You probably did not learn it in history class growing up. You probably did not learn it in any books. You probably have never even thought about. You still may not even know it. But, you should.
What you probably don’t know is that women’s rage has been at the root of almost every social change movement since this country’s founding. We are taught mostly of the patriotic and heroic anger of men in our history class. We learn of the virtuous, masculine anger fueling the rebellions and revolts that won us our independence. We revere those men that dumped tea into the Boston Harbor in an ultimate act of resistance to tyrannical taxation. We honor the men who bravely endured the walk across the Edmund Pettus bridge in Selma, Alabama. We empathize with the men who refused, even at the risk of arrest, to be drafted to serve in the Vietnam War.
Yet, we never learn of the indispensable women at the heart of many of these movements. We are not taught the names of the women in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee who demanded equal opportunity and treatment in a movement based on equal rights. We are not taught the names of the women in the Young Lords Party who performed the labor of teaching the male leaders of their party the harmful impact of their machismo-based actions. Even though Black Lives Matter is only four years old, we are not taught the names of the three women whose activism and refusal to be silenced founded this powerful and well-known movement. While we might learn of the women’s suffrage movement of the early 20th century in passing, it is seldom pointed out how it only guaranteed white women the right to vote or how many of the women recognized as leaders of those movements held shameful white supremacist attitudes.
Even worse than those who are assigned the task of teaching us everything we do not know gatekeeping crucial historical facts, children, by preschool age, are taught that boys can freely express their anger while girls must suppress theirs. In academic and professional settings, women and girls are disdained, or even punished, for expressing anger or discontent with any sort of gender-based oppression.
This type of penalty is experienced by women of all kinds, from celebrities to regular citizens. Tennis star Serena Williams is routinely punished for her expression of rage, which was evident at the U.S. Open earlier this year when a male referee took away a whole game after Williams demanded an apology for his botched call earlier in the match, ordinary women also experience decreased status and perceived incompetence versus male employees who are more likely to be hired and given more power and autonomy in their jobs when they express anger.
It is also important to note that women of color, and Black women in particular, face additional abuse at the hands of white men when they express their ire. The stereotype of the angry Black woman, and the subsequent treatment of their anger as irrational, reinforces racist practices that often lead to harsher consequences than white women face.
Still, despite all of the attempted stymying of women and their anger, women have been raging since the dawn of time. If you are inclined to the Christian story of human origin, you might want to consider how Eve’s rebellious consumption from the tree of knowledge was fueled by her displeasure for the ignorance enforced upon her by God. If you are not, all you have to do is read a book or study some history, albeit not the same selective history you were probably taught in school, to understand how instrumental women and their rage were and are to progress.
Not sure where to start? There are two books that offer the best history and analysis of women’s rage: “Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger” by Rebecca Traister and “Rage Becomes Her: The Power of Women’s Anger by Soraya Chemaly. Once you have learned the value of women’s rage from those two brilliant books, ladies: let your rage out; men: listen to and support our rage. While doctors and medical websites are clear that bottling up anger can have health implications, such as stress and anxiety, it is also the male response to women’s anger, calling outspoken women “crazy bitches” or undermining them with claims of overreaction, that induces even more stress and frustration, ultimately leading women to hold it in even more for fear of repudiation and further the damage on their health.
Time and time again, women’s fury has incited and sustained some of the most significant movements in our nation’s history. If you refuse to acknowledge or accept history, simply look at the power of Ana Maria Archila and Maria Gallagher’s rage recently when they confronted Sen. Jeff Flake in an elevator demanding he look at them while they were talking to him and hear their personal stories of sexual assault. No longer able to hold their hot fury inside as many would have liked, these sheros challenged a United States senator on national television and ultimately changed his mind from an automatic yes vote on the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh, who was accused of sexual assault, to requesting an FBI investigation before further action. Flake ultimately capitulated and voted with cowardice; he did not honor the women’s rage or their stories. But make no mistake, the rage that delivered that small moment of hope can induce massive institutional change if we embrace and harness it to dismantle the patriarchal and white supremacist foundations of our country.