Following centuries of staying silent, women around the world are unleashing their anger. Alley Pascoe investigates the outpouring of outrage and learns how to embrace her inner fury for the greater good
It takes me eight minutes to walk from the train station to my office. On a good day, I’ll only curse under my breath at three people on the way. “Don’t fucking push in,” to the man barging onto my train carriage before everyone has got off. “Shove that cigarette up your arse,” to the bloke blowing smoke in my face. Muffled swearing at the people taking up the whole pathway for their slow-walking competition.
I realised my anger had reached boiling point last month when I had to physically restrain myself from throwing a glass at my boyfriend during an argument in our kitchen. What were we fighting about? The correct way to cut an onion. I’m not a violent person, but more and more, I feel like I’m consumed with rage.
Turns out I’m not alone. In the wake of Trump’s election, the Me Too movement and the epidemic of gender violence gripping the world, a lot has been written about female fury. In Clementine Ford’s book Fight Like A Girl, she writes, “It’s OK for you to be angry because you’re a woman and the world has given you a lot to be angry about. Inequality, violence, degradation, dehumanisation [and] misogyny.” Mid last year, The Cut declared it to be “The Summer of Rage”. Time published an article about “The Rage Flu” and author Soraya Chemaly released a book called Rage Becomes Her: The Power of Women’s Anger. There’s even a hashtag: #thefutureisfurious.
This wave of anger isn’t confined to the internet – it’s universal. In Australia, female criminal offenders increased by two per cent in 2017 – the fifth successive increase. In the same year, male offenders decreased. “Traditionally, females were not involved in violent crimes, but over the past decade we have seen an increase,” criminal defence lawyer Craig Caldicott told The Advertiser.
While I haven’t been arrested for verbal abuse at Redfern train station, anger has become an omnipresent emotion in my life: a white heat boiling at the surface, ready to spill over. I wake up with clenched fists most mornings. In the past few months, I’ve had countless angry conversations with girlfriends. Not just about the rude co-worker who cut in front of me in the microwave line but about the oppressive patriarchy that’s taught us to repress our rage.
Yet the question isn’t about why women are angry (because, as the saying goes, “If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention”). The real question is: Why are women taught to hide their anger?’
According to research by Ann Kring at the University of California, women experience more shame and embarrassment after an “anger episode” than men, despite having the same degrees of anger.
In Rage Becomes Her, Chemaly explains, “As girls, we are not taught to acknowledge or manage our anger so much as to fear, ignore, hide and transform it.”
Encouragingly, Australian psychologist Jacqui Manning has seen a rise in women talking about their anger in the past year. “Women have always felt anger, but we haven’t spoken about it as openly as we do now. Traditionally, we expect men to shout and get into punch-ups, but if a woman shows her anger, she’s called ‘hysterical’.” She says female anger is often met with resistance. We’re told to “calm down” and “chill out” – the legitimacy of our feelings is challenged and our reasons questioned.
This dismissal is affecting our physical wellbeing, says Chemaly, a guest speaker at Sydney’s All About Women festival in March. “Unprocessed anger threads itself through our appearances, bodies, eating habits and relationships, fuelling low self-esteem, anxiety, depression, self-harm and actual physical illness,” she explains.
Worryingly, there’s also a direct link between repressed anger and early mortality. No thanks. With that in mind, I set out to unleash the anger I’ve been stifling for years.
I need to smash something. I’ve made my way to the Smash Brothers rage room in Sydney and, dressed in a boilersuit and safety mask, my overwhelming urge to take a baseball bat to a box of glass bottles is about to be satisfied. I choose the most banged-up bat and pick a Rage Against the Machine song (what else?) to play on the sound system. I’m a little overeager with my first swing and shards of glass hit the back wall of the shipping container, flinging back at me. Afraid of my own force, I hesitate with my second swing and the bottle falls to the ground without smashing.
Getting in the zone, I consciously release a piece of outrage with each swing – the rude taxi driver on the way over, my deadbeat dad and the unfairness of the gender pay gap. Whack, smash. Whack, smash. In the middle of my session, a mum pushing a pram signs up for a bout after me. Smash Brothers owner Johnny Li tells me that 80 per cent of his clients are women. “This is a more destructive alternative to yoga for women wanting to release stress,” he explains. “And a better alternative to shouting at your partner.” Noted.
After obliterating a six-pack, I feel an overwhelming sense of relief and my body seems physically lighter. Manning says letting your anger out is the first step to embracing it. “It’s important to find healthy ways to express your anger – you can write it down, go for a run or punch a pillow. You have to get it out,” she says.
Following her advice, I start a rage bullet journal, jotting down every angry thought I have in the moment.
Entry one: Boyfriend ate the sausage roll I’d been saving in the fridge. Entry 11: A woman was killed walking her dog at the beach in Queensland. Entry 26: Saw a man at The Argyle nightclub grab a woman’s crotch. She ran away from him and I pointed my finger in his face and said, “You do not touch women’s vaginas.” He said, “Fuck you.”
Writing my anger down isn’t enough. I feel like I am releasing it, but I’m not dealing with it. Needing more resolution, I sign up for a seven-day online healing program with meditation guru Artie Wu, who promises to “heal your wounds and profoundly change your life”. Wu believes that when a person is always angry, it’s usually a telltale sign that they secretly feel they’re not good enough. To shield this inner wound, they resort to anger and exasperation.
Interestingly, Manning agrees with Wu that we need to look inwards to resolve feelings of rage, because underneath the anger is often undealt-with trauma. Or a deadbeat dad…
By the end of the course, after listening to 210 minutes of Wu’s soothing voice, I do feel calmer. Sure, I mentally groaned at the overt mentions of “unconditional love” and “life bliss”, but I agreed with the underlying message: we need to be kind to ourselves.
I decide my first act of kindness is to stop being angry with myself for being angry. “Anger is a very human emotion – we shouldn’t be scared of it,” says Manning. “My biggest piece of advice for women feeling rageful is to talk it out and seek help if they need.”
Speaking to Chemaly and reading her book also helps me understand I’m not “crazy” for feeling angry. “Anger can be an isolating emotion,” she says. “So understanding that there are other people experiencing it is really helpful.”
After a fortnight of trying to tame my temper, I’ve learnt to not fear my fury and have started to use it for good. To deal with my outrage at the state of the world – and Trump’s Twitter feed – I’ve started writing an almost-weekly feminist rant on the marie claire website. I’ve also swapped my rage journal for a positivity journal, writing down three positive things every day. Number one: Bought myself a sausage roll. Number two: RSVP’d to the Women’s March. Number three: Didn’t feel the need to swear at anyone on the way to work.
I haven’t “cured” my anger, but I don’t feel ruled by it anymore. And my boyfriend is no longer afraid of cutting onions the wrong way. The new me is determined to channel her anger into something powerful. As Chemaly summarises, “Anger can be a positive force. Re-envisioned, anger can be the most feminine of virtues: compassionate, fierce, wise and powerful. Angry women burn brighter than the sun.”
GET IT OUT, GIRL
Healthy ways to release your angst
• Go for a swim and scream underwater.
• Practise the Roaring Lion (Simhasana) yoga pose to release frustration.
• Download the Happify app and play stress away.
• Read Rise & Resist by Clare Press and plan your craftivist world revolution.
• Listen to the illuminating podcast Hysterical: Women and Rage and remember you’re not alone.
This article originally appeared in the April edition of marie claire magazine.