Learning to Love the ‘Angry Feminist’
By Lily Owen
The “paradox of declining female happiness” has been pointed out by economists Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers. American women rated their overall life satisfaction higher than men in the 1970s and, ever since, their scores have decreased, whilst men’s stay roughly the same. The same trend has been uncovered in Europe over the same period. With gains from the female suffrage movement and multiple waves of feminism, surely women should be found happier in recent times? But, who is to say that an increased consciousness in today’s society is one that brings joy? Instead, we have found anger.
Feminist scholar Sara Ahmed stakes the claim that feminism is “an inheritance of the sadness of becoming conscious not only of gender as the restriction of possibility but also of how this restriction was not necessary.” With the expansion of a female consciousness – one that comes with a taste of previously denied freedoms in society – comes the depressing acknowledgement of her inequality to begin with. No wonder satisfaction levels should fall as women come to terms with what they should have been entitled to all along. It is this disillusionment that sparks the very need for feminism, requiring a history of female discontent from which to protest for reform. The ‘Angry Feminist’ is a justified one.
In a way, female anger at this restriction thus becomes liberating in breaking the patriarchal mold created for women, as passive and supportive figures. A decreasing female satisfaction rate beyond 1970s America and Europe comes off the back of equal pay acts, civil rights acts, and education amendments. Women were slowly being admitted into a world of independence, formerly dominated by men. Today, that world is still one hostile to the notion of being shared: the gender pay gap across business sectors is on the rise again; the entertainment industry has become scandalized with the likes of Harvey Weinstein, abusing and exploiting women. Emerging female political figures – such as Hillary Clinton and Elizabeth Warren in the US – have been slated by the media for their likeability and ability to win against a man. Ambitious women, today, are ‘difficult’: Teresa May was a “a bloody difficult woman,” Ken Clarke said, when she ran for Tory leader. The late Elizabeth Wurtzel took “in praise of difficult women” as the strapline for her feminist manifesto in 1998; Helen Skelton said she didn’t report being groped on set because “No one wants to be difficult.” And, only the other week, Prime Minister, Boris Johnson claimed that the UK is “not strictly a patriarchy” because the system of male dominance “has changed a huge amount”.
It is the persistence of such a system of male dominance that slanders feminism and its advocates as ‘difficult’, today. To be difficult is to go against the norm, the expected way of doing things: patriarchy is our current norm and feminism sets itself against it. Feminism will always be ‘difficult’ so long as gender inequality is considered normal and, with the UK being among the worst performing EU states on improvements to gender equality, we are a way off a sense of normality.
To deal with difficulty is to incite difference and difference is what is required. Difference from the previously ‘happy’ women of the 1970s that, with greater exposure and the benefit of hindsight, were perhaps not so happy after all. If a historical female happiness was socially productive and preserving of patriarchal values – playing the ‘good wife’ and supporting their husbands – then a modern female unhappiness becomes destructive of such a restrictive role and the very system that it benefits.
The image of the ‘Angry Feminist’ should be rather unsurprising. If women were not unhappy, dissatisfied, or angry, then what is the need for a movement in the first place? Ahmed raises the issue of how “feminists are read as being unhappy, such that situations of conflict, violence, and power are read as about the unhappiness of feminists rather than about what feminists are unhappy about.” The very claim to be a ‘feminist’, for both woman and man, now carries a taboo of anger and vulgarity that devalues the content they speak. Female anger is something that is supposed to be locked away and the irony is that the very systems that have taunted it are the same ones denying it.
We have heard so much about white, male anger, with Trump’s slating of women, ethnic minorities, and fake news, but this is because anger can be understood as carrying a male privilege. Male anger is a sign of dominance and authority. To be an angry man is to be assertive and strong, but to be an angry woman is to break free of her socialization as pleasant and nice and so is unacceptable. Women are simply not allowed to be angry. As a result of and being subjected to male anger, women often become victims and how easy is it to believe a victim these days? You only have to look at the recent case against Harvey Weinstein and the trauma faced by the women that testified against him to understand the scrutiny and suspect thrust upon a victim. Weinstein was found guilty and faces a sentence of 23 years, but only on two of the five counts of assault he was pressed with. He received this sentence as an angry man, with unsealed court documents laying bare his raging threat that Jennifer Aniston “should be killed”, in response to allegations that she was to come forward against him.
Feminist anger is not whining, playing the victim, or asking for attention. Women do not seek anger to assert some false sense of masculinity, they are angry for a reason and their anger is justified. There is a feminist duty to be angry and angry feminists make people uncomfortable. Even though this is wrong, it is okay (for now…) as no progressive movement has emerged or succeeded without making people uncomfortable. Pussy Riot, Guerilla Girls, and SlutWalk shout this anger up and down the country, as feminist anger ceases to be mean, but unifying and empowering. If the rise of the ‘Angry Feminist’ makes people uncomfortable, then she is having an impact and she won’t stop until you embrace her.