Current events? These are the words I’ve been wanting to speak for twenty years. 1995 – I remember. 1998 – I remember. 2003 – I remember. 2008 – I will never forget. 2017 – I remember. 2018 – I will tell everyone the truth, my anger will be righteous and bright like the dawn.
I’ve been angry this week and swallowed it a dozen times. An hour. I think you know that feeling. The coil of anxiety in your stomach, the fluttering heartbeat and the tightness rippling across your chest. The burning behind your eyeballs. It’s more than sadness or disappointment. It’s the palpitation of rage. It’s what rises up in us; when we feel deeply, when we are treated unjustly or face betrayal. When what we held to be true is proven to not be true.
I have swallowed that feeling again and again and rushed to my knees to find a way to forgive and move forward from my anger. Because I have been taught to fear what happens if I do not forgive and forget. Because I am a woman and anger is the forbidden emotion. Only the innocent are entitled to justifiable anger and since women have been guilty since the Garden of Eden, we are never considered innocent.
The myth of woman was that of sacred innocence, a vessel of purity until she ate the apple. Then she succumbed to her sensual power and since then, a woman is paradox. She is both the Madonna and the Madgalene. The virgin and the whore; but from that moment never innocent because she has a sensual power within her. A woman can bring a weak man to his knees and therefore a woman can never be innocent for she has the ability to seduce. And a man seduced is innocent; he was only deceived, only foolish, just a boy.
Women are not permitted to be innocent and angry, we are barely permitted to be angry at all. To be angry is to reassert our innocence, to reclaim justice. To be angry is to be powerful and to call someone else to account – something women have hardly ever been given permission to do.
I learned it as a child – ours is to accept what is and simply move on from what angers us. We are taught to find another way as if that is the higher path. Adults make rules and we follow them. But as a young adult in the church I learned not only do adults make rules for children to follow when it comes to self-expression, men make rules for women to follow when it comes to emotion, in particular when it comes to anger.
I learned as a young woman in church and business; the fastest way for any woman to be labelled emotional or lose her authority in a room is not to cry but to express anger or frustration. You can cry or tremble and your emotion will be chalked up to the softness and femininity. Don’t believe men who say they hate it when women cry. They prefer tears to anger every time. And so do women from other women. We don’t give each other permission to be properly angry either. We don’t know how because we’re scared of how powerful our own anger can be.
I have watched vitriol explode in newspapers and social media and seen that women who express their anger are either crucified or humiliated.
And here’s why: anger is always a matter of truth, justice or pride. So anger is powerful. Anger demands you pay attention and answer the question of what is right, what is true and what is good. Even if we learn we were wrong, anger is part of our pathway to truth. It is brave and beautiful work to be angry, especially on your own behalf. It is brave and beautiful work to be angry with people you love. It is brave and beautiful work to be angry in a way that facilitates truth-telling, in our relationships, our work, our churches, our world. But still it remains; forbidden. Do this at the risk of being wrong, being humiliated, of losing what you care about.
Here’s what I’ve learned: I should have expressed more anger in my life. Instead, I turned my anger on myself. I spent an extraordinary amount of time being angry with myself for not being able to fix it, to be better, to find a way to forgive. But now I realise how beautiful and sacred anger can be. Previously my angry outbursts were futile because I was trying to be angry in a man’s world, designed to silence my anger. But when I am angry in my world, in this new world – there is plenty of space to be angry and to be compassionate. To be full of righteous fury and full of love. To forgive what can be forgiven and to call to account everything else.
In order to be angry, you have to tell the truth more often.