Two months ago, my close friend Kelsey brought up the topic of female anger. She told me how she read a New York Times article about the ways in which men and women deal with their frustrations differently.
While men are taught to release their negativity via external aggression, women are taught repression. They are expected to keep their composure and avoid confrontation at all costs.
Thus, when faced with a conflict, women learn to internalize their pain as sadness. They blame themselves, doubt their worth and their perpetrators — often men — go on without criticism.
At the end of our conversation, Kelsey said, “I’m making a concentrated effort to allow myself more anger.” This statement stuck with me.
In the month that followed, the topic of female anger kept coming up. Friends confided in me about harassment, we discussed sexual assault in my writing workshop, I listened to the Bill Cosby trial and I read The News-Letter’s excellent front-page story on the Office of Institutional Equity.
In all of these instances, I couldn’t stop thinking about Kelsey’s words. I’m tired of blaming myself for the wrongdoings of men. I’m tired of suppressing my reactions to make others comfortable. I want to get angry.
Just the other morning, I listened to a Ted Talk by Tracee Ellis Ross that put into words all the jumbled, angsty thoughts in my brain. It was entitled “A woman’s fury holds lifetimes of wisdom.”
Ross begins with an anecdote: Her friend was waiting in line at the post office one afternoon when a man came up behind her and shoved her out of the way.
The friend’s first reaction was to make excuses, he’s probably just reaching for a stamp. I must’ve been in his way. Maybe he said sorry, and I just didn’t hear it.
But then they subsided, and in their place, a fury rose up inside her. She wanted to retaliate. That might sound like an overdramatic reaction, but even hearing her story second-hand, I felt it too: fury.
This fury is not simply a reflection of this single anecdote. Rather, it is the pent-up, constantly building, constantly silenced result of a lifetime of microaggressions.
For years, men have helped themselves to women’s bodies without consent. It is something nearly every woman has experienced and something we have grown to accept.
When I think of the instances in my life of verbal or physical violation (catcalls on my walk home, someone grinding on me at a concert or men in clubs grabbing my butt), I often consider myself lucky.
I think “it could have been worse.” How is that fair? Why is it that we, as women, are constantly living in fear’?
Last weekend, a friend confided in me that she was talking to a male classmate at Tent Party when he slid his hand under her skirt.
She recalled how paralyzed she felt. “It’s not like I could say anything, or run away — I didn’t want to offend him. Then he might retaliate. I was afraid.”
Hearing these words, a fire ignited in my chest. This was my best friend, and she was groped without permission by a man that felt he had authority over her body.
I wanted to find this boy and hurt him. I wanted him to understand how terrifying it feels to no longer be safe in your own skin.
I have faced similar moments of terror. When I was in high school, I volunteered at a senior citizens’ home. Every Thursday when I visited, a retired veteran named Bruce would look me up and down and make crude comments regarding my body.
“Oh, look at you,” he said, “So young and vital. You have such child-bearing hips. If I was 10 years younger, I couldn’t help but snatch you up.”
In response, I felt an inexplicable disgust. I tried to shake it, swallowed my pride and said, “Thank you.” As a mannerly little lady, that is what you are supposed to do.
Then, one afternoon in March of my sophomore year, Bruce stroked my exposed thigh. I quit the volunteer position the next week.
I never told anyone about Bruce because I thought it was normal. I thought that I was overreacting. I pushed away my discomfort, deeming it invalid because this is just the way things are.
Bruce couldn’t help himself, just like the guy at Tent Party couldn’t help himself.
For whatever reason, society has drilled into boys that they can act however they please, as if women are theirs for the taking.
While our civilization may have progressed, women are still facing constant disrespect. It may seem “innocuous” — those moments of brief touching and off-hand remarks — but as Ross says in her speech: “The innocuous makes space for the horrific.”
It is about time that we stop making excuses for men’s misbehavior. No matter how small, sexual harassment is unacceptable, and I, for one, am done being sad about it.
I am furious.