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Posted at: Dec 7, 2018, 12:15 AM; last updated: Dec 7, 2018, 12:15 AM (IST)

What gender is anger?

What gender is anger?

Rashmi Kalia

On our wall is a sculpture of Goddess Kali, the Goddess of feminine rage and resistance: black in colour, eyes red with intoxication and in absolute rage. Her hair is dishevelled, small fangs protrude out of her mouth, her tongue is lolling. She wears a ‘skirt’ made of human arms and sports a garland of heads. Serpents and a jackal, standing on a seemingly dead Shiva, accompany her. Despite this grotesque imagery, I have always found the image as sinister, yet delicate, dark but strong. Not many will agree. The repelling image of the Goddess is a metaphor for how our society views feminine rage: unappealing and dark.  

Anger and resentment are often maligned but are essential to survival. But why are these stymied in the female sex, and valourised in the male species? We teach girls that being angry is undesirable, that they will be better rewarded by society if they curtail it. A case in point is the intense media scrutiny that Serena Williams had to go through after the 2018 US Open final, with her antics typically accompanied by images of her looking ‘almost unhinged’. But, this is not the treatment we meted out to the angry white boy of tennis, John McEnroe. Despite his outbursts, he was the quintessential  ‘bad boy’; angry and charismatic. Unfortunately, Williams will never gain that adulation. She is not only angry. She is the ‘angry black woman’. 

Rage in women is the subject of Soraya Chemaly’s new book, Rage Becomes Her: The Power of Women’s Anger. It uses anecdotes from the author’s encounters with female anger and opens with a memory of her mother throwing her treasured wedding china out the window without saying anything; a silent yet violent display of anger. Soraya tells us the most pertinent thing we need to about feminine anger…we are allowed to feel angry, but we can’t put it in ‘words’, certainly not in public.  

So, does anger have a gender? Are women allowed to feel anger in the full range in a way this emotion needs to be felt in a healthy way? No. Anger is no longer a negative emotion. It is the restorer of sanity. Life for a modern woman is maddening. Rather than telling women to ‘let go’ of their rage, we need to tell them to hold on to it. Anger has the power to change the world. And burying it has disastrous health consequences. It is the shared anger of women all over the world that has given iconic status to #MeToo.  

Anger is an emotional response to violation, and moral disorder. It bridges the divide between what is and what ought to be, between a difficult past and an improved possibility. By severing anger from our notion of what good girls ought to behave like, we choose to sever girls from the emotion that best protects them against danger and injustice.

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