It started with a comment from a coworker. She looked at the book I was reading with hard eyes; I can't remember the title, but I know it was feminist text. I was reading a lot of those because of the election, when I realized how little I knew. "What are you reading?" she asked. I held up the book, even though I knew she knew what I was reading. "Why are you reading it?" Ah, there was the real question.
"Because if I'm going to be an angry feminist, then I should be well prepared."
She rolled her eyes. "You know you don't have to be an angry feminist."
I ducked my head to hide my smirk. "I disagree."
She tilted her head. "Why?" This was a woman who was middle age, middle class, white, and a Trump supporter. She was in a protective bubble, nothing really affected her. "What is there to be angry about?"
My smirk disappeared as I stared at her. A stream of thoughts went through my head.
I'm frustrated that my chronic illness keeps me from marching physically with others, that if I went, I would pass out and be a detriment to the cause.
I have no choice but to be angry, because everything I am is being threatened: the funding for arts might get cut; healthcare will go down the tubes, which feels apocalyptic; women rights are getting attacked from all angles; and my LGBTQIA friends are scared for their rights and their lives — one friend told me she sleeps with a knife under her pillow; another walks in large groups because people heckle and try to get violent when they are alone.
I'm infuriated because Black Lives Matter is still getting overshadowed by All Lives Matter, because trans lives only seem to matter when people accuse them of wanting to attack children and women, DAPL is still happening, peaceful protesters are being beaten, and Flint still doesn't have clean water.
I'm pissed I make less than a man, pissed that a women of color makes less than me.
I'm furious that a misogynistic racist with no experience was elected president, furious that so many freaking white women voted for him, and I'm furious that he has actually convinced people that he will save them because he won't.
I look her in the eyes and said calmly, "There's a lot to be angry about."
She took a step back, surprised, and shook her head like I was a child and walked away. I slammed the book closed.
"It's not ladylike to scowl all the time."
When I got home, I told my roommate what happened and her response surprised me. "Do you have to call yourself an angry feminist? I find that a little offensive."
My jaw dropped. "Why?"
She shrugged. "Perpetuates stereotypes."
I flopped onto my bed and sighed. Maybe those stereotypes are remembered because they got things done.
"Being angry is pointless, you really should let things go. It will only hurt you."
I have been told my whole life to be afraid of anger. It's a force that I can't control and will ruin me. My mother told me as a child, "I have spent a long time controlling my anger and trying to get away from it." She told me she has done things; said things she regrets. She didn't want that for me. She sensed the same fire in me.
As a kid, I saw a therapist. After 9/11, I had an intense fear of fire and fire drills. We never talked about my nightmares. Instead, she had me draw and analyzed my scribbles. According to the woman, I, at nine-years-old, had an anger problem. She would constantly repeat that. She never told me why she thought I had an anger problem. I'll admit that I had and still have a strong sense of justice, and when I saw bullies, I fought back. At the time, I talked more with my body than my words. I won a lot of fights. I never started them, though, I only rescued others who couldn't do it themselves.
The therapist told me anger was ugly, therefore, whenever I was angry I was ugly. I'd hear kids' cries as they saw me getting mad. They called me a monster because my eyes are dark, and when I'm angry they get darker, swallowing my pupils.
Anger became a monster I was afraid of swallowing me.
"Erynn, stay calm, anger doesn't suit you."
So I didn't get mad. I smiled through my annoyance, let people walk all over me, always tried to keep the peace. In my young head, anger equated to going against the tide in any way. So, I was the go-to person for tasks people didn't want to do. I was everyone's friend. It didn't make me feel better. It made me feel small and lonely. Everyone's relationship to me felt fake. But I still didn't get angry. Instead, I would shove it down into my stomach. I have learned that you can't put fury in a box and put it in a dark corner. It will come out in bits and pieces. My voice grew more and more sarcastic. I would pick at my nails, the skin around them, tearing my fingertips to shreds. I started grinding my teeth in my sleep.
"Erynn, you need to calm down, you will aggravate all your symptoms."
I got even more backlash when I got sick. Suddenly, anger caused doctors to brush me off, caused my symptoms: dizziness, heartburn, digestive issues, fainting, headaches, and muscle pain. While I'm sure it didn't help, it certainly wasn't the main cause. I'd be stuck on bed rest for weeks and not be allowed to be angry about it. I was constantly ignored or berated by doctors but I couldn't be frustrated. I had to be calm, at peace, and smile. My life began to feel like The Yellow Wallpaper.
"You're a good girl, good girls don't get angry."
I've learned that if you push a good girl around too many times, she becomes furious fast, and there are always casualties. I can only describe myself as a time bomb. Every time that final push happened, the clock would run down, and once it did, I would explode. Years of being pushed around hurt, and other emotions would rush out of me. I had blackout rages, screaming until my voice gave out and my throat was itchy and red. I thought that I was going crazy. This wasn't what I was supposed to do but I couldn't stop. It was only then that people listened to me.
"Anger is so selfish."
I'm twenty-three and have only now untangled the angry knot in my being. It took baby steps, weeks of fiddling with the knot to loosen it. It felt like taking a deep breath when it finally came undone. The blackouts stopped. At first, I was scared. What if I lost everything because of it? What if I can't control it? But soon, I realized I was going to be fine. My anger just became a part of me. It gave me a confidence I didn't have before. I looked people in the eyes when I was upset, I pointed out when they were being uncalled for, I stood up for myself when I getting taken advantage of.
When did anger become such a dirty word? When did we decide that someone can't feel a certain emotion? When did it all this start? Girls can't get angry and boys can't cry. If I get angry I'm a bitch, but a man is assertive? Why is it more okay for me, a white person to be angry but for a person of color, they are too aggressive, dangerous, or perpetuating a stereotype? They have a hell of a lot more to be angry about.
Most people think anger makes people irrational, rude, and selfish, but anger gave me hyper focus and confidence. Anger is like anything else, it can be good or bad, it's all about how you use it. Damn straight, I am an angry feminist. Yes, I am angry all the time. Even when I'm happy and content, it is in the back of my head. A voice reminding me that there is a lot left to do. Life is good but it could be better. Anger taught me not to settle.
Top image: Still from the documentary She's Beautiful When She's Angry
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Erynn Porter has BFA in Creative Writing from the New Hampshire Institute of Art; she is currently Assistant Editor and Staff Writer for Quail Bell Magazine and Ravishly, along with being a book review for Chicago Review of Books and Electric Literature. She has been published or is forthcoming in ROAR, Brooklyn Magazine, Ravishly, Extract(s), The Mighty, and Quail Bell Magazine. She often jumps between her interests of writing fiction and nonfiction, short stories and children's books, and to anything else that grabs her attention. You can often find her eating candy while editing her own work; she claims that candy is the perfect editing food. When Erynn isn't editing, she's reading with a cat curled up beside her. Follow her on Twitter @erynn_porter or on Facebook.