Get monthly email updates when I add new resources to our Family Action Toolkits
When you feel my teeth pierce your jugular
[Image description: Mary Walker from the book ‘Mary Wears What She Wants’ by Keith Negley. Mary holds her fists on her hips, elbows akimbo, and frowns with angry eyebrows.]
OKAY I AM BACK
Kids are in bed, let’s finish our March recap on anger.
- How does women’s anger connect with this year’s focus on collective action?
- How does accepting and embracing our anger help us raise kind and brilliant kids?
- And of course, what does this all have to do with smashing the kyriarchy?
WHY WOMEN NEED TO OWN ANGER
In the months leading up to March, I spent a lot of time thinking about anger – particularly through the lens of women’s history month and feminism. It was going to be a website collection.
(And then life happened, and now its still stuck here in rough draft form: Destigmatizing Anger in Women. )
I conveniently happen to be a lady person who has feelings sometimes. So I did an experiment! Through March, I refused to push away or tamp down my anger. I owned it. I rolled around with it. I gave myself to be abrupt and honest about my feelings when people got rude.
It was helpful – my anger became a tool for clarity, a sharp blade to cut through the bullshit.
I always police my tone with people who want to defer their responsibility on to me. This month, I let a bit of my anger take out into the world as a warning flare to back off and quit poking me.
Accepting & embracing the agency of anger
When I was six, I had my first overt bully. My mom told me to make unblinking eye contact with the girl who towered over me, slowly advance until our chests touched, and growl, “Whatchoo goin’ do ‘bout it?”
Which thinking back, must have been fucking adorable. But somehow it scared the shit out of people twice my size and it got me out of lots of dangerous situations.
My mother – who had been attacked from a young age by both people she loved and strangers on the street, who had been chased and pinned down, strangled, and abandoned, who had seen the inhumanity in people with power against those with less, exuded a constant cloud of fury about the injustice in the world.
This was the air I breathed, this is embedded in my tissue. I don’t get sad. I get angry. Anger is my comfort food.
Mom explained to me that over the course of my life, I would be attacked, at any moment, unprovoked. She taught me to to never sit with my back to the door. She also trained me to fight and leave my opponents choking on their own blood. To make a public example of my attackers so there would be no second wave.
So it makes me chuckle a bit, when readers call me aggressive because I make demands for basic human dignity and respect. Oh, honey. You you’ll know when I’m being aggressive because there will be holes in the drywall and my teeth will be embedded in your jugular.
So what I’m saying is, The Ray femininity isn’t a sad wilting daisy waiting to be saved. Anger is interwoven with our identity as women.
But there’s a caveat – some of us can’t afford to own and exude our anger. For all women – our justifiable anger is passed off as PMS, hysteria, nagging. We’re gaslit into submission, showing our emotions means our concerns aren’t taken seriously.
My mother is white, her anger is the stuff of power and super-hero movies. I am Asian, and there are consequences for showing my anger, playing into stereotypes of dragon ladies and yellow peril. Neither one of us, however, has to fear the stereotype of the Native Savage, or the Angry Black Woman.
So I’ve learned to keep my anger silent, hidden behind a relaxed facial expression. I couch my angry responses in ‘I’ statements, in calls for collaboration that put the burden on me to do the heavy lifting.
This is only necessary so long as we refuse to share our anger on a collective level. Separately, our anger eats away at is, bitter and resentful.
But what if…what if we could teach our kids how to amass the big feelings, the fury of injustice, and use it as fuel for a generational wave of change?
And what would it take to model healthy, powerful, change-making anger for them?
Anger is about the things we MUST change.
Unlike sadness, anger requires a sense of expectation, even entitlement. Anger comes from expecting control, and having it yanked away. Anger is a side-effect of ownership and agency.
Sadness has a place. Just yesterday, grief took me out at the knees. Picking pebbles from the dirt above my daughter’s grave – I accept that sadness. I am powerless to reverse or make her death okay. Sadness is this heavy fog that sits with us. It does not kick us into gear. Sadness is about the things we are not obligated to try and change.
This month, we got flooded with articles of attacks on young Black boys, disabled people, Muslims praying in a sacred safe space. These events don’t make me sad. They make me ANGRY. Not just that they exist – but that this month is no different from any other.
I pay attention when I feel sadness versus anger. When pity shows up in my gut. When I feel hopeless, when I feel gloom. Pity, sadness – it comes along with a sense of looking down from up high toward a victim – that person separate from ‘me’ (even if I’m looking at right-here-me as a victim from another hypothetical timeline where my daughter is still alive.) That is a form of superiority. Pity is a ‘too bad for THEM.’
Like this bullshit:
“I pray and hope that by the time my toddlers are in school, this won’t be necessary.”
This was a comment on our post about talking to kids about shootings. Beyond voting for politicians not backed by the NRA, this person has no plans to take responsibility or change things in the two years before their toddlers enter kindergarten.
I find comments like this INFURIATING. Fuck prayers and hopes and waiting. And I was like… well fuck. Was I not clear? I mean I DID point out in the article that thoughts and prayers aren’t getting it done. But you know what? I SUSPECT that this person didn’t even bother reading the article. It wasn’t this person’s problem, so they didn’t bother.
But this isn’t someone else’s problem to fix. It’s ours. Both mine, and theirs. Right now.
This parent justifies inaction in hopes some some faceless legislator will step up and do the work for them.
I get that being a parent (of twins, I’m guessing) is hard work. But this pity-party is condescending, and these comments aren’t just helpful – they do active damage.
For the thousands of people who see comments like this, it normalizes the behavior of staying passive, sending thoughts and prayers and passing responsibility to someone else. It models for our kids that sitting still and feeling sorry for our future-selves, waiting for someone else to get angry and get shit done, is acceptable.
Comments like this – they make it acceptable to see more things as something we can’t, and aren’t obligated to, change.
Attacks on people of color, on Muslims, on people on the other side of the world – we get sad when we see this as an attack on ‘others.’ (To be clear, I’m not trying to appropriate the impact of this violence. Victims of this violence and oppression and people within these groups face the day-to-day impact and trauma of it, whereas I just have big feeeelings.)
What I mean is – if we are truly including marginalized individuals as equals, as a part of our wider community, we are all humans in this together and we have an OBLIGATION to keep our people safe, to prevent these horrors. An attack on anyone’s children is an attack on OUR children.
If someone came after my child with violence, I would put a stop to it. I would use my fury like a laser to cut that cancerous bullshit OUT. I would not sit there crying, waiting for someone else to rescue them. So why aren’t more parents angry about mosque shootings, police brutality, and systemic injustice?
There is a good video about this – on perspective, judgement, and the choices we make to feel with people, instead of for them. It is here.
Getting angry helps us raise kind & courageous kids
If the people under attack are our people (and they are). Get angry about attacks on our people. Do stuff about it. Call reps, vote, rally, sue gun manufacturers, draft legislation, collect and educate people, raise better humans, adjust your professional work to align with your values – there are ooodles and oooooodles of creative ways to use that fire to make change, and not one of them stops at ‘thoughts’ and clicking sad emoticons.
Hence the books. And raising kinder, braver kids who hopefully won’t grow up to kill and main and rape people. We are obligated to raise children who do not spew more malicious action into the world. We are obligated to raise children who recognize malicious action in their peers and nip it quick.
We are also obligated to show our anger, to talk to our kids about what makes us furious. We are responsible for modeling how to put that anger into a laser-beam of action.
Let our anger be the fertilizer that rears a new generation who hold themselves, and each other, responsible for the safekeeping of our people.
Fertilizer though – it smells. It burns. It’s explosive. We need anger-fertilizer-laser-beams, to burn away all the crap that doesn’t matter. We need it to kick us in the ass and keep us doing things that make us uncomfortable and scared.
Anger exposes our values – it clarifies what we believe is right, between what we deserve, and what isn’t acceptable. Anger is the fuel we use for courage to right things when they go wrong.
Get your hackles up, then go DO A THING. Read books full of angry women to your kids and learn more about how destigmatizing anger in women smashes the kyriarchy!
Check out the unpolished book list: Destigmatizing Anger in Women