Sometimes, I’m angry.
In fact, on occasion, I get extremely angry. I get so angry that I throw things. I get angry enough to scream. I get angry and I get frustrated and I am not afraid to show it.
Because, you know, anger is just an emotion, really. It’s not always necessarily healthy, and I don’t always manage mine in the best ways, but that doesn’t make it an invalid emotion. In fact, asserting that my anger is invalid is a great way to get me really angry, to see whole new levels of anger which you may not have been previously aware of.
Yet, as someone who looks like a woman, I’m not supposed to get angry or, really, to express myself at all, except in safe little confines. I can be a little bit upset, a little bit flustered, but I cannot actually be angry. Or hurt. This is one of the things which frustrates me most about living in the society that I live in; the sense that other people view my emotions as invalid or rooted in their assumptions about my gender, and that people think it’s perfectly acceptable and possibly even advisable to silence me when I am speaking out, to attack me for my emotions, instead of thinking about the origins of those emotions.
One of the things which is done most commonly to marginalized groups is the tone argument. It’s the argument that says “I’ve decided that I don’t like what I am hearing, so I am going to try and negate it by deciding that you aren’t using the right ‘tone’.” Under this argument, members of marginalized groups need to make nice, all the time. They just need to try a little harder. They need to reach out. They need to be sympathetic and understanding to the needs and issues of people with privilege. They need to be nice, because it’s easier to catch flies with honey. And they shouldn’t be so damn angry all the time. Or uppity.
And, you know, I’m actually a big fan of presenting things in a neutral tone, for a couple of reasons. One, I find that it makes people less reactive, and, two, people can’t use the tone argument against me when I am staying neutral. There’s nothing to assail in my “tone,” so people actually have to think about the words and the ideas that are coming out of me. They actually have to engage. Because if they don’t, and they decide to walk away, it’s clear that, you know, they aren’t really interested in whatever it is that I am talking about. Or that they don’t like what I’m hearing, but can’t find anything to assail in my tone, so they’re forced to just retreat.
But, here’s the thing.
There’s a time and a place for anger.
And it is my right to be angry sometimes. It’s my right to be frustrated, infuriated, enraged, and just pissed off. It is. No one can take that from me. I might have very legitimate reasons to be angry, like the fact that I’ve just been silenced, or the fact that someone has said something monumentally offensive, or the fact that someone is clearly not getting it and is not interested in engaging. Or that, damnit, the ants are invading again or that this person just did something rather unwise in a car in front of me, or I’ve presented a clear, rational argument in a neutral tone and I am being ignored, or…any number of other reasons.
And it is infuriating to a high degree to be told that my emotions are not valid. To be told that I feel this strongly because it’s “that time of the month” or because I’m just an “emotional woman” or perhaps I’m even “hysterical.” This denial of my experience and my emotions? It’s not ok. Why can’t I get angry? Why isn’t anger an emotion I am allowed to own, possibly to wield, at times? Who is someone else to tell me what/how/when to feel?
And why have we tolerated this to such a high degree? Mainstream feminism sometimes seems obsessed with tone, and there’s no recognition that emotions are valid. Whatever the root of those feelings, wherever they might come from, however someone arrived at that point, those feelings are valid. You can disagree with the reasons that someone is angry, but that doesn’t discount the fact that this person is still angry. And telling someone not to be angry, informing someone that there is nothing to be upset about, preaching about how we just need to be more respectful of one another?
It’s not productive. Indeed, I would argue that it’s rather antifeminist. Because, you know, sometimes really terrible and not ok things happen, and anger is an appropriate response. You know what makes me angry? Sexual abuse of women in long term care facilities. That makes me ANGRY. It doesn’t make me sad, or disappointed, or a little upset, it makes me ANGRY. ANGER is an appropriate response to this.
So, why can’t I be angry? Why can’t I say that I am angry? Why can’t I tell other people that it’s ok for them to be angry? Why can’t we affirm the fact that the experience of an emotion is valid? Why are we bent on shutting people down, rather than, you know, addressing them?
Are emotions really so scary?