Welcome to the renaissance of female rage

Written by Chloe Laws

Female rage is finally being heard, and not just on the fringes, but through mainstream TV, film and literature. 

I was asked recently when I last allowed myself to get angry. Properly angry, in an uncontrolled, justifiable but not exactly justified way. I didn’t have an answer because I don’t remember. 

I remember times I’ve been called angry, sure. But a time where I just let the rage out without censoring it, without making it more palatable? A time when I was allowed to simply feel my anger? Nothing came to mind. This is sad because anger is just as human as any other emotion and as important to express as joy, love or fear. Granted, anger can be toxic when expressed badly, but it is not inherently bad nor is it, contrary to what we’ve been told, inherently male.

Society has long given a pass to men expressing anger, chalking it up to genetics or a side-effect of power and strength. What’s worse, it also twists a whole array of other emotions to fit under one angry umbrella; disappointment, jealousy, embarrassment or frustration don’t exist, just anger. All the while, women have been dubbed the ‘more emotional’ gender when expressing anything. We are scolded for feeling; our emotions are beaten down as a form of patriarchal control, as we watch men glide through life freely expressing their rage without so much as a second glance.

Male rage is strong, necessary and a means to an end. Female rage? That shouldn’t exist; it’s not ladylike. It needs to be caged up and silenced because women must be polite, agreeable and ‘nice’ at all times. We must submit to anger but not feel it ourselves, and if we dare let a bit of anger slip out, we will be dubbed rude, uncooperative or difficult.

These are some of the lies we have been consciously and unconsciously told our whole lives. But something is changing. A rebirth. A renaissance of female rage. And like all renaissances, it starts with art. 

In the last two years, I’ve noticed a shift in TV, film and literature. Female rage is being heard, and not just on the fringes, but through mainstream media.

Disney’s new She-Hulk: Attorney A Law is one of the latest shows to address it. In a now-famous scene, Jen (aka She-Hulk) tells Bruce (aka Hulk): “Well, here’s the thing, Bruce: I’m great at controlling my anger. I do it all the time. When I’m catcalled in the street, when incompetent men explain my own area of expertise to me. I do it pretty much every day because if I don’t, I’ll get called ’emotional’ or ‘difficult’ or might just literally get murdered. So I’m an expert at controlling my anger because I do it infinitely more than you.” 

Now, we are all aware that Disney is hardly a winning feminist brand, but even it has caught on to the rise in the representation of Angry Women. 

Other TV series have focused on female rage more comprehensively, with ​​Phoebe Waller-Bridge leading the charge. In both Fleabag and her writing on the show Killing Eve, she has articulated anger to the masses; there’s a rage-filled monologue on pain in Fleabag by Belinda (Kristin Scott Thomas) that has stuck with me ever since: “Women are born with pain built in. It’s our physical destiny – period pains, sore boobs, childbirth. We carry it within ourselves throughout our lives. Men don’t. They have to seek it out. They invent all these gods and demons so they can feel guilty about things, which is something we do very well on our own. And then they create wars so they can feel things and touch each other, and when there aren’t any wars they can play rugby. We have it all going on in here, inside.”

There is a collective catharsis happening on our screens, with women finally being given the opportunities to write, direct and act with agency, real stories and real rage is coming through. Kevin Can F**K Himself, I May Destroy You, Shrill, Yellowjackets, Mare Of Easttown, Candy, Promising Young Woman. Who can forget Rosamund Pike’s delivery of this line from Gone Girl: “Cool girl. Men always use that, don’t they?As their defining compliment. She’s a cool girl. Cool girl is hot. Cool girl is game. Cool girl is fun. Cool girl never gets angry at her man. She only smiles in a chagrin, loving manner and then presents her mouth for fucking. She likes what he likes.” 

Most of these shows, however, have white leads. Black women have not yet been afforded the same privilege or platform to express their anger and are more harshly judged, with ‘angry Black woman’ stereotypes continuing to persist (on and off screen). 

This rage renaissance is happening most significantly through literature. A glance at my bookshelf is evidence of that, from Lisa Taddeo’s Animal and Megan Nolan’s Acts Of Desperation to Oyinkan Braithwaite’s My Sister, The Serial Killer and Jacqueline Harpman’s I Who Have Never Known Men, colour-coded jackets line my living room in yellow, pinks and oranges screaming to be heard. There are classics like Naomi Alderman’s The Power, which tell stories of female rage artfully, but these novels are lone wolves and not a genre. In recent years, you’ve been able to find lists entitled ‘books from angry women’ on Good Reads or sections in indie bookshops dedicated to stories about ‘badly behaved’ women.

This feminine rage all has something in common – it’s reactionary. Women and other marginalised identities are angry because of the misogyny we’ve endured, the everyday sexism we have shouldered, the double standards, the toxic masculinity hurting all genders, the harrowing statistics and the reality of male violence against women. The realities of living in this world as a woman.

Our rage is not new, but being able to express it safely is, and we’re not there yet. I wish we didn’t need to be angry at the world, but we do. I hope that one day we’re able to be angry and write stories about that anger, for no other reason than we feel it and we want to. Female rage, for now, continues to be an act of protest. Imagine if we could just feel it, and express it, like men are able to? What a renaissance that would be. 

Images: Getty

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