Disentangled from our bodies – as a force we all filter and anchor differently – anger is bold. It can feel turbulent, disruptive, powerful, overwhelming… and built into its expression are qualities which take up space. It seems to me that for women and femmes, expressions of anger and insecurity can struggle to find their place. As if by default, and so, so often, female anger is cast into devaluing narratives.
As much as I cannot speak for experience which is not female, I don’t think it’s an empty claim to say, for example, when a male politician shows emotion he is ‘passionate,’ whilst a woman might be more ‘hysterical’ or ‘incompetent.’ Or that when a boyfriend is jealous he might be ‘protective,’ whereas a girlfriend quickly becomes a ‘psycho.’ And, when all else fails, there’s always the scapegoat of menstruation as a typical signpost for dismissal.
Though I’m sure it’s not without its own difficulties, anger fits much more easily, more coherently, and is treated with more value when the body expressing it is white, male, cisgendered and able-bodied. But, as a white, able-bodied, cisgendered woman, I do not wish to speak for or claim experience other than my own. So, whilst there are many intersections of experience which implicate this differently, I can only really make my own truth heard, and hope it can connect with others in a positive way.
So often, we hear reactions to female anger and insecurity in the form of “she’s a psycho,” or “a psycho girlfriend,” or “she’s just a bitch.” It’s as though there are a certain, habitual, tools dedicated to the purpose of hastily minimising, devaluing or distinguishing female anger… As though femininity should render us – first and foremost – malleable the trajectories of others.
The internalised feeling that your rage, frustration, irritability or insecurity is irrational or unimportant can be difficult to shake. Moreover, expressions of these feelings can counter the ways we might position ourselves in our relationships as women and femmes; as caregivers, mediators, or in line with the expectation that we should be gentle – lovers not fighters.
Expressing anger and insecurity means asking for the time, generosity and patience of another. As I said, it takes up space. In a culture which perpetually expects us to shrink ourselves – be it through being sculpting a certain body, appearing more demure, or by generally moulding ourselves to criteria which values us based on the embodiment of such qualities – being truly kinder and more generous with yourself takes work.
Asking to take up the spaces you are entitled to takes work. For me, I notice a habitual feeling that it is my responsibility to mould my more disruptive or less palatable emotions internally, into something which coherently fits criteria other than my own; before they are worthy of being heard.
My conversations with other women assure me I’m not alone, and so I would like this to be understood as an open letter to anyone else who has found difficulty in the validity of their louder, larger emotions. It’s so important to see that our feelings are valid and have weight – if they are felt, they matter.
I think it’s interesting that there is such a need to narrativise and rationalise anger and insecurity through pre-decided set of ideas about what it’s OK to be annoyed about, and what it isn’t… Especially as all our references and experiences can be so different.
I’m definitely not making the point that we should go around treating people like shit for no reason, but I am saying this: To minimise your own feelings on the basis that someone else – be it a family member, friend, work colleague or romantic partner – will not believe they are valid, or will have to give their time and energy to consider you and try to understand, is ultimately to minimise yourself and the potential of your growth; both on an individual level, and collectively.
So please, if something hurts you, know that that is enough– it is valid. Your pain, your rage, your insecurity, or perhaps sometimes, even your desire for validation from others, is OK, and worthy of being expressed and heard. You’re not just being oversensitive, you don’t have to take everything on as your fault, and you do not have to dismiss or minimise yourself for the apparent sake of others.
Valuing your own truth and full spectrum of emotions is both kinder to yourself, and to those in your relationships. It’s easier said than done, but at the very least, it needs to be recognised.
- Zoë Loring
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