Sunday, November 4, 2018

"Rage Becomes Her" by Soraya Chemaly

This past summer, I heard about several new books coming out in the fall, dealing with the subject of women & anger. I assumed the surge of interest in this topic stemmed from the 2016 U.S. election and what has transpired since then.

The first book I saw & bought from this list was "Rage Becomes Her: The Power of Women's Anger" by Soraya Chemaly. I started reading it the week of the Kavanagh confirmation hearings -- and Christine Blasey Ford's powerful testimony to the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee. Timely or what?

The pages of my copy are covered in yellow post-it notes and dog-eared (when no post-its were handy).

The message of "Rage Becomes Her" is that women are angry -- that we have a right to be angry -- and that we shouldn't be afraid of that anger, or suppress it (as the powers that be would prefer).  Instead, Chemaly encourages us to listen to our anger, and use it productively as a tool to fight against injustice (both personal and political) and create positive change.

"Rage Becomes Her" is an exhaustive, well-researched and well-documented recounting of the many reasons WHY women might feel anger & rage, how that anger & rage has traditionally manifested itself, and the resulting consequences.  It covers a broad spectrum of topics under that umbrella:  how boys and girls are taught from an early age to manage and view anger in different ways, how anger manifests itself physically in women's bodies, "the caring mandate" and how women wound up taking care of everyone else around them, harassment and power dynamics, everyday sexism and discrimination, the importance of women's speech and women's stories,  #MeToo, and (yes) Donald Trump (among other things).  In the final chapter, "A Rage of Your Own," Chemaly suggests ways to develop "anger competence" -- (as opposed to "anger management" -- which implies that anger must be controlled or reined in).

Most interesting from an ALI perspective -- there is an entire chapter on "mother rage" -- the issue of anger as it pertains not only to motherhood but a broad range of reproductive issues -- including birth control, the complex entanglement of "woman" and "mother,"  pregnancy-related complications and deaths, post-partum depression, maternal ambivalence and regret, abortion rights -- AND infertility, loss and both voluntary and involuntary childlessness.

There was much in this chapter that resonated.  These reflections about childfree women could also apply to those of us for whom childlessness was not our first choice:
Despite pressures and objections, more women today are deliberately choosing not to have children than ever before. A child-free woman is never given the freedom from social opprobium that a child-free man is, however. The choice not to have children inevitably means being shamed, insulted, and even bullied, often by family members.  Women who make this decision have to deal with insensitive "jokes," most hiding a genuine discomfort and hostility, about ticking clocks, being cat ladies, or not being "real" women. And people, apparently unable to see themselves clearly in a mirror, ask why more women today are choosing to be child-free. (p. 113)
And there's this passage:
The pressure women feel to be mothers or to fulfill ideals of maternal care, however, is perhaps most powerful, onerous, and painful for women who experience infertility, pregnancy loss, or the death of a child. These experiences can be filled with sadness, exhaustion, guilt, and remorse that are compounded by crushing social silence around loss.  
Roughly 10 per cent of women in the United States experience infertility, and a large number pursue lengthy, physically grueling, and expensive procedures to conceive. Anger can feel like a constant companion in the face of frustration with your body, financial stresses, and the unintentional insensitivity of friends, family, and strangers. It is an almost certain and predictable outcome of dealing with endless tests, schedules, sex on demand, insurance requirements, and interference with work.  (pp. 114-115)
And this:
Women often endure infertility, pregnancy, infant loss, miscarriages, and stillbirths in isolation, because while sadness is a socially palatable response to these often life-altering events, rage, frustration, jealousy, and guilt are not. Some women are able to respond to miscarriages with little or no grief. However, many feel deep despair, with some saying that their feelings of anger and sadness far exceed what most people understand. It is common for women to feel as though they are careening between anger, envy, and sadness from day to day. It is very difficult to talk about how angry and full of shame these losses can make us. When having a baby is seen as a type of success, then not having a baby is a failure that can fill us with feelings of inadequacy. (p. 115) 
(There's more -- read for yourself!)

I also thought of the ALI community while reading a discussion of "just world" theory, which I remember several bloggers (Mel? Pamela?) have written about:
System justification is the name given to the emotional and cognitive process that kicks in when a person encounters information or behaviors that challenge their sense of self and world view.  According to system justification and what is called just-world theory,  when evidence suggests the world is not a just place, people with this orientation seek to reassert fairness either by ignoring dissonant information or by blaming people for the ills that befall them. (p. 232)
(Sound familiar?)

I don't think women will find this book too surprising, overall.  On the other hand, I'm pretty sure that most men would learn a few things, if they bothered to read it. (They should.)("If men knew how truly angry the women around them often are -- and understood the structures enforcing women's silence -- they would be staggered,"  Chemaly writes (p.xix).)  For me, personally -- as someone who finds it very difficult to express anger openly, and usually winds up dissolving into tears of frustration (albeit I've noticed I'm becoming less inhibited as I age...!) -- it was familiar territory -- and yet still full of ah-ha/lightbulb/"click" moments, as well as validating moments of recognition and "me too."

I gave"Rage Becomes Her" five stars on Goodreads.  This is an important and timely book that deserves to be widely read, discussed and acted upon.

Related books in my gargantuan TBR pile:
And, coming soon: 
This was book #22 that I've read so far in 2018, bringing me to 92% of my 2018 Goodreads Reading Challenge goal of 24 books.  I am (for the moment, anyway...!) 2 books ahead of schedule to meet my goal. :)


  1. Dear Loribeth, you really read a lot!! Congratulations :)
    Thanks for sharing your impression about the book. I hadn't heard about it before. I think it is good to become aware that also women are allowed to get angry, although we are mostly educated to repress this feeling!

    1. I actually don't read as much as I used to! :( I blame the Internet. ;)

  2. Ooh, this is one I want to read now. Thanks for the review!

  3. I know I should read this, but I've been so angry the last year, I'm not sure I can!