My Liberation: Learning to Live Angry

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Every time I say something they find hard to hear
They chalk it up to my anger and never to their own fear.”
Ani DiFranco

Last year, when I signed with my agent, we had a long phone call discussing my writing. I was so blown over by the fact that I was talking to a real, live literary agent who was really, actually interested in me that the phone call is kind of a blur. There is one salient moment for me, though. At one point, I made a comment about writing more calmly in a book form, and Hannah said, “No, you should definitely write angry. You write so well when you’re angry.”

Huh.

When I was younger, I absorbed the idea that anger was never positive – if you were angry, that meant you hated your brother and hate was sin. I was never given a positive example of anger at injustice or anger at bad circumstances. As a result, I never knew what to do with anger when I felt it – I would let it explode in big dramatic ways, because then, at least, it’d be over with all in one go and I could go pray and ask forgiveness for it later.

This, of course, isn’t a healthy way to deal with it, and it’s no surprise that I lost friends and made some enemies by allowing this to be my dominant method of dealing with my emotions.

But then a funny thing happened when I became a feminist. I began to understand my own anger and frustration. I stopped dividing things starkly into “sin” and “not sin” and allowed there to be some gray. I began to learn the difference between healthy anger and unhealthy anger and ways to deal with both. I became more in tune with my own body and my own emotions, and began to recognize when a reaction was actually disproportionate or if I was being gaslit into thinking it was out of proportion (the latter was so much more common).

I’d been battling with my sense of my own anger, and bought into the narrative that I’m a “loose cannon” for so long that I didn’t even recognize how anger was acting as a clarifying tool for me. And, I’ve learned, this is fairly common for women of all walks of life – women’s anger, women’s passion is seen as something to be avoided, to be tamped down, and called an “overreaction.”

There’s this part of social conditioning in which women aren’t supposed to get angry. It violates something of the demure femininity we’re supposed to possess, and we’re supposed to, somehow, be more in control of our emotions than men are – we are the stabilizing force in the home. By the same token, displays of emotion are seen as reasons we can’t govern or hold leadership positions because it shows that we are ruled by emotion, that we give in to foolish feelings and we can’t be trusted to make decisions based on rationality and logic.

In a world where rationality and emotion are seen as two mutually exclusive binaries, it’s no surprise that emotion is a ready excuse for discounting the words of passionate women – especially if those words are a tough pill to swallow. “Don’t be emotional!” when you’re talking about the abuse you endured, or you won’t be taken seriously! But don’t be cold and unfeeling, either, or you’ll be considered a freak.

There’s no real way to exist as a human with emotional intelligence in a world where emotion and logic are enemies. And that is why feminist anger is written off as so much bluster and irrationality – dealing with our anger means also dealing with our logic, and that implicates our very selves in a larger system of oppression. And a lot of people don’t want to deal with that.

I’m used to being written off because I didn’t have the right tone, or I showed just a smidge too much emotion (regardless of what emotions were actually there – text is a funny thing to interpret). In my experience, dismissal due to emotion is especially true when it comes to communities of faith, because, often, doctrine implicitly dictates that female anger is sinful because it reveals dissatisfaction with God and with one’s lot in life. And how dare we realize for ourselves what gifts our Creator has bestowed upon us are meant for use outside the narrow, man-made gendered box the Church would put us in?

This is, of course, racialized as well, traveling along all axes of oppression. Playing any role beside the ones the oppressors want to cast you in destroys the illusion of the play, destroys the supposed beauty of the movement in which they are the directors and we are all simply actors in our roles.

But refusing to play my part, though dangerous to the oppressors, has given me a better sense of myself, of my needs, wants, desires, and limits. I have better emotional intelligence now than I ever did when I was trying to play my role in someone else’s story. I'm learning my own way, learning who I am, and learning how to live in the gray world in which anger is often healthy, often good, and very, very real.