Letting out our rage would benefit ourselves and other women, says Lucy Mangan.
I lose my temper about once a year. And, therefore, almost never at the right time. I snap – in all senses of the word – when the weight of my accumulated rage becomes too much for even my heavily worked repression muscles to bear. The most recent breach in my emotional dam was last week in the swimming pool when a woman berated me for accidentally straying three inches into her lane. Another day I would have apologised, laughed, or swum away in silent – such silent! – fury. That day I unleashed my year’s worth and she was the one who backed away.
So, it’s through this prism that I viewed the recent controversy sparked by Serena Williams’ outburst at the US Open final in which, after (she felt unjustly) being accused of cheating by the umpire and penalised for smashing her racquet, she berated him for being “a liar” and demanded an apology. She later also called him “a thief” (for docking her a game) and “sexist” in his reaction to her objections (because male tennis players have historically been cut much more slack for crossing judges). I didn’t think she was right, in that instance, but I did understand that anger can still be righteous even if the trigger is not.
Just how much Serena has to be angry about was proved by the attention she garnered in the wake of her flare-up. Commentators rushed to defend the umpire and/or any notion that sport could be sexist, especially when such a privileged star player was involved. Others reckoned that #MeToo had infected her with the notion that even she, a multimillionaire super-talent, was a victim – and that by association all women secretly aspire to victimhood. Articles were often illustrated with pictures apparently chosen to capture her at the most facially contorted during her argument.
Female rage, the message was clear, is literally ugly. And one cartoonist in Australia drew her in caricature, in a style that resembled the racist Sambo cartoons of the early 20th century, jumping on her racquet in uncontrolled fury. His claim that the caricature was not racist might have carried more weight if he hadn’t also depicted her brown-skinned, brunette opponent Naomi Osaka (who has Haitian and Japanese parents) in the background as a blonde-haired white woman, being asked by the umpire, “Can you just let her win?”
It’s all there. Women are not supposed to give vent to their feelings. And the more norms they are already violating – by being black, or rich, or talented, or famous – the less right they have to do so and the more severely they will be punished for it. On a smaller scale, we might get reputations for being ‘difficult’ at work, and excluded from promotions. At home, it might breed further anger in a man bigger, stronger and more willing to express himself physically than us.
To get angry, safely and effectively, you need to be confident in yourself and to know that you are respected – and therefore protected – by the world around you. These are two things that women as a class lack.
But individually, I suspect we could all let out a bit more rage without coming to harm, and in doing so benefit ourselves and other women. Every time we stand up for ourselves, or shout back, we shift the boundary a little. We teach ourselves and those around us that things can be done differently.
I’m going to try and dip my toes in the rage pool more often. Join me – we might just find the water’s lovely.