Why American Women Are Done Being Silent And Ready To Use Their Rage
I often find myself thinking about a phone call I had with my mother a few weeks after the 2016 presidential election. I was walking to the corner bodega to stock up on bread and coffee, a thick coat fighting against the late autumn chill, her voice distorted by the thousands of miles between us. She asked me how I was doing, and I paused, taking a moment to figure out how to put words to the turmoil that was my thought process during those days.
“I am trying to learn how to exist with this level of rage inside me,” I finally said.
It has always seemed to me that people have some kind of defining emotion, some base feeling that underscores the way they navigate life. Some people are tinged with a layer of sadness, some are quietly calm, and some live with anger dancing just beneath their skin. I’d never considered myself an angry person, and yet suddenly I was becoming intimately acquainted with a fury previously unknown.
This fury has become a constant presence since that day in November, and I see it reflected back at me in my mother’s eyes. I see it reflected back at me when thousands of women take to Twitter to tell their stories of sexual assault and rape (stories they’ve carried with them for much longer than this fury has lived inside of me). I see it reflected back when the Republican men on the Senate Judiciary Committee attempt to use their collective power to silence a woman who has made the impossible choice to stand up to the mountain of institutionalized misogyny upon which this country is built.
When the news broke that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh had allegedly sexually assaulted Dr. Christine Blasey Ford when they were teenagers, a hand shoved over her mouth and music turned up to drown out her screams, the rage felt by women across this country was almost palpable. The anger that had been burning since his nomination, since Trump’s election, since Mitch McConnell made it clear that he’d sacrifice anything in order to pack the courts with those sure to continue his agenda once he was no longer in a position of power, seemed to reach a boiling point.
In a way, we were prepared for some of this. All throughout the 2016 election season, women across this country knew what was at stake. We knew that the Supreme Court was on the ballot, and as such, our bodily autonomy was on the ballot.
(And yes, some white women thought that aligning with white male supremacy would protect them from such danger, and were willing to sacrifice the safety of other women in order to insulate themselves. I would remind them that such alignment is not protection – it’s complicity.)
We knew that we were standing on a precipice, teetering between the further dismantling of patriarchal structures and a step back in time to an era preferred by so many men; where they could regain some of the control, they felt slipping away from them as a result of the slow march towards gender parity.
We knew what could happen, and as such, it’s this knowledge, casting us collectively as Cassandra, that informs the fury seen within women across the country. It can be witnessed in the surge of activism which has exploded in the last two years and the unprecedented number of women running for political office. Despite the exhaustion many women are feeling, it’s worth noting that female rage is often linked directly with action. All one needs to do to sample this rage-induced motivation is look at the demographic breakdown of who makes the most calls to Congress.
A growing library of works on female rage is further cementing this moment of cultural shift. From Soraya Chemaly’s “Rage Becomes Her,” to Brittney Cooper’s “Eloquent Rage,” to a series of articles culminating in Rebecca Traister’s upcoming “Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger,” leading voices across the country are speaking to this swell of seemingly unprecedented fury.
However, another unprecedented thing that has arisen is how utterly unsuccessful powerful men have been at silencing this anger. This type of fury seems to be immune to the old systems that once stifled and denounced female anger. This isn’t for lack of trying – just consider how many times the word “hysterical” has been thrown around unironically – yet still, these attempts don’t seem to stick.
For much of history, the anger of women has been seen as a defect, worthy of punishment and necessitating a silencing. Contrastly, when white men are angry, they are promoted. Their anger is considered the standard, the norm, the status quo from which we should not deviate. This type of anger has long been celebrated because when combined with unbalanced power dynamics, it is a pillar that aids in protecting specific systems which benefit few while oppressing many.
But now, against truly terrifying odds, against institutions and structures which have been built to maintain a specific white male supremacy, it feels like our voices get louder with each bid to silence them. As Republican Senators try to gaslight women throughout the country with their attempts to discredit and intimidate Dr. Ford, all they succeed in is galvanizing opposition right before the midterm elections. The dull roar of anger at the state of things – anger which many have carried long before I could even understand – cannot be drowned out by a committee’s calls for “order.”
And yet, despite this formidable resistance, Republicans continue to try to stifle these voices. On Sunday night, at the heels of a second credible allegation of Kavanaugh committing sexual assault (this time in college, by shoving his penis in a woman’s face), we learned that Senate Republicans had tried to speed up his confirmation vote after gaining awareness of said second alleged assault.
And here again comes that rage.
It’s sure to only get worse as those in positions of power double down on the discriminatory structures which have allowed them to maintain their platform. All one has to do is look to the Republicans on the Senate Judiciary to see this in action. As we race towards midterms, with polls showing an increasingly stark gender gap in party support, men who have held onto power with an oppressive vice grip will be unlikely to yield their control. Not unlike a dying star, which expands before its inevitable collapse, those who benefit from white male supremacy will fight rather hard to keep it alive.
So, we rage on, the fury sitting beneath our skin a suit of armor, passed down from the women who have spent decades longer on this battlefield. We carry this rage with us when we march to the voting booth, when we canvass, and when we run for office. Certain men are sure to solidify their irrelevance by crying “Hysteria!”, but emotional outbursts don’t equate to down and dirty political organizing.
I don’t know when we’ll get to stop feeling this way – I don’t know if it’s something that’s ever going to truly go away. But I’ve learned how to exist with this level of rage inside me; now, I’m ready to get to work.
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