On Anger and “Man Haters”
“I don’t want to be as angry as you. Sometimes you come across like you hate men.”
This would have to be the most frequent and banal dig at an open feminist. This is what my mother said to me recently when I offered her some of my books. Raising my voice, I replied, “How unreasonable! How dare I be angry at guys who slut shame and think it’s ok to take drunken girls home?” After all, showing anger towards some people’s behaviour is not the same as misandry or generalised hatred for all men.
I had still not calmed down about her comments the next day. I knew my mother’s intentions were not to shame or slander me. She was simply conveying her own discomfort with expressing anger.
The question persisted though: “Maybe I am angry. Is anger a problem?” Surely it is reasonable to feel rage towards the men who call you a slut, who collaborate in a culture that insists you are inferior, who assault you, who make you feel unsafe, who yell at you from cars, who make sexist jokes, who undermine your economic independence, who beat you, who think they are better than you because they are a man, who subtly but insidiously encroach on your personal space, who feel entitled to tell you how you can and cannot use your body, who say “pussy” is gross and use “cunt” as the ultimate insult.
Nevertheless, it would be unbalanced to hate all guys. But to hate or feel anger towards those who perpetrate crimes against women is balanced. At some point most women are going to feel specific or generalised low regard towards men. This is not an attack on all men but a common symptom of those who have experienced sexism, trauma or violence. There are few women who have not experienced harassment or violence based on her gender.
I am convinced that it is ok and reasonable to feel negatively about these situations. Feeling outraged is good; we need to be aware of the issues that affect women. It is important, though, to keep a balance between rage and healing. Change is most likely to occur if we are determined to use our rage to bring about positive action.
Some guys may feel personally attacked by generalised comments about the bad behaviour of men. Statements such as “men are all” or “women are like” are broad-sweeping and tend to perpetuate sexist stereotypes. Anger is best spoken about in specifics.
If you are reading this as a white, Western woman then you are most likely better off than other women and minority groups. But “better off” or “better than the past” are not terms that mean we should “shut up and be grateful” or stop “complaining”. One Billion Rising, a global event dedicated to ending violence against women and girls, was held at the ANU on the 14th of February. The event revealed the terrible statistics of intimate partner abuse and violence against women both overseas and in Australia. I almost found it vindicating to listen to the disturbing plethora of facts about physical and sexual violence towards women. “I knew it was that bad!” I practically yelled to a friend who came with me to the event. These frightening statistics do exist and I felt I had the language and the facts to argue with anyone who says, “It’s not that bad; we’re not in India”.
We need to be angry; angry at a society that is complicit in the creation and protection of patriarchal structures and gender constructions that lead to these statistics. Our anger has the potential to generate change. I use the self-publishing forum ‘Zines’ to express my anger. I piece together images and statements to reduce the weight of powerlessness I feel as a woman living in a patriarchal society.
At some point we must move past the debilitating and festering resentment which only consumes and embitters us. Instead, it is better to focus on the discussions, groups and movements prepared for action.
There is going to be rage. We are going to be angry about what has happened to us, our friends, our mothers, to all women – both past and present.
Hatred can trap us – but anger can revolutionise.
(image by WishCandy) http://wishcandy.net/