Last month, our Sanskaari Girls Book Club collaborated with Bibliotherapy, a monthly book club for mental health related books and a safe space for sharing run by Apurupa Vatsalya and Sneha Rawlani. We hosted a workshop and dialogue around a book exploring female rage. Two participants, Rishika Agarwal and Sasha Patel share their reflections from the day.
How many reasons do women have to rage? Let us count the ways…
Hosted by the Sanskaari Girls Book Club in collaboration with Bibliotherapy, the mental health and feminism workshop – aptly titled after the book under discussion by author Soraya Chemaly – ‘Rage Becomes Her’ was an afternoon of recognising the importance of female anger.
Outrage, indignation, resentment – no matter what the title placed on it is, Chemaly’s book makes the unarguable point that while anger may be an essential emotion for humans, in women, it has been systematically suppressed towards the cause of traditional femininity. While it is an emotion that is valorised in men, in women, it is treated as the wicked step-emotion – one that must be done away with as soon as possible, and if that doesn’t work, disguised with a more acceptable emotion.
The discussions provoked by the activities ranged from personal experiences to the multiple misogynistic ways women’s anger is represented in our everyday lives. From religious depictions, at the workplace, in popular culture, the multitude of ways in which the idea of “good” women are perceived as calm, quiet and passive is drilled into us and ironically crosses all intersections we have as women, but still culminates in the same idea – that women cannot be angry. There was something therapeutic in hearing similar and relatable experiences shared by everyone, which not only showed us that we are not alone, but also rightfully validated our emotions.
In discussing Chemaly’s book, the workshop became a space brimming with rage, as anecdotes and experiences formed the meat of the conversation that took place. Every theoretical point was met with the telling of lived experience, ones that served to move participants to a single question: Why?
- Why is women’s anger – and the anger of other marginalised genders – suppressed?
- Why do we water down our emotions, hiding our anger and rage behind euphemisms?
- Why do we often not confront the experiences that are at the bottom of our anger?
- Why do we accept the task of going about our daily life, filled with a well of anger that can never be emptied?
One of the strongest moments of the workshop came when participants were asked to note down at least 3 different causes of anger within themselves, under the groupings of body, sexuality, relationships, professional life, public spaces, health and other. Emotional labour in relationships came up as one of the core reasons for anger, serving as a pointed reminder of the hidden costs of being a member of a marginalised gender in society.
In talking about marginalised anger, an important topic discussed was exploring outlets for that anger. In her book, Chemaly makes the argument that even in the case of women’s repressed anger, power dynamics are constantly at work – women use their other privileges (race, class, etc.) to “punch down” at other women. As such, their anger erupts towards other women rather than necessarily towards what has made them angry.
The discussion at the workshop also brought up the fact that in many ways women can often redirect their power sideways instead of confronting its cause. This can be seen when power dynamics in the Indian context can override gender dynamics – for example anger towards one’s grandparents cannot be expressed due to “the respect gap”. Interestingly, this situation can also be seen in environments where women redirect anger onto other women they perceive to have less power than them, such as maids or other individuals with lower social status. Instead of confronting the cause of the anger, the power structure continues within the gender binary, highlighting the role of other factors such as caste and class when it comes to addressing female anger. However, gender overrides many other traditional power dynamics – several mothers of adult sons made the point that expressing anger towards their sons often requires a lot more thought out of them than expressing it towards grown daughters.
Ultimately, the workshop created a strong space of solidarity and understanding amongst the participants. Through sharing personal experiences and analyses of anger, the multitude of ways in which we perceive and express anger became normalised. Addressing topics from the book, which provoked an honest and interesting discussion helped pinpoint, the nuances of female anger, thus building an outlet for feelings of anger that is otherwise often impossible. It is only in expressing our rage that we can begin to face the reasons motivating it.
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