Anger. Wrath. Rage. These are the emotions we see more often from women in the spotlight. And yet these public displays of fury challenge our notion of what it means to be feminine and are uncomfortable for many. The amount of coverage received by Grace Tame’s side-eye of the Prime Minister shows the attention is given when they occur and the controversy that accompanies them. Unfortunately, most of the publicity is centred on the act rather than the message behind it. It is not the flash of the eye that should be the focus, but the flash of the fierce feminine that should be acknowledged and celebrated. For anger is not pretty, but it is essential.
Throughout history and across cultures, furious and fearless females have served as role models for women and girls. Bellona was the goddess of war in ancient Rome, and Athena shared the same title in ancient Greece. In Mesopotamia, Tiamat was crowned the “chaos monster”, and in Scandanavia, if you visited the goddess Hel, well, you got what you deserved. The Iranian goddess Gordafarid defeated an invading army to protect her homeland. Vietnam’s Princess Lieu Han represents the best of female power but was banned by communist regimes. In Egypt, Bast protected her father from snakes by transforming into a cat. And in South America, Ixchel oversaw both war and childbirth, two activities with surprisingly common characteristics. Even Buddhism has a range of wrathful dakinis who use their ferocity to protect and teach. Here is one dancing on a corpse, representing the death of ignorance and ego.
I did not grow up with any such examples. The sauciest idol I had was Anne of Green Gables (I kid you not). I was taught that the only allowable emotion was happiness, and even then, it must be tempered to prevent undue attention. So, somewhere after antiquity, the fierce feminine role models disappeared. Perhaps the correct explanation is that they were drowned, burnt, incarcerated, isolated and suppressed. The rise of a pusillanimous paternalistic regime transformed the feminine into a uni-dimensional, placid being. Fierce goddesses were replaced with women in sublime support roles. Mother Mary came to extol the virtues of womanhood, and there was no way you would hear that virgin raising her voice!
It is just so interesting to see how much damage a group of insecure guys in rings and robes can wreak on the world. After World War II, this dehumanisation of women was further entrenched, with the ‘feminine mystique’ used as an excuse to dissuade participation in all spheres except the home. Angry women were believed to be weak – not strong enough to bear their “natural” role as homemakers. Their frustration was subdued with tranquilisers and distracted by material possessions. Read more about this in the article What Happened to Feminism?
However, there is one thing that the perpetrators of pacification did not count on – that sooner or later, the natural will always win over the normal. Yes, it is possible to manufacture gender stereotypes that show women as timid, soft, nurturing and submissive, which we have the absolute ability to be. But the opposite of this image still exists and wills to be set free. You only must guess how long will it take or what the trigger will be for the rage to burst through the bounds of unnatural and yet socially acceptable behaviour.
Just think about it. A lioness is the perfect picture of serenity when she is lazing in the sun in a safe environment with a full belly.
But dare to get between her and her cubs, and you see a wrathful protector at work. You see love roar and see the feminine in all of its menacing, frightful force.
God help the animal who gets in the way of her fundamental needs. She is not afraid to get bloody in the process.
This aggression is celebrated in the wild. And yet, when the females of the human species play it out, we are accused of being “aggressive” and dismissed as emotional. Here’s the thing. Yes, we are emotional. We are carrying centuries of oppression on our shoulders, of our ancestors, our grandmothers, mothers, and sisters. We are holding the pain of centuries of violence against women and children in our hearts, and each new story about another loss of a precious soul creates more hurt. The pressure has been building for generations, and we don’t want the same for our daughters. Each generation that passes creates more anger and fire, so we should not be surprised when the volcano erupts. Instead of a lioness, you hear a woman roar.
Unlike we have been led to believe, anger is not a sinister emotion in itself. Anger can help or harm, depending on how it is used.
According to Jim Dethmer, anger is actually a message that we all need to heed. It tells us that something is no longer of service and must be changed. It does not demand we demean ourselves for its presence but calls on us to grow by:
- Eliminating old behaviours or relationships
- Establishing or enforcing boundaries
- Learning to say “no”.
So, the women you see expressing anger are not just being troublesome. They are actually acting out these lessons. They are seeking growth through:
- Changing the narrative of what it means to be a woman – reclaiming our fierce feminine and providing permission for emotions to take their rightful place at the table
- Enforcing the basic boundaries of safety and respect that have been neglected by those with the power and resources to fix them
- Saying (or shouting) a very clear “no” – that the current policies are not good enough and that inaction by decision-makers will no longer be tolerated.
I believe displays of honest anger are constructive and actually need to occur for two reasons:
- They make it absolutely clear that ‘enough is enough. It is a strong and effective form of communication. There is nothing clearer than the roar of a lioness to tell you that you better reconsider your next step.
- It seems to be the only language our politicians understand. If you have watched question time lately, you will see the verbal violence and aggressive gestures thrown around the room. You will see the leaning, finger-pointing and back-turning. They set very good examples of anger in action. However, while our elected representatives undertake such aggressive gestures to intimidate and belittle, the angry women you see on the podiums are acting out of fierce love.
I am so heartened whenever I see a woman in the public eye get angry or cry. Because it also gives me permission to do the same – to be my whole 3-D self, and not just a paper cut out of other people’s ideas. I finally have role models that pave the way for me to express myself genuinely and completely and no longer be embarrassed at my emotions. At last, I have other women that say it is ok to be angry. I must be clear, though, that I am in no way condoning behaviour that hurts or harms another in the expression of this anger.
I believe emotions are essential for the messages they send to ourselves and others. They are also the essential foundation for action. As the Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) model shows, it is emotion that drives action. Without emotion, you only have disengagement and apathy. Perhaps this was known all along by the paternalistic structures which sought to subdue the expression of emotion – it was an effective means of societal control!
What we need now is not more women shaming each other for politically incorrect behaviour. We need other women to care less about being politically correct or pretty and more about protecting women and children from disrespect, violence, and ingrained inequity. We need women to care less about being labelled aggressive and more about the deadly consequences of apathy.
But we need women to play by their rules – not by playing the guys’ game of domination, intimidation and power, but by bringing love, fierce love into the battle.
You can read more in my article – Are You Acting From Love Or Fear?
 Dethmer, J., Chapman, D Leadership. and Klemp, K., n.d. The 15 Commitments Of Conscious.