I’ve wanted to write about anger for a long time. And I mean that both in terms of wanting to have that as a central theme in my books and plays, but also to write a piece about why this is important to me. And why exonerating female anger from shame is a critical motivation.
Anger is the central theme in my new book, Darkness. And, specifically, female anger. I fully expect it to get a bumpy ride for, oh, a whole host of reasons. The violence, the trauma, the subject matter, the fury… But principally because this is a slam dunk for anyone who wants to mock an angry woman with an angry book.
And you know what, I am angry.
I am angry about a lot of things. Of course, I am. I am a woman. And when you’re a woman, there’s a shit load of reasons to be angry. There is not a single aspect of my life where I am not pressured in some way to diminish myself, to take up less room, to downplay my brilliance, to destroy my self-worth. But am I ‘allowed’ to be angry about this? Hell, no.
The need for male validation and approval is a message that is continually reinforced in women. The need to keep men onside, not to alienate them or hurt their feelings. That women must be sensitive to upsetting men – and not just in the fear of any violent response, but also the implicit requirement to keep male interests and needs as a primary concern.
It is crucial that we acknowledge how successful the patriarchy has been in shaming any woman who gives voice to her anger. The stereotypical angry woman… I mean, I don’t have to waste time on this because we know the archetype. We know how angry women are portrayed in our press and our society. We know this. We are mocked and marginalised.
But that anger doesn’t disappear. Just because we are told it’s unacceptable, it doesn’t mean that it vanishes. So where does it go?
Society demands women internalise their anger.
Manipulators, such as media and misogynistic power structures, work hard to ensure that we turn our anger in on ourselves – we must blame ourselves for supposed imperfections, we must blame ourselves for our lack of courage in shouting back, for not asking for a pay rise, for not demanding to be heard, for not walking out on our abusers, for having too much to drink, for not wearing the right clothes, for not asking the right questions, for never ever being quite good enough… This is a level playing field, they tell us. Don’t you see? Don’t you see all the rights you have? Look at the law book – it’s illegal to discriminate. It’s your fault. Yours alone. You’ve just got to try harder.
It’s bullshit. What they tell us is bullshit. And they know it.
But they have denied us the acceptability of our anger. Their gaslighting and their lies have robbed us of our truth, and it has robbed us of the right to be angry.
It is an oppressor who wilfully exploits and violates others, then denies them the right of protest. It is noticeable that oppressors – largely white men – look to frame any challenge to their dominance by scorning and criticising any civil unrest, any disobedience in the protests from the oppressed. The onus is placed on those exploited to remain peaceful. The onus is placed on us to keep the anger in check, to pursue peaceful methods. To participate in peaceful discussions.
They say this because they can control a peaceful debate; this can be managed. They get to control and manage what power they delegate. Only we must remember that nothing short of rebellion has ever secured any civil rights.
So it’s a concern that there’s very little militancy accompanying our anger these days.
Prior to Darkness, I spent a long time working on a television series and play about the Pankhursts – dramas on the deep schism that the militant suffragette movement drove into the heart of this tight family unit. Now, you want to talk about angry women? Let’s talk about the suffragettes.
Their campaign of civil disobedience and rebellion remains a marker. They were a pioneering civil rights movement that inspired motivation and method to others across the world, and for decades ever after. A recognisable uniform, media manipulation, public acts of protest, organised acts of violence that would garner public attention and sympathy, deliberate attacks on private property and high profile targets, demagoguery… A template for many to follow.
Yet not for women, it seems. It’s been a hundred years since we reaped the dividends of the sacrifice of the thousands of suffragettes who suffered police brutality and state-sanctioned violence to get us the vote. We have made little progress since.
We are not equal citizens – not by a long shot. We don’t have bodily autonomy, the government enables companies to treat us as cheap labour (even though that is illegal), and the rape and violation of our own bodies is met with little more than a collective shrug.
So where’s the rioting? Why are we not bringing cities to a standstill with our demonstrations? Where are the stone-throwers? Where is the chalking up of pavements?
There’s an element of nuance, for sure. The double-burden of raising children and paying to keep a roof over our heads leaves little time for wider issues. What we have to do to survive can make civil rights seem a luxury. Perhaps there’s also a sense of defeat. Would anyone listen if we did pick up the hammers and start smashing shop windows again?
But, principally, we have been conditioned to fear militancy. We have been conditioned to feel ashamed every time we boil over with rage. And we have been conditioned to fear reprisals and consequence.
Imagine the outcry now if women bombed Philip Hammond’s second house? Or the fallout from women throwing an axe at Theresa May’s convoy? That is what the suffragettes did to their politicians. Can you even get your heads around the febrile vilification that would come our way now if we did the same? And there may be a statue of Emmeline Pankhurst at Westminster now but they imprisoned her for incitement at the time, and I have no doubt that anyone who followed in her steps would be treated the same all over again.
We have not come far in a hundred years. Not in our treatment of women, and not in the way we treat women who protest.
That’s why rage courses through my veins. And that is why I wrote a book that takes misandry as a completely understandable reaction to the world and conditions in which women are forced to exist, and ramps up the militancy to unprecedented levels.
Somewhat ironically, I had a lot of fear about publishing the book. A story where female terrorists lay waste to a patriarchal state… Well, you’re gonna expect a bit of a backlash there. And I fully expect one to materialise as the PR ramps up. But here’s the thing – I’m right.
I’m right to be angry, I’m right that this anger is directed primarily at men and their behaviour, and I’m right that society (in all its patriarchal might) has ensured that female anger is to be mocked and maligned to such an extent that it becomes the shame of women to be angry, rather than the shame of men that they treat women the way they do.
My anger is a valid emotion and I am not ashamed.
I spent a long time trying to downplay my own anger, even to myself, but this is what I want to explore now, to examine in all my writing, and to give voice and strength to women who feel the same.
If I thought for one second that me chaining myself to the railings outside Parliament would make a difference, I would do it. If there are others who would join me, please raise your hand. We could start something, we really could. Until then, I remain committed to writing about anger in my own work, to help not just to destigmatise female anger but to actually encourage it.
Emmeline Pankhurst wasn’t screwing around when she said that the broken pane of glass is the most valuable argument in modern politics. Rights have to be forcefully taken; they are never willingly given. If a return to civil disobedience, to protest, to unrest, is what it will take to obtain equality, then it is critical that we no longer bury our anger as society demands we do.
That may not be the answer, but we must not be ashamed. That is so important.