About Anger part i

This blog post is included in:

No Time to Spare
Thinking About What Matters

by Ursula K. Le Guin
Introduction by Karen Joy Fowler

December 5, 2017
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt











Ursula K. Le Guin, photo by Marian Wood KolischAbout Anger
i. Saeva indignatio

by Ursula K. Le Guin

In the consciousness-raising days of the second wave of feminism, we made a big deal out of anger, the anger of women. We praised it and cultivated it as a virtue. We learned to boast of being angry, to swagger our rage, to play the Fury.

We were right to do so. We were telling women who believed they should patiently endure insults, injuries, and abuse that they had every reason to be angry. We were rousing people to feel and see injustice, the methodical mistreatment to which women were subjected, the almost universal disrespect of the human rights of women, and to resent and refuse it for themselves and for others. Indignation, forcibly expressed, is an appropriate response to injustice. Indignation draws strength from outrage, and outrage draws strength from rage. There is a time for anger, and that was such a time.

Anger is a useful, perhaps indispensable, tool in motivating resistance to injustice. But I think it is a weapon — a tool useful only in combat and self-defense.

People to whom male dominance is important or essential fear women’s resistance, therefore women’s anger — they know a weapon when they see one. The backlash from them was immediate and predictable. Those who see human rights as consisting of men’s rights labeled every woman who spoke up for justice as a man-hating, bra-burning, intolerant shrew. With much of the media supporting their view, they successfully degraded the meaning of the words feminism and feminist, identifying them with intolerance to the point of making them almost useless, even now.

The far right likes to see everything in terms of warfare. If you look at the feminism of 1960-90 that way, you might say it worked out rather like the Second World War: the people who lost it gained a good deal, in the end. These days, overt male dominance is less taken for granted; the gender gap in take-home pay is somewhat narrower; there are more women in certain kinds of high positions, particularly in higher education; within certain limits and in certain circumstances, girls can act uppity and women can assume equality with men without risk. As the old ad with the cocky bimbo smoking a cigarette said, You’ve come a long way, baby.

Oh gee, thanks, boss. Thanks for the lung cancer, too.

Perhaps — to follow the nursery metaphor instead of the battlefield one — if feminism was the baby, she’s now grown past the stage where her only way to get attention to her needs and wrongs was anger, tantrums, acting out, kicking ass. In the cause of gender rights, mere anger now seldom proves a useful tool. Indignation is still the right response to indignity, to disrespect, but in the present moral climate it seems to be most effective expressed through steady, resolute, morally committed behavior and action.

This is clearly visible in the issue of abortion rights, where the steadfast nonviolence of rights defenders faces the rants, threats, and violence of rights opponents. The opponents would welcome nothing so much as violence in return. If NARAL vented rage as Tea Party spokesmen do, if the clinics brandished guns to defend themselves from the armed demonstrators, the opponents of abortion rights on the Supreme Court would hardly have to bother dismantling Roe vs Wade by degrees, as they’re doing. The cause would be already lost.

As it is, it may suffer a defeat, but if we who support it hold firm it will never be lost.

Anger points powerfully to the denial of rights, but the exercise of rights can’t live and thrive on anger. It lives and thrives on the dogged pursuit of justice.

If women who value freedom are dragged back into open conflict with oppression, forced to defend ourselves against the re-imposition of unjust laws, we will have to call on anger as a weapon again: but we’re not at that point yet, and I hope nothing we do now brings us closer to it.

Anger continued on past its usefulness becomes unjust, then dangerous. Nursed for its own sake, valued as an end in itself, it loses its goal. It fuels not positive activism but regression, obsession, vengeance, self-righteousness. Corrosive, it feeds off itself, destroying its host in the process. The racism, misogyny, and counter-rationality of the reactionary right in American politics for the last several years is a frightening exhibition of the destructive force of anger deliberately nourished by hate, encouraged to rule thought, invited to control behavior. I hope our republic survives this orgy of self-indulgent rage.



About Anger part i — 11 Comments

  1. It is,what, only a hundred years or so since women have had the vote. That is not long. Complacency is dangerous — it worries me when I see young women saying that feminism is no longer necessary. We must hang onto our rights like grim death, because they can be taken away. I live in a polity famed for the state-mandated trans-vaginal probe.

    • I think using the “dogged pursuit of justice” in exercising our rights is a better metaphor than hanging onto them “like grim death.” We must stand up, resolutely and powerfully, leaving the screaming rage to those who want to drag us back to a world in which women aren’t considered human.

      Also, the young women are very active these days in addressing rape and sexual assault, especially on college campuses. They are organizing, and they are using anger appropriately there, I think.

  2. Thanks, Ursula, for another insightful discussion. Clearly feminist actions are still sorely needed, especially with all the recent challenges to our rights as women in this country where many are tempted to feel complacent. And the repression and violence against women in many other countries is still horrific — witness the recent stonings after accusations of adultery. When I lived in remote southern Chile, I wasn’t recognized by local men by name, but only as “La Senora,” and the hired help on our land refused to take direction from me because they would lose face; orders had to come from my husband. The temptation is to become angry, but I agree that anger just blinds one and consumes the soul. We need clear-eyed action and determination to find other avenues for justice. Thank you all for the discussion.

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  4. Excellent article, and one that makes me think of my own maturation from young (sometimes angry, or at least defensive) woman, to a middle-life (determined) woman. I teach my two boys to be feminists every day, and try to use ‘feminist’ and ‘feminism’ when I can to chip away at the pejorative connotations. When I was in college and tutoring student-athletes (many of them black men) I had to opportunity to discuss with them why I called myself feminists, and how, in fact, THEY were feminists in many ways. That discussion, now 20 years past, still sticks with me as an important, teaching moment, where anger would have had no part.

  5. I appreciate your addition to the discussion of this subject which is very much needed in a civil society. It also recognizes a key characteristic of non-violent resistence as practiced by Gandhi and others. Anger that leads to violence takes us to the point where “An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind.”

  6. I can’t say I understand. I grew up in the late 80’s and 90’s. By then, the women I knew seemed to have all the same rights as men. My bosses were mostly female and I worked at a company founded by a woman for over a decade. If you really want equality, grab a jack hammer. I’ll believe it when I see it. Until then I guess I have to listen to how, somehow, the current generation of men in America still “oppress” women. I don’t get it, seems like women want something we never actually had and thus can’t give. If I have it right, it’s something you’ll have to find for yourselves. Men can’t give it to you.

    • Perhaps this will help you understand the “oppression” by men part. I don’t know of any women who have been raped, but every woman I know is afraid of being raped, no mater what their age. If every man was afraid of being castrated, then we men would have a reason to feel we are “oppressed” by women. The number of women owners or CEO’s will not change these facts. Only when all men respect women (including wife, lover, etc) enough to accept their “No” as a final answer will that change. So, each of us can “give” that to each woman. It should be a part of basic human dignity.

  7. I am one of the 1960s feminists and one of the original group that wrote “Our Bodies, Ourselves”. When our group of 12 began meeting, we acknowledged our anger, frustration and rage but someone reminded the rest of us that the energy in our anger had to be transmuted into determination if we wanted to change anything. It was a wonderful moment, translating negative energy into a positive force. It’s helped me ever since.