One of the ways I enjoy and explore a new town is to mosey on over to the first book shop I can find and browse the collections there. Recently on one such adventure, I found a book that struck a chord with me. I decided to purchase it. It’s a book about women’s anger.
In three weeks I’ve only made it past the introduction and first chapter. There was a lot in it (some good, some bad, most of it confronting) that I had to process, and am still processing. But one thing I wholly agreed upon was the opening paragraphs of the introduction.
Public demonstrations of rage by women are still frequently portrayed as shocking by commentators, politicians and many media outlets: think Serena Williams’ outburst of rage at the umpire in the 2018 US Open. Williams was vilified by commentators, columnists and widespread audiences of viewers who have, for decades, allowed male players to get away with similar, and often far worse, displays of rage, dismissing them with humour or with a shrug and a rueful smile: think John McEnroe, among others.
… women’s anger still attracts widespread and often vicious condmenation, while manifestations of men’s anger so often pass without comment. Speaking out is powerful, but for many women it is still a terrifying prospect because retribution can take many forms.Liz Byrski, Introduction to Women of a Certain Rage.
I am someone who wears my emotions on my sleeve. I am a woman with powerful emotions, and I am a woman who relates (infuriatingly) with this description of women’s anger. I relate to people, particularly men, condemning my anger. I relate to the many forms of retribution toward speaking out. And I relate to something else that wasn’t explicitly stated, but which no doubt Liz has also experienced in some form: that women’s anger is not taken seriously.
In an extreme example, women’s anger about women being raped or beaten to death does not seem to be taken as seriously as men’s anger over the same thing. As women, we are apparently dependent on men taking up our cause, because it is not enough that we are outraged at oppression.
Before I continue, I want to say that one of the issues I had with reading this book was that I don’t think anger should necessarily be encouraged. There are righteous reasons for anger, and it can sometimes be necessary and helpful. But most often, anger is destructive and hurts ourselves and the people around us. Paul writes that it gives the devil opportunity in our lives. In fact, the Bible has a fair bit to say about it. Anger may not in itself be sinful, but it very easily leads us to sin.
I am someone who must continually check my anger, and very often repent of it. And I want to encourage others, in this society where outrage and verbal violence is idolised, to not believe the lie that it is the best way forward.
With that being said, how and why anger is expressed, accepted, or rejected is a fascinating insight into a society. And how women’s expression of anger is received in our society tells us that women’s insights and passions – that women – are not taken seriously.
I’ve seen it. Felt it. In the workplace, in class at Bible College, on social media… my anger (about things we should be angry about) is chastised, rejected, or ignored. Yet in those same situations, my male counterpart’s expressions of anger are validated, applauded, and admired.
And I’ve known the retributions. From the simplest form of not being “endorsed” (for lack of better expression) on social media, to the threat of rejection from employment. And the real issue is that this does not simply apply to unreasonable expressions of anger, but to a much larger spectrum from passionate cries against injustice to thought provoking challenges and emotional ponderings on life events.
If I could stop myself from speaking about things that move me, I would. The Lord knows how much I’ve been torn apart by my inability to maintain a closed mouth, and how desperately I’ve cried out for the self-control to just keep quiet. I would love to be a quiet type. I envy stoics. Because nobody likes a woman who speaks out.
But here I want to propose that it is not even simply women’s emotional expressions that are rejected, but the wisdom behind them.
If people dismissed us because we are angry for no real reason, fair enough. But we are not. We are angry because we have discerned, experienced, and intimately known the issues which deeply move us to powerful expressions of mourning or rage.
If someone is seen as wise, educated, or capable, their expressions of anger are heeded. Their anger, mourning, rejoicing, and other forms of emotional expression are seen as powerful displays of leadership. Emotions to be emulated. Wisdom to be listened to.
Or if not to be emulated then it is at least seen as understandable (for example, male athletes, as discussed in the quote above), and perhaps relatable.
If women were taken seriously as capable, intelligent, wise, and responsible people, our anger would be as accepted as men’s.
I thank God that the Bible is full of fierce women. Angry, passionate, confident, capable, fearless, wise, and righteous women. Women like Tamar, and like Deborah and Jael (seriously, thank God for Jael). Women like Zipporah and Ruth, Esther and Abigail; like Mary (and Mary), and Joanna. Like Pheobe (do you think Phoebe would have read Paul’s letter out without the emotion it demanded?), and Chloe and Lydia. Women who were not without fault, but who God used to bring glory to His name through their passion, love, confidence, commitment, rage, and wisdom.
We should continue to pray diligently for self-control, peace, gentleness, and the other fruits of the Spirit. We should continue to ensure, by God’s grace, that the devil does not gain a foothold in our hearts because of anger, through repentance and forgiveness. But we should not apologize for being women who see much and feel much. Women who are passionate about the things that matter, and who rage against injustice and evil.