I.Normally I sit up frontBut for this classI sit all the way in the back,In the corner.It’s hard for me to see the screenBut it keeps me out of sight& I have a good pulse of the roomIn case the spirit catches meAnd I decide to participate
This happens oftenAnd lately, I notice my professorMisunderstanding my answers,Avoiding eye contact with me,Praying someone else’s hand goes upBut no one’s hand is upAnd no one can see my hand up in the cornerShe sighs, “fine, Valencia”
All eyes turn to me,& I thought I deserved a seat in the classroombut the Brown decision is still a myth.I’m not a threatI’m a studentwho just wanted to take a shot.Statistics don’t intimidate me,I’ve been fighting not to be onemy whole life…But I guess she’s fighting harderjust to stand teaching meI hear her sigh againAnd wonder why she’s so tired of me
II.I’m getting more and moreTired of this womanSlide after slideShe guides membersOf the cohort through statisticsAs painlessly as possible
But after hearing it for the third timeIt’s finally starting to make senseThe gears are turningAnd I power through the exerciseWith my peers
The class reviews,We get to a question and the classIs quite stumpedAfter a few minutes of no responseMy hand slowly creeps into the air“Jasmine,” she says.While looking right at meAlthough Jasmine is also black,She’s on the other side of the roomAnd her hand isn’t raised.
III.I sit quietly waiting for herTo realizeShe’s confused the twoBlack women in the classAnd sit puzzled,Wondering if this is reality
After an awkward silenceShe is corrected byAnother student…The tension in the airMakes it hard to breatheshedoesn’t apologize.I guess she didn’t mean tohurt mebut her intent doesn’tinvalidate her ignorance
She asks me to speak,& like clockworkthe answers flow out of methese words are the thoughts in my head,the air in my lungs
Although it’s a guess,I think I’m on the right trackBut when I speakYou don’t hear me,You don’t even know my name
IV.After calling on otherStudents,She finds herself repeatingMy syntaxI’ve zoned out of this sessionBut I hear“Valencia was actually right”
and it snaps me out of my hazeand into a rage becauseShe doesn’t speak my language,She doesn’t understand my mind
She turned my academic sanctuaryInto a torture chamberJust by simply being in it
I grew up believing that anger was a terrible thing.
Anger was a grown man looming over you with wild eyes, screaming at you for dropping a dish. Anger brought the humiliation of being yelled at in front of friends, teammates, and even other adults who never, ever lifted a finger to protect me. Anger made me wish that he would finally just hit me, because it felt like I deserved it.
Anger also wasn’t for me. The truth was that I was full of anger all the time. I was a little ball of rage, spiteful at a cruel and unfair world where anger was an excuse for a grown man to scream at me over spilled milk, but there was no excuse for my anger. “Jesus wouldn’t want you to be angry,” said my mother to me one day. She didn’t comment on what Jesus would want of the man she married.
No, anger was only for the man of the house. According to family legend, I was a spitfire of a child, full of passion and talkative and angry at older siblings who teased me mercilessly, until one day when I was trying to hit my brother, who is a full nine years older than me, and my dad snuck up behind me and grabbed me by the back of the neck.
Legend has it that I changed that day. I didn’t talk much anymore. I started spending a lot of time in my room. I don’t even remember the fiery little girl they talk about. But I grieve her still.
The anger never really went away, though. I simply hid it until I could lash out at friends, classmates, and, most often, myself. It was never enough. In adolescence, it mixed with depression and anxiety and soon found release in violent fantasies that I feverishly wrote into disturbing fiction that my close friends were unfortunately given to read. Worse, it began to twist into a sense of superiority. In a way, I feel as though I got a taste of what turns white boys and men into mass murderers. I can almost understand.
What saved me was a therapist. When my insomnia got so bad that I broke down into uncontrollable sobs in front of my mother, my poor mental health could no longer be ignored. I was put on antidepressants and sent to see a strange woman who raised her eyebrow at my mom’s excuses and gave me a knowing look. I dreaded every session, but I was in love and determined not to disappoint her. It took me many months to finally figure out that my therapy was for me.
But even then, I kept my anger hidden. We talked about my mom more than my dad. I learned how to manage my anxiety and how to sleep again. I learned that I have intrinsic value as a human being. I learned that no one is allowed to treat me badly. I learned that I had every right to be angry. She was the first person to ever tell me that I didn’t have to forgive anybody if I didn’t want to.
I saw this therapist for two years before I left town for college. I left confident, hopeful, and excited for the future. College was a wonderful time.
But it wasn’t all Bundt cakes and wine coolers. In my hubris, I went off my antidepressants and crashed a month after I had finished tapering off under the supervision of a doctor. In my pride, I didn’t go back on them. I experienced my first heartbreak shortly before I graduated. I had to get a bizarre and terrible-paying job to make it through the rest of my apartment lease before I moved back home.
I met an incredibly passionate, fascinating man who was just as big and hairy as my dad and held his own anger, but never turned it onto me. After we both moved home to the Seattle area, we desperately scoured the internet for jobs at the peak of the Great Recession so we could move out of our parents’ houses and into an apartment together. We slogged through underpaid, emotionally demanding and/or unbearably dull work in order to be together as much as possible.
At one of my unbearably dull jobs, I discovered feminism, and found in it a treasure trove of anger. A rage jackpot. Here was a community of justifiably angry women telling me that I should be angry and handing me terabytes of blogs, Tumblr posts, Facebook rants, books, podcasts, essays, and artwork all full of beautiful, perfect feminine rage. I learned that anger had been denied to women for centuries. It wasn’t just my family. It was almost every family. It was a system and a culture.
This wasn’t just an outlet for my anger. This was a wonderful reason to explore, revel in, and even learn to love my anger.
“You’ve turned into such an angry feminist.”
No, I’ve turned into a feminist. I was always angry.
Then came the day that I flung a glass at the man I love. I did it out of anger. We were fighting about our relationship. It had nothing to do with feminism, but I was angry. He said something that hurt, and there was an empty glass sitting next to me on the couch. I swung my arm, sweeping the glass toward him, sending it flying through the air close to his head.
A few weeks later, I went back to therapy. This therapist was different from my first, but she was just as amazing. She described herself as a feminist therapist. We talked about my dad and about anger. When my boyfriend and I started fighting about anger and what it was and what it meant to me, my feminist therapist told me something simple that changed my life.
Anger isn’t good or bad. Anger is not a moral stance. Anger is a tool. Anger is the alarm system that tells you when you’re being treated badly, when there is an injustice happening, or when someone is not respecting your boundaries. Anger is a motivator that helps you get stuff done, overriding your fear, shouting in your ear that you deserve better. Every one of us owns this tool that, collectively, can move mountains.
Many of us have been told that we’re not allowed to use this tool. It’s not for us. At best, we’re told when to use it, and any use outside of the approved method and target is unacceptable. We all know why. Privileged people have always been terrified of the anger of the oppressed because they know just how powerful it is. They can’t take it from us. But they can tell us that it’s a bad tool. That it’s shameful to use it. That using it without approval makes us bad, even criminal.
Then there are white men, who, like my dad, are allowed to be angry, but don’t know how to use it. They’re full of anger, and the anger alarm won’t stop screeching until you do something about it. So men like my dad turn it onto the closest available scapegoat that can’t fight back. They don’t even know why they’re angry or where the anger is coming from, so they can’t use it effectively. Instead, they use it to hurt people. My dad’s anger exploded chaotically onto his children and we all came away wounded.
I wish somebody had taught my dad about anger before he left me with complex PTSD and generalized anxiety disorder. But I do take some comfort in knowing that I learned to wield my anger in a healthy way. I still channel my anger into passionate, fiery feminist writing that I hope honors the angry little me who was lost from my memories. I use it to push myself past the constant, ever-present fears and demand respect. I use it for the energy I need every day to fight for justice in a world that so sorely lacks it.
And to this day, I preach the miracle of anger. Anger is not a moral failing. Anger is an essential tool for every human being that some would try to deny those they want to oppress. I seek to tell every oppressed, marginalized, and disenfranchised person: Take up your anger as a torch and let it guide you to justice. Like monsters, your oppressors fear its power. Don’t let them convince you that your own anger will hurt you, or that anger in itself is violence. It’s only a tool. Learn to use it and take back what’s yours.
You are sitting in your friend’s car and you both look exhausted.
You have just left an event where women are telling stories about their sexual assaults. You left that event in the gentrified neighborhood that you no longer recognize, and you are in Rogers Park, another neighborhood where gentrification is being claimed in block-sized bites, but tonight, you and your friend Nikki are staring at the dashboard of this parked car as if it is a small universe. Both of you are grieving and venting.
As a friend, I do not feel comfortable telling her story, but I will tell mine and what her advice was to me.
At this point, I am visiting Chicago during spring break and quietly visiting old North Side haunts—The Green Mill, Rogers Park around my alma mater, Wicker Park, and walking around Belmont. It is 2014. I am ABD, an official Ph.D. candidate, and the dissertation is almost done. I am planning to teach and write.
As I’m walking solo in these somewhat familiar streets since I moved out East ten years ago, I miss this place as a woman who is single again and does not want to support someone else’s career. I am weeping because I am tired of being called angry, crazy, and people assuming that I am intimidating. I feel myself literally curling and drooping because I am home. I find myself looking at so many projects and people that I had touched, and I still feel that struggle for recognition, or at least some affection and a better salary.
The longer I talk to Nikki, the more I finally feel compelled to blurt it out. I’m tired of helping these men who move on to someone else. It’s as if they needed what my friend Lauren called “emotional training wheels” until they were done with me. I completed most of the application for the first fellowship one boyfriend got. I typed another’s first manuscript so he could get it to the publisher. Yet another expected me to clean up behind him and never paid a bill on time while he was writing about another woman. I wrote free press releases and updated the press contacts list of the musician with whom I was briefly involved. I just keep telling Nikki never again.
What she suggested was simple. Write it. Write about how angry you are. Write about how unfair it is, and how you’d like them to feel, even if it’s violent. Even if no one ever sees it. You need to do this. As someone who grew up in a house with an abusive father, avoiding my own anger has been tantamount to saying I will be different, but as I’ve gotten older, it’s been more about being “nice” and “professional,” and the ideas of sincerity and loyalty are very different from what they were in the small town where I grew up.
I thought people said thank you, and if you had someone’s back that they had yours.
I thought people would stop asking me about whether or not one of my partners had “helped me write” something, even if I had more publications and degrees than them. I thought people would not be allowed to act like women are dispensable (because there are always more coming), especially when I know I am a human being with unique talents and inherent value. So, yes, I was angry, but instead of yelling, screaming, neck rolling, eye-popping, or even throwing a blow or vandalizing something, I was finally weeping because I have been trying to be strong and never cry and break down in public. Successful people do not do that. That’s what a nervous breakdown looks like, but the reality is such tears are a release of grief and pain.
You see a book that professes to be about the history of women as writers that is written by a woman, but Nina Simone is mentioned in one sentence.
Another woman of color is mentioned in a list of contemporary writers at the end. You ask yourself, was the Combahee River Collective fighting for such slights? You want to throw the book across the room.
How do I begin to talk about how I cursed out loud at the television when I heard women discussing how the pay gap between men and women is not so significant.
I wanted to tell them that my ex-husband and last boyfriend both made more money than me and only had bachelor’s degrees. I want to tell her that even though my husband promised me that we’d have children, I now have none. Unless I find a job post-Ph.D., I will not meet the financial requirements to adopt, much less pay for artificial insemination or freezing my eggs.
I am angry that I cannot make this decision now without someone else being able to withhold a bodily fluid. I am angry that people have insisted that I burned bridges when they stopped speaking to me. I am angry that divorce apparently means that there is some unwritten protocol that makes women (and some men) like me pariahs among people who knew her before the relationship that culminated in a divorce. I have had other divorced friends literally say, “It’s as if people think divorce is contagious and run away.” I am angry that a promise that I only planned to make once was broken casually, like I don’t want to play anymore. I am angry that people have insisted and suggested everything I need to change in order to find someone. You should smile more. You should dye your hair. You should lose weight. You should try online dating. You should do a personals ad. Can’t you be nicer? Can’t you cook more? Can’t you exercise? Have you dated outside your race? The only thing I have been told NOT to do is try Craigslist, and I have no desire to do that.
I think of a friend in college who told me that she was raped by a crush, I look at writing by young women where they describe what people have said girls cannot do, the names that they get called if they try to be attractive or express themselves, or the stories about abusers of all sorts—boyfriends, parents, strangers, and so-called friends.
I understand women who cannot move on like nothing happened. Things have happened and continue to happen, whether they were inflicted on my mother or men in my own life. I find myself counting moments when men are kind without wanting something in return. There are too many times when I have considered myself “lucky” that I was never penetrated without my consent or concern for my comfort. “Lucky” that I have not been frequently cajoled into doing something more than I might want to do. “Lucky” that I was only slapped once and pinned to a bed by a college boyfriend that I lived with, and “lucky” that I was never sexually abused. “Lucky” that a thirteen-year-old boy was only able to halfway cram his hand down my pants before I fought him off at age seven.
As I meet more women with more intensely violent experiences, I imagine that post-traumatic stress disorder is like someone slapping you so hard that your ear keeps ringing. Then again, I kept waking up with nightmares of my own after the divorce, where I was being shaken, laughed at, and pointed at in dreams that left me in tears. No one physically hurt me, and so people say it is not a crisis.
I have found myself turning off Game of Thrones and CSI: SVU where rape is common fodder for the plot line when other women are in the house. Usually, there are not other men in my house, but I know that they may be harboring their own secrets and pain. I am angry for my friends when I change the channel because their stories have been dramatized on a superficial level. I wonder who else is watching, and if they laugh at these scenes. I want justice and healing for each victim I know, but I am also afraid to hear them shaking.
I am watching Kelis’s video for her 1999 single “Caught Out There” since it is one of the pop music representations of anger that stands out in my memory.
This is the video that Nas claims made him want to know his future wife. I want to know why no one asked if he should have reconsidered, but I know that a woman who asserts herself is attractive, even when people do not want to admit that.
When Kelis’s orange and hot-pink corkscrew curls pop into the frame, her face beneath the profusion of curls talks directly to the viewer as she watches doctors desperately attempting to resuscitate a man who is probably her boyfriend. One would think she would look sad or worried, but instead she says:
“Yo, this song, yo, this song is for all the women out there that have been lied to by their men. I know y’all have been lied to over and over again. This song is for you.
Maybe you didn’t break the way you shoulda broke, but I break, you know what I’m sayin? This is how it goes, yo. Damn…”
She offers physical cues of beating this man. While she sings the first verse, his still body lays on the floor, presumably unconscious, as she burns a love letter. She is asking what she is supposed to do when he doesn’t come home. She screams directly into the frame and throws records, books, couch cushions, chairs all over the apartment. “I hate you so much right now” is punctuated with her repeatedly growling arrrrrrrggggghhhh. The next scene shows Kelis in a bathtub looking at Polaroid photos in which her boyfriend is with different women in role-playing outfits in different clubs. Who has not felt like doing some of the things Kelis does in this video when a lover randomly leaves cues of infidelity?
In the next scene with Kelis, her role is a woman in a dank cell in a dark leather straitjacket. The next scene cuts to her with her hair in braids while she’s wearing pink and sitting on the therapist’s couch, and the bruised boyfriend sits in a chair behind her and takes notes. The scene doesn’t shift until she gets up and starts pushing him. Even though Kelis is toying with the idea that an angry woman has mental problems, she is still angry and pushing away this role of a passive analysand where someone who will never be a black woman attempts to fix her.
Gradually, as the video begins to wrap up, women of different races, ethnicities, and ages are marching out of their houses and into the streets with Kelis leading them. They are carrying signs that say “NO!” and “No More Lies!” Some of the women look like mothers and grandmothers, much older, and some of them in church clothes or bathrobes and hair rollers. It makes me think of the older women I know who have told me that times are different now. We do not have to tolerate that same horrible behavior of infidelity, dismissing and omitting women from discussions and benefits in the larger world, and all sorts of abuse. Then again, I keep thinking that women do not have to enact those same behaviors either, which is why I’ve avoided being angry or acting out the fantasies detailed in Jazmin Sullivan’s “Bust Your Windows” or the sadly still relevant imagined violence against police brutality in Audre Lorde’s poem “Power.”
As the accumulated scenes conclude, I realize that the only way I am physically attacking anyone is if they physically attack me. I know I am avoiding beating anyone or vandalizing their property, because I’d just leave. But not everyone leaves, and I understand why they do not, and I understand the anger that does not dismantle male privilege and only temporarily allows one woman to vent about her individual situation. Then, I am reminded of Chris Rock saying he would never hit a woman, but he would shake the shit out of her. It might have been funny, but maybe a man should laugh after someone shakes him.
I have to wonder, what would that anger look like if it was not stereotyped or rendered in creative works?
What if we do not vilify black women as verbally emasculating, sexually available, childishly vindictive, or a stereotypical militant? What if an angry black woman does not have her fist in the air like the horrible 2008 New Yorker parody of Michelle Obama with an afro, a bullet belt, combat boots, and an AK-47 strapped to her back? What if the “angry woman” is silent? What will she look like if she is not crying? That “angry woman” might look like any woman you know.
On my bike, limbs and face open to the elements, I’m slapped by untrimmed branches, scratched by overhanging shrubs, accosted by gnats, and splashed with mud.
Most of the time, I’m grateful for the smell of pine sap and jasmine on my daily commute through the Bay Area. Yet I envy the tiny mobile house called a car, its air-proof chamber, electrical outlets, drink holders, sound system, and incumbent luxury.
I arrive at school, ruffled by a rainstorm. My student wonders why I didn’t drive. When I explain that I’ve never owned a car, they insist I buy a car. Blood rises to my face, and I sputter to respond to an eight-year-old inadvertently shaming me.
Privilege tells itself it’s normal; otherwise, drivers and passengers would be aware of traveling in a bubble of protection, both literal and metaphoric. The message from the student is that I’m lacking or flawed because I don’t use a car. But it’s okay to walk or bike or take the train to work. I resist the presumption that what’s wrong with me is that I’m not more like rich, educated, suburban families. Tempted by shame, I’m also incensed by the message that being marginalized implies something is wrong with me in the first place.
Transit workers pave and repaint a stretch of boulevard near my house, the surface smooth and unbroken by potholes. White lines separating vehicles from pedestrians glow like the moon, as do neon green bike stripes. As I ride toward the port, I’m temporarily exalted, as if nothing can hamper my progress. A pothole has to be gaping for a car to bother swerving around it, more an annoyance than a threat. On a bike, it’s another story. In the industrial sections of Oakland, between antique railroad tracks and pockmarked construction zones, I routinely pop my tire. It takes hypervigilance to slam on the brakes before a hazard.
People with privilege, like those with large tires, don’t even register threats that could take down someone with a marginalized identity. They’re doubtful that “a bump in the road” could disrupt our progress. Dismissing the reality of the obstacle is another way to dismiss the anger. But I remind myself that a bump to some is a cliff to others, disproportionately affecting those who are more vulnerable.
Rules and Regulations
In Fremont, a large suburb, it’s illegal to bike on the sidewalk. However, people honk, curse, and scream, “Get off the road!” to explicitly let me know that I shouldn’t ride in traffic. More often, they accelerate to pass me with a less-than-legal margin. I’m following the law, yet I’m harassed. I fantasize about lashing out. Since I can’t threaten them physically, I imagine spitting on their windshield to show them how it feels to be targeted for no reason. Other than revenge, I don’t know how to reject their ill-placed road rage.
Entitled drivers bully cyclists just as people with white or cis privilege express microaggressions against transgender people and people of color. Positioning themselves as the authority over rules and regulations, passive aggressive (or simply aggressive) drivers chide me for asking to be accommodated, when all I want is to belong.
At major intersections, the bike lane disappears, so I sidle up to the curb protecting pedestrians about to cross from the dedicated right-turn yield lane. A triangle, like the delta from a garbage river, reaches from the crosswalk out into the intersection. Washer, hubcap, sunglasses, battery, bungee cord, hat, palm frond, broom handle, pebbles, shattered glass, bumper, dead squirrels and possums, bolts, nails, and tools—a sample of the detritus that I encounter on the edges of the street. When items hit the central part of the road, cars throw them around until they land near the curb. Crunching through this field, I’m simultaneously frustrated that the margins are structurally worse and dwarfed by the intransigence of the problem.
The nature of designing multilane roads privileges certain regions, such as the center lane, and degrades others, such as the margins and gutters. In order to create equal access to power and mobility, I begin with acknowledging structural inequality, both in the microcosm of city roadways and in the broader context of society. I might seem powerless, but my anger fuels efforts to change the structure.
In a hurry to catch the train, I pull out my phone at a stoplight. A man crossing the sidewalk quips, “Are you texting me, girl?” I’m wearing a long skirt and blouse. I flash him a dirty look, indignant that my clothing itself indicated my availability and signaled my gender. Passing as a woman is a mixed bag. Often, drivers wave me through busy crossings. This considerate treatment comes at the cost of being cast as vulnerable and in need of help, not because I’m on a bicycle, but because I’m read as female. As a sometime femme, I’m treated differently when I’m in boy-mode. A hipster guy admired my bike through the window of his muscle car, “Nice ride, dude.” When I thanked him, he said, “Oops,” as if he’d mistaken me for a man. Overwhelmingly, I fail to pass as nonbinary.
The relationship between my choices in gender presentation and the double-edged sword of privilege have helped me navigate the politics of passing. I believe I control my gender expression. However, that choice is mostly an illusion. I continually remind myself that others will render me legible in a binary gender system, with or without my consent, and being so visible on my bicycle only makes me more aware of their machinations. In these cases, anger is an antidote to embarrassment, politeness, or guilt; a way to externalize transphobia.
Taking the Lane
Although Oakland, Berkeley, Emeryville, and Fremont have been dedicating bike lanes, erecting “Share the Road” signs, and increasing visibility with green paint, there are some sections of roads where I have no choice but to squeeze between parked cars and the right lane. If you don’t bike, you might not appreciate the surge of adrenaline from edging between a delivery truck stopped at the curb and a speeding SUV. The safest option is to “take the lane.” This means riding in the center of the rightmost lane so that cars must fully merge into the left lane in order to pass, as they would with any slow vehicle. Despite the legality of this move, aggrieved drivers accelerate and cut back into the right lane with little clearance.
My anxiety can either lead to giving up entirely on bicycling as too dangerous, or to fury. Anger wins out as I mutter curses at each car that takes advantage of its hugeness and fossil-fueled mobility to intentionally send the message that I don’t belong.
I’m grateful for the lens of bicycling as a way of examining the landscape of mobility and access. It’s sharpened focus on the connections between anger and marginalization. Biking on the literal margins has helped me let go of victim-blaming discourse that dictates I should work harder to get ahead and that anger is a useless, hysterical contaminant. An embodied anger, complete with white-knuckled handlebars, rapid breathing, swearing under my breath, and manic pedaling, has put me in touch with my own vulnerability without the weight of guilt or shame. Bicycling encouraged me to blame those who marginalize me instead of blaming anger itself. On the road, it’s immediate and apparent that I deserve to move safely through the world. I deserve to be accommodated relative to my circumstances. I deserve to take up space, even if it’s along the fringe.
At first he told me he liked my dreadsAnd I hesitated to tell him they weren’t realThen he told me my body looked deliciousWhy did I hesitate to tell him that it wasn’t his meal?
I’m not supposed to let them touch meI’m not supposed to let them seeI don’t suppose it felt that goodI don’t suppose he liked my screamsI’m not supposed to invite them inI’m not supposed to offer a keyI don’t suppose he’s all that smartHe told me to shut up when I already couldn’t breathe
Why don’t black women EVER smileY’all are so much sexier with your lips spreading wideNot to tell or ask or sayBut, when it’s night. When it’s time to ease my day awayThat’s when those lips start to take me to heavenI try to stay coolI try to count each secondI try to stay calmI barely make it to seven…
I smileI doI smile at children and flowers and loversI smile at animals and skies and mothersI smile all the timeYou can trust that I doI just won’t ever smile at you.
Why do you call me babygirlWhen Truth told me that I’m A WomanWhy do you call me out my nameWhy do you think that i’ll believe that i’m nothing
Why do you make fun of my dreamsWhy make my future seem impossibleWhen an Angel already rose from the deadJust to tell me that I’m Phenomenal
Your words may scratch other womenBut they’ll never lay a hand on meBecause my ancestors’ loveGot to me firstIsn’t it obviousShit, I know you see.
Is it my scent that’s luring youDo you know about my secret tooIf so, then there’s nothing i can doI am only one, but my body is built for twoActually, my body is built for a fewBut today, none of those few are youNor is it my baby boy’s blueNor is it my baby girl’s cooNope, not this moon – nothing newNothing growing, nothing bubbling, nothing to stewParty of one, yes only one in my crewNo other color but red will doBut this, this, this you already knewThat’s why you approached me with a promise of trueBut a promise will turn sour and then to untruthI’ll grow into my mother waiting on youOoops, i said it – mother – those words twisted your smile askewMother me, mother my, M-O-T-H-E-R-F-U-That’s what they’ll shout until their lungs give throughWhich one will they come running toLove They Will Who?
I don’t like being angry. To me, it feels unnatural. Something at odds with my personality.
I’m mostly extroverted, friendly, fun-loving, and kind. I don’t enjoy situations that cause stress. But I’m also opinionated, confident, and stubborn. If I believe I’m right about an issue, the least I can do is talk about it. Make other people notice there is something wrong that needs to be addressed. And this makes avoiding stress and anger difficult.
However, there is another, a more fundamental reason I don’t like being angry. Because I often find I’m not allowed to express it. I’m not talking about laws, but rather the threat of negative consequences.
Recently, my dad told me to shut up. We were in a cab, and the driver had pissed me off. He was commenting on the poor driving skills of a—gasp!—female student driver passing us by in her car. The cab driver said that women, as intelligent as they might be, made for horrible drivers. Yes, all women, according to him. You can bet I was angry.
Later, I told my dad off for warning me not to express my opinion. His defense, while infuriating, was realistic. He said we didn’t know that cab driver, and he could be a psycho.
While my dad wasn’t telling me to keep quiet because I am a woman, I was furious because this is not the first time I’ve had to, or been told to, not act or talk back in anger.
Growing up, I learned the value of diplomacy. If I got mad at my dad, I would share with my mom. If I got mad at my mom, I’d share with my dad. More often than not, what angered me also angered them about each other. So I had a shoulder to cry on and an ear to complain to.
Naturally, there were also times when I got mad at both of them, or they were both cross with me. Then my diary would come in handy. Because, let’s face it, you couldn’t yell at your parents for as long and as much as you wanted without consequences. No matter how right you thought you were, they controlled your social life, curfew, and allowance. They had the means and authority to make your life hell if they so chose. I carried these home-taught lessons of diplomacy to school with me.
I mentioned not being shy. However, I’m very rational. I weigh not only the pros and cons of my actions, but also potential consequences, negative and positive. That’s why I only argued with my teachers enough to make my opinion heard, but not to the extent that would warrant a visit to the principal’s office. I chose to rebel slightly with my uniform by making my skirt shorter or wearing shirts in colors not listed in the dress code. I talked in class when I could get away with it. I didn’t study only when I knew mediocre grades wouldn’t affect my future.
Yet, there was always a sense of uneasiness. After all, I couldn’t be fully myself without getting in trouble. My rebellions were safe. For instance, if my dad thought a skirt was too short, I’d wear it behind his back. I was thinking that once high school was over, I wouldn’t need to exercise so much diplomacy and self-control when it came to anger. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
College more or less operated on the same principles. Forget full-blown arguments: you couldn’t openly disagree with your teacher without ending up with a worse grade.
While I am aware this kind of struggle is not necessarily gender-related, it only adds up. Boys in school, for instance, didn’t have to deal with teachers (or parents) telling them their skirts were too short. Ironically, most of us wore them short because the school had granted its teachers the authority to comment on it. Had they been less involved with the length of our uniform, or how we did our hair, we wouldn’t have acted out so much. After all, a choice taken away from you, no matter how trivial, is one more thing outside of your control over your own life.
All that pent-up frustration accumulates through the years. “That lipstick is too dark.” According to what? “Those pants are too tight.” Why does the width of my pants matter to anyone but me? But society loves putting its nose where it doesn’t belong.
Since I’m a woman, I have to stay calm not to escalate things. I have to keep calm so I don’t anger a potential assaulter. I have to remain calm rejecting men or dealing with strangers. Just in case.
Growing up, I used to think that life in the U.S. would be easier. I naively based this perception on the movies I saw, which weren’t exactly unnerving true stories. They were romantic comedies and fun action films. To me, the U.S. represented more individual freedom and more options. A country where I’d feel more at home being myself. Moreover, I wanted to work as a screenwriter, and Hollywood was my dream destination.
Don’t get me wrong, I still want to live in the States. My screenwriting dreams persist. I’m just more informed than I used to be. More political. And I’m scared free speech is not as valued and sacred there as I was led to believe it was.
I often envy my American friends—men and women alike. They get to be critical of the government on their social media. My writer colleagues pen emotional and honest opinion pieces. But when it comes to pitching my own stories about the United States, I am scared. I have deleted several story pitches before they found their way into editor inboxes. Because what if they like it, the story gets published, and it is used as a way to reject a visa or other more permanent applications to live in the country?
If you are wondering why I’m trying to come to a country I no longer believe to be perfect, it is because I’m in my thirties. I am painfully aware that no country is. And I love many things about the U.S., the entertainment industry topping that list.
Of course, I’m angry about the state of the entertainment industry too. I’m angry Harvey Weinstein got away with all his crimes for as long as he did. And he is not exactly suffering for it either. I’m angry Louis C. K. got a comeback so soon after what he did, and it was deemed no biggie by many of his fans and friends.
I’m angry about the latest Supreme Court Justice. I’m angry people thought it was okay to give a guy with his temperament, and his obvious Republican partisanship, a permanent seat with such power. Even without the accusations against him, how he handled the entire ordeal should have been a gigantic warning sign. It wasn’t.
I’m angry writing this might prevent me from getting into the country, since many Republicans see immigrants as a nuisance at best and criminals at worst, unless we are from Northern Europe. I’m angry on behalf of my women friends living in the U.S. because the current two-party system puts their bodily autonomy up for debate. I’m angry that a writer wanting to help other women by making a list of potentially dangerous men in media gets sued for it.
So what can I do about this anger? I can no longer keep it in check. Instead, I can write about it. I can, and I will, talk about it. I can share stories with others who are afraid but expressing themselves anyway. Maybe slowly, we will all be less afraid of our own anger. And when we stand our ground, the consequences won’t be negative. We will finally see permanent, positive change.