The Power of Women’s Anger in the Age of Me Too

Gender

The Power of Women’s Anger in the Age of Me Too

Illustration: Akshita Monga

“This book set my soul on fire.”  

“It’s eye-opening, liberating, and validating.”

“Holy. F***king. Shit. Pick up this book and read it.”

On one balmy afternoon, I was randomly surfing the internet when I ended up reading rave reviews for Soraya Chemaly’s book, Rage Becomes Her: The Power of Women’s Anger. Launched in the wake of the #MeToo movement, women were naturally lapping it up. Yet I wasn’t inclined to read the book. After all, when has women’s anger had the power to change anything, I wondered.  

Just as I was about to close the tab and proceed to open another, I read what Gloria Steinem had to say about the book. “How many women cry when angry because we’ve held it in for so long? How many discover that anger turned inward is depression? Rage Becomes Her will be good for the women and the future of this country. After all, women have a lot to be angry about,” she wrote.

It touched a nerve. Yes, we women are angry. And we’ve been forced to suppress this anger for centuries under the weight of parental bias, misogyny, patriarchy, objectification, unequal pay, domestic violence, and sexual assault. For centuries, we’ve been denied equality and respect. The dam was bound to burst – the internet just made it easier as we’ve witnessed in the last one year.

Since October 2017, collective female rage has brought down big men – predators with power, men who have been exploiting women for years. It started with the outing of Harvey Weinstein. It took some time but today India’s Weinsteins are not spared either. Women in Bollywood have spoken up against Alok Nath, Subhash Ghai, Sajid Khan, and Vikas Bahl, women in the media have exposed founders, CEOs, influential journalists like Anirban Blah, Ashish Patil, Vinod Dua.

Only recently, Serena Williams’ expression of rage during the US Open finals was casually deemed a “hysterical, hormonal outburst”.

The consequences of women’s rage were seen when 15 women called out former editor and Union minister MJ Akbar for inappropriate behaviour and sexual harassment. He tried to dismiss their anger with a mighty defamation suit. But that sort of intimidation did not work. Not this time, for their anger had peaked. Twenty more women, reputed journalists and writers, decided to testify against him. Finally, after more than a week of denying allegations and ignoring calls for his resignation, Akbar was forced to step down.

Women and their anger had won.

What we are now witnessing is not only the channeling of women’s rage but also its acknowledgement. For the first time, men and even women, who often belittle survivors, are sitting up and taking notice. But I can’t help but wonder, if this will persist. If the world that we occupy will let our anger have power?    

Since time immemorial, our social norms have thrived on dictating “acceptable” feminine behaviour. Women have been told over and over again to be docile and likeable and not angry. You see, only men can afford to be angry – their anger is, after all, a proof of their masculinity and valour. For women however, our anger is nothing but unpalatable behaviour. For instance, every time I had a disagreement with someone in the family, the first thing my mother would remind me was to not get angry and apologise instead. Each time some uncle hugged me and I felt uncomfortable, I was told, “Don’t make an issue”, and each time a boy slapped my shoulder on way to college, I was told to keep calm and change the route. Since I was a teenager, much before the days of #MeToo, I wondered why was my brother never asked to tame his anger.

Last September, Serena Williams’ expression of rage during the US Open finals was casually deemed a “hysterical, hormonal outburst”. And, closer home, Tanushree Dutta’s allegations against Nana Patekar were excused by justifying her anger as an outcome of her “periods” and “bad mood”.

And we’ve been forced to suppress this anger for centuries under the weight of parental bias, misogyny, patriarchy, objectification, unequal pay, domestic violence, and sexual assault.

But what it would mean to ungender anger? If women were allowed the luxury of embracing our anger, would we have healed faster?

In her book, Chemaly seems to think so. She offers a helpful suggestion: Understand your anger, instead of suppressing it. This is exactly what we’ve witnessed in India over the past three weeks. While outing their harassers, women across the country have been seething at the impunity that allowed the men who violated them, to go on with their lives as if nothing happened. And in doing so, women have finally been able to publicly channelise the power of their anger and use it as a balm, possibly for the first time. When actress Sandhya Mridul outed Alok Nath for harassment, she wrote, “My heart was pounding when I put it out there but soon the catharsis began. Keeping it bottled inside me had changed me as a person. I couldn’t sleep that night, not out of fear but the lack of it.”

Now that scores of women are acquainting themselves with initiating a relationship with their anger, instead of ignoring its presence, we can hope that our society adapts as well. That an angry women will no longer be labelled a raging bitch, as someone “who is on her period”, or someone “who needs to get laid”.  

At one point in her book, Chomaly claims, “Angry women burn brighter than the Sun”. Here’s what I want to know: Will India ever let its women’s rage become her? I am not sure yet, but I am sticking around to find out.

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