Charlotte Ashlock

Should Feminism be Angry?

October 18, 2014 My Life Social Change 19

Today is a big day- I get to officially unveil a project I’ve been working on for weeks.  A group of writers, including me, have created a website dedicated to promoting strong female characters in literature. Check us out!

Website: Rewriting Mary Sue Facebook: RewritingMarySue Twitter: @RewriteMarySue

My friend Amy who started the group said she wanted to promote any type of female character, “Who could not be replaced by a sexy floor lamp with a post-it-note on it.” (This expression comes from: here.)  I thought this was an absolutely tart & hilarious way of summing up the problem: too often female characters in literature are just there to look pretty and perhaps advance the plot mechanics by delivering a piece of information. They don’t have enough action, enough agency, enough internal narrative. And they are often jammed into stereotypical boxes.

When we brainstormed topics, I was fascinated by the following suggestions from the group: “women can be assholes too,””female villains,” and “female anti-heroes.” It made me think about how the movement for “strong women” in literature has produced plenty of Buffy types, but very few people feel comfortable writing a dark, troubled, female protagonist or antagonist. That’s because society tells us ladies are supposed to be good little angels.  (Keep an eye on our website, and you’ll hear me say more!)

BUT- speaking of how ladies are supposed to be good little angels, how do you feel about Angry Feminism? I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. It started a few months ago, when my dear friend Anna Leinberger posted a blog in which she called herself a “proudly angry feminist.” Then when I tweeted her post, a male Twitter friend responded with, “anger is something you should never be proud of.”

Yoda said, “fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, and hate leads to the dark side of the force.” So Yoda definitely comes out on the anti-anger side. But Yoda is missing the first link in his chain- where did that fear come from in the first place? Fear is a common response to powerful people being assholes. Stop victim-blaming, Yoda.  Why are you blaming the person who is afraid, instead of the person who causes fear?

Anna says in her blog, “I am tired of other women patting themselves on the back for pointing out flaws in feminists, while living lives that they never would have had the opportunity to live without radical, ‘bra burning’ activists in the 70s.” So there’s also that to be said for anger- it gets things done.

I know the exact moment I shifted from being an absent-minded feminist to an angry one. I was returning books to the main San Francisco library branch, which is in a bad part of town. It was late in the evening, getting dark, and no one was around but a man who approached me and tried to chat with me. I gave a couple of terse, polite replies, but I didn’t really feel like talking. When he realized I was trying to get away, he started screaming at me that I was a stuck-up white bitch and that I’d better watch out, or he would hurt me.

I spent the train ride home fantasizing about kicking him in the nuts and beating him up.  I never went back to that library again (leading to Amazon getting a bunch of my money in Kindle purchases.)  I’ve also been obsessively reading Internet accounts of violence and harassment towards women. I usually am crying by the end of the article, but I can’t stop reading them. My fear drives me, imbues the negative pieces with an eerie fascination. Anger is the only thing that makes me feel better.

Rewriting Mary Sue has made the decision that angry feminism is not really our brand. Yes, we are definitely feminists- we promote the idea that women are people and thus should be written accordingly- but we’re focused on building something good, not destroying something evil. Why would you spend your time arguing with trolls, when you could be writing and reading amazing female characters instead?

Like Anna, I am proud of my anger. We always hear people saying, “Feminists shouldn’t be angry, it’s bad tactics and alienates people from the cause.” I don’t agree with that.  To me, that argument always sounds like, “I would be more comfortable if you continued to be a sexy floor lamp for me.”

However, I AM very happy and comfortable with my group’s decision that we’re about shining the spotlight on the positive examples.  It’s not that anger & negativity are bad- it’s that, well…  you deserve your anger, but you also deserve all the good things. So don’t forget to give yourself the good things as well!

As I said on Twitter,

infinite-hugs

Because this is one victory that is available to us at any time, in any place. The ability to treat ourselves, the way other people should be treating us. Be good to yourselves, ladies.

Meet the other ladies of the Rewriting Mary Sue team by reading their blogs posts about our group’s launch:

 

19 Responses

  1. Nicely done, Charlotte. I am so pleased to say I write strong women that only get angry when it is justifiable. Women should not be written as cartoon characters. We are all three dimensional.

    I was accosted once. Almost dragged away into a vehicle. I can tell you, it feels powerful to smack a deserving male in the nose with the butt of you hand, and it tends to get their attention.

    Carry on Mary Sue!
    Huggles,
    Theresa

  2. Dee Lancaster says:

    Anger can be a great spark. It’s what you do with that spark that’s important. It can start a fire in you to make change or it can burn you out. You are clearly on the path to igniting change. Great post.

  3. A toast to your anger (because I’m angry too) but also a pledge to fight the haters with amazing stories and personal strength! Oh and lots of hot cocoa 😉

  4. Ooh I have a female anti-hero! It never even occurred to me that I couldn’t. I first wrote her in 1995.

  5. Grace says:

    Anger makes us human – because objects don’t have emotion

  6. Karma says:

    I write this comment as I vacation in India. There is much here to bring out my angry feminist. It’s 90 degrees but we must wear sleeves and pants lest we encourage rape. My friend got her ass grabbed at the market and our american male friend who lives here was shocked to find how many times this had happened to the women in the room. She wasn’t angry, in fact probably wouldn’t have told him if I hadn’t mentioned it. To her it’s just the way things go. If she had been angry it would have less effective, because then some of the emphasis would have been on her as an outsider, adapting to the culture. It can be so much harder to reach people when they are on the defensive, and often men feel like feminism is an attack on them.

    On the other hand, because she’d accepted the sexism, the topic would never have come up if I hadn’t rudely insisted on talking about it at dinner. I was the angry feminist pushing my feminist agenda and it worked. Just before the ass grabbing happened the men were making a clicking sound, which my friend admitted was traumatic for her—it was the same as the Muslim men in another country where she had lived, who would click at prostitutes. I know that sound enraged her. But she didn’t feel the need to tell this to her oldest friend, not because he’s a man, but because she’d moved past anger to acceptance. That is unacceptable to me.

    I have lot to say on this terrific question, but in summary I think that while anger is never the best strategy, it is a feeling women should be allowed to have. We should not condemn women for their very legitimate responses to oppression and abuse, while angry women should take a step back from their feelings and be smart about achieving equality through the best strategy we can.

    PS I’m excited about your new site!

  7. Holly Geely says:

    I had a similar experience, but I wasn’t polite.

    I get stopped frequently because of my hair colour, and I don’t mind the “nice hair!” walk-bys. Obviously when I coloured it this way I knew I’d get attention…that’s half the reason I did it.

    However, when I’m in a particular area of the city, I walk with my head down. There are a lot of drunks, even during the day, and I’ve been threatened and have had things thrown at me. When a man (or woman) I don’t know yells “Hey honey, you’re looking good!” I don’t find it flattering – it’s creepy.

    I keep my ear buds in to discourage people from talking to me, anti-social but effective. I pretended I couldn’t hear him, so he continued to shout. I ignored him. He got really angry and called me a “stuck-up bitch!” and said more that I couldn’t hear because I was retreating.

    I fully admit to being a stuck-up bitch, but I escaped with my dignity intact, so I can’t really regret it.

  8. Giora says:

    Hello. Feminists come in many variations, so some of them can be angry .. although angry feminism is counter productive to the cause of feminism. My issue is that many novels imply feminism, at least to feminists, but many readers have no idea that there is feminism in the storyline. My YA fiction speak directly about feminism, not just implying it, and hopefully you and your friends can push in this direction. Best wishes.

  9. KarenGordonAuthor says:

    Thank you for shining a new light on this side of feminism. I can better see the benefit of anger, properly channeled. For me its not about not getting angry, it’s about using my angry energy to add umph to a hopefully well-crafted reply or message. Most of the things I say when I’m angry I regret. Those are usually not my finest moments.
    Like most women I’ve been harassed, pinched, grabbed, etc. It feels frightening and unnerving when it happens but I don’t want to base my social agenda on those feelings. The morons and drunks don’t deserve that much of my time and energy. Women who are working hard to shine a positive light on other women are my focus, one of the reasons I am a huge fan of Rewriting Mary Sue.

    • The Crazy Idealist says:

      The suitability of anger as a response to situation seems to be something consistently controversial. I think with any emotion, it’s about having the emotion working for you instead of taking you over. I liked how they depicted things in the Pixar movie Inside Out.

      I also enjoy RMS’s positive focus!

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