Imagine the women’s rights movement without anger. Wouldn’t it be fun? And effective!—oh, so effective. I bet it would go something like this:
Feminist 1: You know what I read yesterday? I read a statistic from the FBI saying that 1 in 6 women will be sexually assaulted at least once during her lifetime.
Feminist 2: That’s interesting. And it doesn’t seem quite fair.
Feminist 1: Yes, I agree. Sometimes I think we should do something about it.
Feminist 3: Like a protest?
Feminist 2: Well, I don’t know. That could seem a little, you know, over the top.
Feminist 1: Yes, protesting in support of women’s rights could really put off our audience.
Feminist 2: Especially if we got loud. We might sound angry.
Feminist 3: Oh. Heavens. I hadn’t considered that.
Feminist 1: After all, we have to convince our audience that we don’t deserve to be raped. And how can we do that if we sound angry?
Feminist 2: Yes, angry women don’t really deserve rights, after all.
Feminist 3: You two make an excellent point. In order to achieve equality with men, we need to show them we’re superior.
Feminist 2: I think that’s a given at this point.
Feminist 3: Do you think we should make signs?
Feminist 1: Maybe, but we need to be careful. The signs should make us seem friendly and approachable.
Feminist 2: Pastel colors, ladies.
Feminist 3: Hmm, maybe we could cover the signs in pale pink mohair, and then stitch messages of peace in contrasting green thread.
Feminist: Oh, that’s an excellent idea.
Feminist 2: And don’t forget your please and thank yous!
Enter Random Dude.
Random Dude: Whatcha doin’, ladies?
Feminist 1: We were talking about the problem of sexual violence against women and girls.
Feminist 3: We want to make some protest signs.
Feminist 2: Happy, approachable protests signs, of course.
Feminists 1 and 3: Of course.
Random Dude: Uh, why?
Feminist 3: Well, we think it’s a problem, I mean, because women are people, and we want—
Random Dude: Didn’t it ever occur to you girls that sometimes females ask to get raped?
Feminist 1: What do you mean? I thought the very definition of rape meant that rape is something a woman can’t—
Random Dude: Well, you’re wrong.
Feminist 2: Can you tell us more? We’re very interested in your point of view.
Random Dude: Of course. See, sometimes, when females dress in slutty clothes, or act friendly around rapists, or drink too much, or act like bitches, or take pain meds, or go on dates not intending to even make out with the guy, or walk alone at night, or look too sexy, or don’t look sexy enough, or are huge sluts, or are frigid unattainable virgins, or work in male-dominated fields, or work in customer service—sometimes, those women deserve to be raped. Also, any woman who works in the sex industry has given up all rights to her body.
Feminist 3 to Feminist 1 (whispering): Wait—that doesn’t seem right.
Feminist 1: I know, but we don’t want to make him mad. How are we going to change things if everyone hates us?
Feminist 3: Yes, but he doesn’t represent all men, does he? I mean, I thought men were capable of dealing with women’s anger. Are men a frightened, defensive monolith after all?
Feminist 2: Girls, why aren’t you listening to Random Dude? He’s saying some very smart things over here.
Random Dude: Yes, as I was telling Feminist 2, the solution to rape is not angry, man-hating, widespread public panic attacks. The solution is to be on your guard. Beware of rapists. Take personal responsibility.
Feminist 3: So we should just avoid men, in case they want to attack us?
Random Dude: Of course not! You should still give men the benefit of the doubt. Most of us are just trying to be friendly. I can’t tell you how infuriating it is to go up to a female, invade her personal space, crudely compliment a part of her body, and then have her get all uptight. What is with you girls? It’s like you’re scared of us, or want us to respect your bodily autonomy or some shit.
Feminist 2: He makes an excellent point.
Feminist 1: Well, I guess we could just give up the protest. I mean, it’s true that women sometimes invite sexual violence.
Random Dude: Exactly. And remember—men can’t stop rape. We are just wild, uncontrolled animals. We need females to keep us line, I mean, as long as they remember that we’re superior.
Feminist 2: That makes perfect sense.
Feminist 3: I think I need new friends.
Okay, seriously now:
I have been accused of being too angry. Even by women—even in the comments on this blog.
But I’m not.
I mean, I am angry. I am not, however, violent, destructive, or irrational—because I would never deliberately harm anyone, be it with words or with physical force, because my anger is the direct result of the horrible shit that goes on in the world on a daily fucking basis, because my opinions are thought-out and (usually) clearly articulated. Because I consider anger absolutely crucial to the pursuit of social justice. Because a lack of anger achieves nothing, and because I recognize that calling out the other side for being “hysterical” is just an attempt to silence that group. Because words like “hysterical” are almost exclusively used against women, to dismiss their arguments and shut them up. Because the world is angering, and I’m not cynical enough to shrug my shoulders and stop talking.
I know that men can handle my anger. I know I don’t need to act like honey to catch flies, because men aren’t flies, they’re people. Just like women are not a monolith, I also know that men are not a monolith. I know that men do not have a natural inclination to dominate, to control, to rape, to kill. I recognize that the patriarchy hurts everybody, that it is poisonous to those above and those below, and that it’s going to take more than a few delicately-worded blog posts asserting that women are people to actually effect change.
Which is why I’m adding “You need to be nicer” to the list of arguments I’m done having. Being nice has its place. That place is not here.
Anger, handled poorly, can lead to violence—but it is not violence. Handled well, it is our greatest motivator for social activism, the antithesis of cynicism, the best possible way to prevent that fake dialogue I wrote above from ever happening.
And I am never having this argument again.