As a feminist one of the most common accusations flung my way is, ‘So you’re just a manhater! How can you say you believe in gender equality if you’re so angry at men?’. These days I have the strength to discount these efforts to undermine me. However as a baby feminist, still new to the movement, I would attempt to placate, coddle and pacify men who challenged me in such a way. They feared that my beliefs in my innate worth as a woman, in a society that told me otherwise, were personal attacks on themselves. ‘We’re not all like that!’, I heard more times than I can bear to count. Why are we afraid to be angry? Why did my sixth form Sociology teacher think it appropriate and necessary to say things like, ‘I am a feminist, but only a liberal one, not a scary, hairy, radical one, don’t worry’? (Eventually I took to wearing vests to her classes and obstinately putting my hand up so my hairy armpits were clearly visible to her as a small act of resistance to her patriarchy pleasing brand of feminism). The answer is, as it always is, the taint of the patriarchy seeping into our collective consciousness, and painting anger as unladylike and unreasonable. Just why is it not okay for us to be angry over the continual pain of womanhood? Why must we soothe the men that oppress us with one hand, whilst we attempt to smash the patriarchy with the other?
I am consistently accused of being ‘too angry’, and to that I say, ‘You are not angry enough’. My anger is designed to make other people uncomfortable. It is designed to unsettle men, to make them scrutinise their everyday actions. If I proclaim that I care about women’s liberation then I must make the effort to try and work towards that goal in my everyday efforts. If men that I meet ask me about my feminism I do not sugar coat my words, I am immediate and visceral. I make sure they know that when I talk of men and patriarchy, I am not exempting them. They must examine their behaviour, who else can make the change that we wish to see in society apart from them? The other night my housemate had some of his male friends over, they were, as is usually the way in these stories, all white, straight, cisgender and middle class. I sat with them and my stomach clenched as they started telling jokes involving physical violence against women who didn’t obey them. For the very slightest of seconds I fought to keep my mouth shut, for fear of making things awkward. In the end, however, I couldn’t just sit by in silence and their peals of laughter were making my skin crawl. I called them out on what they were saying and the usual defences of ‘It’s just a joke!’ and ‘Lighten the hell up’ and ‘Of course I don’t really condone such things’, came flying at me. If that is the case then why do they think these things are worth a cheap laugh? These men ought to know better. A couple of nights previous to that, another guy
I knew had told me that, ‘Feminists are too worked up over nothing’. I challenge him to live as a woman; to live as a poor woman, a gay woman, a woman of colour, a fat woman, a trans woman. Would he be so quick to quell my feminist rage then? Would he understand that for women, feminism is not a joke, an abstract theory studied for a term, an ‘obsolete’ throwback to the past? Feminism is vital, essential, it is life and death.
My conversations with men are charged with an undercurrent of fury as my feminist praxis. I believe that keeping people comfortable when talking about an issue as pressing and urgent as feminism is to do my gender disservice. When forming intimate relationships with cisgender
men ceases to be such a dangerous undertaking, when two women a week are not killed by
men they trusted and loved, maybe then I will begin to soften my approach. Maybe then I will stop being so damn angry.
I have my own personal debt to feminism; it lifted me from a life of selfloathing and internalised homophobia, racism and sexism. The words of Dworkin (problematic as she may be) and Penny and hooks allowed me to direct the seething simmer of anger in me outwards and towards its true source, which wasn’t my stretch marks, my fat thighs, my brown skin, but this white supremacist, capitalist patriarchy.
Female anger has long been dismissed as hysteria, as the work of hormones gone awry. Whilst men represent the rational sphere of life, women are cast as irritable, untrustworthy slaves to their biological physicality. I rally against this every day. I encourage women to own their anger, their righteous, valid anger, and to use it to empower themselves and others. Channel the fury you feel at the lost hours to beauty regimes and starvation and crying at the mirror. Channel the fury you feel at the belittling admonishments from men in your workplace. Channel the fury you feel when you turn on TV and women are cardboard cut outs designed to prop men up. Do not shy away from rage; it is valuable in our struggle.
Dworkin, A. (1981) Pornography Men Possessing Women New York: Plume
Penny, L. (2011) Meat Market Female Flesh Under Capitalism Winchester: Zero Books