The case for angry women
When I "talk back" (bell hooks, 1989) at institutional and personal oppression I am labelled an angry woman. As if my anger is not just. Justified.
Here's the thing about anger—it can be channelled as a productive force to fight oppression. Anger is an act of resistance. Even if it is "too angry" for some. Usually those who are at the brunt of that anger. Usually those who trigger that anger by either directly oppressing others (e.g. women) or by partaking in a system that is oppressive without questioning it.
For example, the men who gaslight their intimate partners. The men who dismiss women's emotions as drama. The men who view spirited women as immature. The men whose response to being questioned (by a woman) is to delegitimise the question in the first place, framing it as women's inability to understand the complexity of their ideas. Or worse, a communication issue, without recognising that they could easily remedy the "miscommunication" by clarifying their position(s). But, men refuse to clarify and blame women for "misunderstanding" as a way to signal them to never question them again. They invoke women's inherent trauma (because let's face it, all women in the world today have experienced at least one form of subordination) and use it against them. They term women's hurt as weakness.
They label them angry.
In doing so, they create self-doubt among women. Women's sense of reality becomes blurry. Women start to question their own perspectives. When this happens over and over again, it affects women's sense of self-worth.
But, anger is powerful. Anger allows women to see oppression when it occurs. It allows them to question it. It gives them agency. Sooner, or later.
Case in point: the girl who was raped by her step-father for eight years. It took eight years for her to go to the police, but she finally did it. Her mother apparently knew about the sexual violence but could do nothing to stop it. Meanwhile, he used regressive cultural norms to silence her, and probably her mother, too.
In an article on intimate partner violence published on the Journal of Interpersonal Violence, my co-author Critelli and I had written: "societal and familial norms that support the use of violence against women are termed as cultural norms; this misappropriation of 'culture' allows the maintenance and acceptance of violence against women across tribal, religious, and class divides…"
This rape case is an excellent example of how the cultural norms that we speak of in our article maintain women's oppression.
This is why we need to de-stigmatise women's bodies. We need to de-stigmatise women's nudity. We need to stop judging women for being women, for having skin and flesh and breasts and legs. We need to stop being shocked by women's bodies. We need to stop vilifying women for having bodies. The rapist used his step-daughter's pictures and video clips to silence her. It was possible because these cultural norms undermine women's position in society and at home. Such norms blame women for their own rapes, they blame their bodies for their experiences of sexual violence, render them voiceless.
But, anger protects women. Without anger women are complacent. Without anger women are not heard.
Anger is not a flash or a reaction; it initiates an introspection of auto-oppression.
So, even if anger is dismissed, even if women are termed pagol when they are angry, anger is needed to fuel the fight against everyday oppression that women experience in all spheres that they inhabit: at home, at work, on the streets, among friends, partners, family members.
There are many people that need to be fought against: men and women who have bought into patriarchy and the myth of protection. Men and women who dismiss angry women as naïve, or even desperate, because they benefit from a world in which economic, social, and personal oppression is maintained. Their fight involves maintaining the oppression.
Because such oppression allows middle/upper class women to have domestic workers at home. It allows them to beat and abuse little girls who fail to make their lives better by cleaning their shoes and taking care of their children. A certain brand of bourgeois feminists even understands the plight of these middle/upper class women who are apparently "harassed" by domestic workers. They argue that their domestic workers aspire to be their "masters" by sleeping with their husbands. Weirdly, there is no understanding of statutory rape, as Shabnam Nadiya points out in her response piece in reaction to Shupriti Dhar's problematic essay on this topic; there is no understanding of how girls living in a stranger's house as a domestic worker may not have the agency to protest her rape given that she needs money and the shelter, possibly at any cost.
It is important to understand that forces of production determine social relations, and that "like all ruling classes the bourgeoisie imagines that existing social relations are natural, rational, and permanent" (Phil Gasper, 2005).
At the same time, subscribing to patriarchal norms (for example, when women justify violence against women) make women, including middle/upper class women, vulnerable to experiencing intimate partner violence, Critteli and I found in our study. In other words, when women subscribe to cultural norms that oppress women they participate in their own oppression, too.
When women accept such oppression, they have no room for anger. Instead, they too become oppressors of other women, other marginalised populations.
Only angry women can save women.
Let us not demonise, marginalise, and dismiss them. They are the only bastions of hope left in the fight against the global war on women.
Nadine Shaanta Murshid is Assistant Professor, School of Social Work, University at Buffalo, State University of New York.