Where are all the Angry Women?

I recently heard two separate interviews, recorded at different times and in different locations, with the same woman writer. Both interviews were about her new book and in the second interview her comments were the same or similar to the first.

While there is nothing wrong with this, the second interview gave me a chance to reflect on the writer’s response to both interviews and her comments about how she wrote the book. I discovered I had several problems with what she said. While her book is in some ways shocking and disturbing, it contains only a couple of descriptions of overt violence. I applaud the writer’s decision regarding the depiction of violence. I am sickened by books (or movies) that graphically portray the abuse, torture and maiming of anyone, especially women. In the second interview, however, I detected a sense of squeamishness in the writer when it came to writing about violence and sexual intercourse. Again, the book has a couple of sex scenes, written with assurance and skill but also curiously detached. This may be a good thing; books with too much sex, even pleasurable, loving sex can be boring. After all, as a friend once said to me, how many ways can you write about the mechanics of sexual intercourse that aren’t, well, mechanical?

On the other hand, invasive sexual congress, which occurs when one of the partners (usually, in heterosexual intercourse, the woman) is for whatever reason coerced into having sex, makes me really angry. So does the abuse of women, be it their bodies, their minds, their self-respect or their sovereignty.

Am I reading the wrong books or is no one writing about women’s anger anymore and if not, why not?

I wonder if it is because there exists a clutch of women literary writers, many of them aged between thirty and forty-five, who are a tad fastidious about women’s suffering? Who shy away from the awful reality of most women’s lives? If this is true, if women are too refined to write the truth about woman’s suffering, does this reluctance condone women’s abuse? Does it allow the perpetrators of that abuse to get away with their crimes? Does the absence of anger silence the women who are forced to negotiate, on a daily basis, ways to survive their abuse and their abuser.

I also think too many women writers shy away from so-called ‘feral’ female protagonists. Medusa cover I don’t necessarily think we should all write feminist versions of ‘Lord of the Flies’ but I don’t want to read novels where women are complicit in their abuse even though our conditioning and living situations can mean we willingly accept the status quo.

How long will women remain compliant? In straightened circumstances women eventually behave like any other human: they access their power and they fight back, they openly and proudly assert their rights and express their anger and frustration. It’s also true that women can hurt others, be abusive and violent. To say otherwise repudiates women’s humanity, the first dictate of which is survival by any means.

Many women are angry about how they are treated. Anger, however, is not action. Anger motivates: it can be, when properly and wisely directed, a potent force for change. Women have resisted unequal treatment and fought for equality for centuries and many continue the fight.

Do I want a bunch of novels about angry, violent, abusive women popping up on our bookshelves? Can the current crop of young-to-middle-aged women writers express such anger? How is it possible for many of these women writers, university educated, upper middle class, quasi-radical feminists, to ignore the often horrific daily reality of the majority of women? Are they unable to understand this reality because their university education failed them or is it because they simply don’t want to be sullied by the truth that lies behind the statistics, the truth that sits outside their safe, theoretical books and journals?

Why is this important to me? Apart from having been a feminist for over thirty years (and lamenting the ongoing situation many women continue to endure), I am trying to write a themed collection of stories about angry women. It is hard to write about anger without being confronted by one’s own anger. I am wary of alienating a potential reader with my characters’ anger and I want to avoid being didactic. Nor do I want my characters’ anger to be the action but be the motivation for their behaviour. I know it’s vital to show (not tell) the anger and show (not tell) how my characters face, accept, and use their rage to make the change they wants to make.

Every woman, from birth, must have access to good health care, an education, financial independence, safe and accessible contraception and access to safe child-birth and child care. Every woman has the right to have a career, if they want one. Every woman should feel, at the end of their lives, respected and nurtured. I want to put my characters’ divine and justifiable rage out into the world, to represent anger as a legitimate, reasonable reaction to the intolerable fact that too many women are denied these basic rights.

It’s just that writing about anger can be as taxing as feeling angry.

What do you think? Are you angry? Are you comfortable with expressing your anger? Have you created an angry fictional character? What problems did you confront and how did you solve them? Do you know of any books where angry women characters feature?

22 thoughts on “Where are all the Angry Women?

  1. Good Morning/ Evening Janet. So sorry to be so long but the week overtook me. The Feminism L & R narratives is indeed tough reading, partly to get my head around the concepts and partly because it details and analyses disturbing material. My main concern is that these critics are analysing what may be lived experiences for some authors and that lit crit is NOT real life examination of the issues that women confront daily, and that their position is at a remove. Compare this to Easteal’s Real Rape, where we here first person narratives of lived experiences. Gunne and Thompson acknowledge the difficulties of ‘re theorizingrape’ and the aeries of essays explore the power dynamics. The essay on Morrison’s work explores how the language of male pride is sabotaged. Either the men do not speak, or they are portayed through the protagonists’ eyes, or the language of violence is fragmented and dreamy mirroring a state of dissociation as e experienced by the women. So the aggressors are denied power through a lack of language, and the experiences of women and the violence are de-sensationalised . So that the reader and presumably these critics do not have a voyeuristic stance.

    My problem with this ( and Im grateful to you for allowing me space to share thoughts), is that in some respects much as women internalise anger,so that it is re expressed in depression or psychosomatic illness, the text itself represses the anger and violence and perhaps ( I hope) be re expressed in a new wave of writers -perhaps such as you?

    Austerity, single parent dom and education’s corporate approach to what essentially isa human interaction, has much to do with tjis. Everything Has to be expressed appropriately,and when I was stopped from presenting at Harvard on this topic y a mostly male governing body, if i wereto keep my job I had to react ‘professionally’ie not bite back sound off or have ‘a hissy fit! So my anger was internalised and later expressed in two episodes . In some respects my body had had enough . So now my anger is channelled in blogging about this topic, though for professional reasons it is password protected,becuase Iwas forced into being subversive about how to get this work in the world. I hate the furtive feeling that comes with this,but i have to hold it and contain it, nurture it almost alongside the lived experiences that led me on the path.

    To be feminist lit crit highlights the issues, but it is not the same as being an angry feminist. I suppose they work to highlight issues, to influence policy and legislation but I believe austerity here in theUK, thecuts by a Conservative government will put women at a disadvantage. And to reiterate Lit crit, and fiction are not real life and sometimes I think its easy to forget that it is a theory and not experience.

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    1. Dear Anne,
      I’m more than happy for you to share this important information on my blog (and it’s my turn to apologise for not replying to your comment immediately).
      I have to admit, however, that I’m a bit out of my depth here. I once thought I would research women’s Lit. Crit., but soon discovered writing was my passion. While a lot of what you say here is familiar to me, I am not really qualified to comment in any meaningful way. What I have done is write a post (forthcoming) about my area of expertise; therapeutic writing. You talk about ‘lived experience’ in your comment. The focus of my thesis was the lived experience of healing through writing, specifically through writing a memoir using both first and third person narrative voices and (re)claiming a character who is usually represented as disruptive, destructive and difficult as the third person voice. I guess I like bad girls. They fill me with awe, they inspire me and I want to celebrate their resilience. I hope you enjoy the post and I look forward to your comments on it.
      Best regards,
      Janet
      (If you’re at all interested, here is the link, although I suspect you have a heap of reading to get through: Reading Goldilocks

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh Janet. I am so touched that you would share your work with so one relatively unk own to you! I look forward to reading it very much indeed. FairyTales have a special resonance for me, as my sister used to narrate them for me at bedtime, and they are treasured memories. But more than that how wonderful to see the leaps and strides therapeutic writing is making as a genre and practice. Thank you. Congratulations on your PhD

        Bests ,Anne

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  2. Thank you for raising this question: I’m currently working on the inequalities between men and women in texts chosen of boys at Key stages 3 & 4 in Wales. Not an angry woman to be found! I’m angry about this and hopefully channelling it. When I am angry I’m unproductive or I don’t make sense. Have you read “Feminism Literature and Rape Narratives Violence and violation. it seems that the main argument of some essays is that instead of being angry, writers subvert the power binaries of Male Female, power v powerless and aggression v passivity. It’s tough reading because I get angry at the rape of Nicole in Cormier’s ‘Heroes’ and im having to re think my initial interpretation of this

    Cheers,

    Anne

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    1. Hi Anne, thanks for your comment on this post, and for subscribing to the blog. I haven’t read the text you refer to but I looked it up. The chapter titles alone imply that the book would be tough reading. Can you explain how, in the book, the are binaries subverted? My feeling is a lot of women’s anger is internalised because expressing anger is too dangerous. I broached the topic in my blog to open a discussion about anger; how women experience/feel it, how they express it verbally or physically and how they use it. I’m more interested in the latter; anger is a powerful source of energy. Used wisely it can change the world. Take Nelson Mandela and Gandhi, for instance. Both of them expressed their anger by channelling it. I wonder if what they did can be called ‘subverting the power binaries of Male/Female Power/Powerlessness’? They went against the ‘norm’ in how they used anger. I sometimes feel poststructuralism/postmodernism puts women on the back foot (to use a boxing metaphor) by looping us back into the very binaries we seek to escape. What I mean is, when men channel anger it’s seen (despite, in the case of Mandela and Gandhi being originally pilloried for their position), as ultimately ‘heroic’ whereas anything women do to express/not express/channel their anger is always described as working against them. I wonder if first identifying the problem then providing evidence for it (qualitative and quantitative), generating a list of plausible solutions and trying them out to see which one works, is better? If this is the outcome of examining how the binaries are subverted then all well and good. On the other hand, by only claiming the binaries are undermined, women are once again co-opted into privileging what has, in the last 40 or so years, become just another edifice constructed (by and large) by men. We’ve been forced, yet again, to learn, employ, negotiate and manage a language bound description that achieves little in the way of real change. And that is a repression of the female intellect that makes me very angry. 🙂

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      1. No, Anne, I can only see one comment from you, the original one. I’m sorry it took me so long to reply to that comment. I am a bit tardy with my replies.

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      2. Oh, no. I do that kind of thing too. It’s so frustrating. I look forward to the reply, version two. I wonder where, in the ether, version one has landed? Hopefully it’s lodged in the mind of a perceptive woman. Have a good night (day where you are, I think?) Cheers, Janet

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      3. I havent forgotten! Just that its bee. A bit crazy here. Will re do the missing reply to orrow morning. Your Blog post today as lovely: such a testament for your readers friends. And the people who encourage you. It was very moving!

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  3. I am not as angry, now, as I was when I was younger. I don’t rant in journals, online or elsewhere, for fear of being “caught” with my transient thoughts. (Anger comes in like a tidal wave sometimes, then leaves on an exhalation). For those thoughts that do stay, that gnaw at the back of my mind, I sit on them, chew on the thoughts a bit and plot the best way to express myself so I can achieve a desired result. Does this help you?

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    1. Thanks for joining us honestme363. Yes, anger is transient and I no longer rant in journals or on line (except, very occassionally, on Facebook and then I usually edit what I write). I agree with all of what you say, but I was also trying to point out that anger in women is usually met with disapproval. To me, anger is a normal emotion. If we substitute the word ‘joy’ for anger, would we (women) attempt to quell our joy, to not express it? Both joy and anger are healthy, normal emotions. Why is one ‘bad’ and the other ‘good’? We, men and women, most certainly need to learn how to safely and respectfully express our anger, but why is being angry and expressing our anger traditionally forbidden in women?
      Cheers, Janet

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Ah! Traditionally, women have been persecuted for everything! I remember how shocked I was when I learne the origin of the word hysteria, all the way to back to Hippocrates. It still irritates me! Now fast forward to this century, where I have been asked “Do you have your period?” when I have been ‘expressing’ my anger. (Has this ever happened to you?) It makes me wonder how much of a stigma is attached to women when they are angry? You are absolutely right – it is a normal, and healthy emotion. And yet I do quell it. I do not suppress joy when I experience it, but I have never had a person suggest that my exuberance may be associated with a hormonal imbalance either. Thanks so much for the engaging conversation, Janet. It is a real pleasure to meet you.

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      2. It is a pleasure to meet, and chat, with you, Kelly. Earlier this week, on Australia’s National Broadcaster (The ABC) a male ‘shock jock’ (a local radio announcer in his early sixties) called a woman journalist ‘hysterical’ because she was pointing out to him that joking on the radio and on television about drowning a woman was not funny and making jokes about it were no acceptable. None of the other three men appearing with the journalist or shock jock called him to account for his actions. The Shock Jock has consistently refused to apologise for his comment, as have the men he was defending, men who thought talking about drowning a woman was ‘funny.’ Facebook, Twitter and other social media here in Australia have been going nuts over it. Meanwhile, here in Australia, one woman per week, on average, is killed by her partner or ex partner or boyfriend. Australian women and men are sick and tired of this statistic, but it seems every time we make positive steps to address the problem one of these shock jocks raises their ugly head and puts us back in our place. We still have a long way to go.

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  4. You know I just reread your questions there at the end as I’m going to reference your blog in a post today, and it dawned on me I DO know one set of books that features a VERY angry woman character. The series is Christina Ochs’ “The Desolate Empire” series. She is the Empress Teodora. (The books are a fantasy series based on the 30 Year War in Europe. Christina has a blog on WP: The Rolling Writer at christinaochs.com. I’ve had the pleasure of being one of her Beta readers.) She hasn’t yet given a great deal of backstory for Teodora but has been considering writing a prequel about her. I’m sure Christina has been through a lot of emotions writing her character. Wasn’t sure what, if anything, you were looking for, but thought it might interest you.

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    1. First, thanks for referecing ‘Elixir’ in your blog, Calen. I’m really grateful. Thanks, secondly, for telling me about Christina Ochs. I now have another series on my TBR list! All I need is a the time to attack the pile of books I have, though as a fan of fantasy from way back I’m looking forward to immersing myself in them!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. A very interesting post, Janet. I’ve been journaling for years and years and I’m pretty up front in my journals about every emotion I have EXCEPT anger. Your article made me wonder what I was afraid would happen if I expressed the anger I feel sometimes. I’ve got to think about that.

    But in regards to writing female characters, I was part of a round robin story with seven other people for over a year. My character, Calensariel (a half-elven character), had been raped when she was 16 and left for dead. She had a LOT of anger issues, including hating men. Yet it was two men who saved her. What was interesting was watching over those months how her character exhibited that anger, dealt with it, and eventually learned to use it rather than letting it use her. Talk about therapeutic writing! (No, that’s not a real life experience for me, though I DID deal with the death of my mother through that story!)

    What struck me as I read your post was the difference I felt in the two types of writing, In one I felt very tightly controlled, in the other I allowed myself to rant. I felt free. And interestingly, I think I change within myself just a little over that year plus as I participated in that story. I think I began to feel some of what Calen felt as she grew up. (Apparently not enough though!)

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    1. I had a different experience when I wrote a personal journal, Calen. It was full of anger! I occasionally wonder if I should destroy my journals; if my grandchildren every get their hands on the them they might not like the person they see between the pages of each notebook. Then again, I recall that some of that writing was quite powerful. Maybe I should go back to them for material for the book I’m trying to write. So, I can write pages or angry rants in a personal journal but struggle to do so when writing for, hopefully, a number of readers. In my experience journals have not been as therapeutic as I once believed because I held onto my anger, I gnawed on it in the pages of my journals and failed to let it go. Maybe I need to let my self rant in the early drafts of my book and then haul some of the anger back in the edits or, as you say, have my character deal with her anger ‘rather than letting it use her’? Thanks so much for that insight.

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  6. In my book Alice’s Secret, I portrayed a male character with flaws and insecurities,but hopefully made him likable as well. His wife, I portrayed as a Women’s Rights advocate, so strong and independently minded. I loved rounding the characters and exposing their weaknesses and insecurities, it is a part of writing that is inspiring. Have you read Hope Farm, by Peggy Frew? Two strong female characters in a beautifully written book, women are often portrayed as victims of circumstances so it is refreshing to come across a strong female lead 🙂

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    1. Hi Suzanne. I havent read Hope Farm but now it is on my TBR list! Thanks. Thanks also for your sharing your experience of writing a feisty and independent female character. I think your comment about including weaknesses and insecurities as part of the character’s make up is very important. Cheers, Janet

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