deserve respect and equality on the basis on my personhood. I’m angry that some think that if I defend women and denounce sexism it’s because I’m a woman, as opposed to a decent, thinking human. And yet, I have many privileges that others lack, of which I am fully aware.
Feminists are often faced with a desire for a calm, collected, palatable feminism – in which one critiques, but has to be ultimately fair, cool, and sensitive to the oppressors. I do this – a lot. I naturally usually take an approach to speaking and writing that is balanced and respectful. But that doesn’t mean I can’t be angry, or shouldn’t be angry, or that anger isn’t a part of my politics.
Anger doesn’t make me “crazy.” Anger makes me committed and steadfast.
I’m angry about Jian Ghomeshi. I’m angry about the Dalhousie “gentlemen.” I’m angry about Rehtaeh’s rapist. I’m angry that Margaret Wente still writes a column. I’m angry about missing and murdered aboriginal women in this country. I’m angry about all the lives that are hurt or lost due to sexism, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia.
What are you angry about today?