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  • Writer's pictureStark Ranting

It takes a lot of time and effort to look this angry

Protestors at a march for the International Day for Elimination of Violence Against Women in Paris, 24th November 2018

Please don’t tell me to stop being an “angry feminist”. Learning to stand up against oppression has taken me years.

The “angry feminist” trope is the modern incarnation of the witches and hysterical women of yesteryear. She is despised by the alt-right blogosphere and treated with disdain from many well-meaning, “I’m-not-sexist-you-know” people whom I meet offline. A typical example being one of those “nice guys” who insists “I agree with you” but “why do you have to be so angry ? It makes non sexist guys like me not want to support you, when really, I’m on your side.

He’s not, not really. By criticising feminists for their anger, he is policing women for stepping out of a gender norm, one that says women should be nice and smiley and not burn with rage. He is making out that our anger is a) illegitimate, and b) enjoyable, when really, it is quite the opposite.

You’ve seen the statistics and know that there are plenty of legitimate macro and micro reasons for women to be angry at society. The real question isn’t why feminists are angry but why, in spite of all of that, getting angry is still so hard.

Nothing in my upbringing as a friendly, gentle, feminine girl had prepared me for the need to be fierce.

I began encountering sexual harassment on a regular basis when I moved to Paris at 18, and found myself in a city where women are cat-called constantly. It was weird and annoying and often scary, because if you ignored it you got often got insulted, if you engaged with it you might get threatened or followed. Nothing in my upbringing as a friendly, gentle, feminine girl had prepared me for the need to be fierce. Nor did I have any particular interest in it. I liked being sweet and friendly, it was who I was, and I wanted to walk around fearlessly, to smile at strangers and chat with random people on the street, without being seen as a piece of meat, without being followed or threatened or groped.

Today, I am on the defensive anytime a man speaks to me on the street and that makes me a little sad. I miss the me I used to be. But since I don’t have the choice of moving through life without encountering sexist situations, my only options are to face violence, keep quiet and feel powerless, or to face violence and get angry about it.

For a long time, I was angry at myself, and endlessly forgiving of men.

When boys I dated were cruel and aloof, I told myself I was being too needy. When men flirted with me in the street or at work, they were just boys being boys, when colleagues made sexist remarks they were just jokes, and when an interviewer made a comment about my cleavage during a job interview I was sure that couldn’t have been what he meant. When guys didn’t check for my consent and went beyond my limits it must have been because I hadn’t made it clear enough, and I mean, it was a party, and I was dressed all slutty.

I policed my own behaviour because that is what I had been taught to do. The first time I was slut-shamed I was five years old. I kissed my childhood sweetheart in front of the whole playground, and a teacher came up and disapprovingly told me “If you kiss too many boys when you’re young, none of them will want to kiss you when you’re older.”

Feminists are accused of being angry as though it were easy, when really, it takes years to stop accepting sexist behaviour, to stop blaming yourself and start blaming society.

It takes years of reading and learning and unlearning all the reflexes we grew up with. It means learning new ways of talking, new ways of acting, new ways of moving through the world. You have to invent an entire new identity for yourself as someone who is not only sweet and gentle but also fierce and furious. And it means moving blindly forwards towards this new you, because you haven’t seen many role models of righteously angry women, achieving things with their anger. Not that they never existed of course, just that they didn’t make it into popular culture.

The fruit of this labour is more bitter than sweet, because being angry isn’t fun.

Being angry means being unable to let sexist remarks and behaviours just slide by, it means that on top of being faced with violence you have to find the energy to call it out. It involves long and unpleasant conversations with men and sometimes women that expect you to provide the free labour of educating them on basic feminist principles, even if they will then reject your arguments - based on extensive / obsessive reading of essays and books and studies on gender issues - and counter them with their own uninformed stereotypes and some vague conclusion from their personal experience.

Being angry means having to point out hard truths to people you love. It means breaking the bad news to them that they, too, are sexist. It means hard conversations and sometimes being disappointed in your friends and sometimes losing them. It means you have to stop defending a friend if he is accused of sexual violence, even if it is heartbreaking, even if you really want to believe that they would never have done that. Us feminists are accused of man-hating but really we love men, especially the men in our lives, and it takes a lot of effort to stop forgiving them.

Becoming angry is hard and being angry is frankly exhausting. But don’t ask me to stop, because I won’t. Because women are right to be angry. And because angry women won us our rights.

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