The other day I came across this article by a radical feminist, who argued that “forgiveness and positive thinking” are somewhat problematic because they are gendered; that is, it’s usually women who are expected to forgive men for their crimes. And we should be fighting patriarchy.

This got me thinking about anger… because we often believe that we can use the anger we feel towards Patriarchy to fight back.

So. Do we get angry or do we forgive?

See, the reason why this kind of stuff doesn’t make sense is because we are mixing the “personal” with the “political”.

Forgiveness and “positive thinking” take place on the personal level. This is stuff you practice on your own, to deal with your own life and to work with your own stuff.

Political analysis, on the other hand, is stuff you use to look at the whole of society, in order to change it.

And here’s the key: you can’t go from one set of ideas to the other. In other words:
you can’t use “personal” self-help-ey tools to understand how the world works
and you can’t use “Capitalism and Patriarchy” tools to understand yourself.

First: a caveat
This stuff is super difficult to practice and for you to get your mind around. Don’t be surprised if you don’t understand it at first. Equally, don’t be surprised if your mind goes “yeah, yeah, tell me something I don’t know”. It’s one thing to understand things “rationally” and quite another to understand them on an emotional level.

And now: ANGER

Here’s the thing. I know anger. I’ve been angry for decades. And I’m not 30 yet.
Oh, yes. I was angry aged 5. So much so that my parents took me to therapy. (I didn’t work).

So I get anger. And I get how it makes sense to believe that we can dismantle patriarchy by getting angry.
I also get how, as women, “anger” is a “forbidden” emotion. We are not allowed to feel angry, even when we are enduring horrific stuff.

And that sucks. We are damn well entitled to feel as angry as we damn want to. Or need to. We are always entitled to feel what we feel. It’s actually necessary for us to feel what we feel.

Anger is a very useful emotion and it has its place. It helps us set up boundaries. (You can read more about that here)

And yet, it belongs within the “personal” realm. And as such, we should deal with it on the personal level.

Feeling anger towards something that’s happened to you? Useful and necessary.

Feeling anger towards Patriarchy, men, the world? Not really.

When we feel anger, or any strong emotion, really, that’s a sign to retreat inwards and spend some time with ourselves. Chances are, there’s something we need to give ourselves, or pay attention to.

However, feeling anger towards the world and the injustice of it all? It’s kinda pointless. Because you can’t do something to change the world “right now”.

See, anger is like a fire alarm: “URGENT! Your attention is needed here, RIGHT NOW!”.

But changing the world takes time… decades, centuries, millennia. And we can’t go around with a fire alarm screaming inside our heads.

In fact, I’d go further and say that it’s not possible to get angry at “the world” (or “patriarchy”, or “men”), for the simple reason that it’s impossible to interact with the whole of the world. . We get angry at specific things that affect us personally.

So, what’s a feminist to do? Well, first we separate between the personal stuff and the political stuff.

This takes an awful lot of courage. Seriously, don’t underestimate how difficult this is. It feels much safer to say “I hate all men!”, than to say “I hate my ex, he treated me so badly”, because if you focus the anger on this one ex, the inevitable conclusion is… “*whispered* other men don’t treat their partners this bad”.

And realising this sucks. A lot. I should know.

But if we want to heal, we have to look at what’s going on inside ourselves.

And if we want to be effective in challenging patriarchy, we need to be healed. Or at the very least, healing.

I hope you find this helpful. As always, I welcome your thoughts.

If you’re interested, I wrote about anger  in the context of “the abuse feminists get online” in my olde blog.

I dedicate the above doodle to my Dad, who once told me: “Now, remember you can’t blame Capitalism for everything”.
Because, yeah, I tend to do that.



Melissa · December 4, 2012 at 23:07

This is a very enlightened post, and I hope that people can be open-minded enough to recognize that. I often label myself as a “reformed feminist.” I used to hate all men and put them all into a box, because according to my father, the media, and authors of books about “How Men Think” all men claimed to be the same and were proud of it. Until I met my husband, who doesn’t fit in any box of any size or shape. My anger was misdirected at billions of people I’d never met instead of at a societal norm that so many just accepted as such. The only thing I can do to change it is to stop putting every single person into a box, and also to just be myself. I don’t have to think something is normal just because everyone else does.

Mary Tracy · December 4, 2012 at 23:26

Hi Melissa! I agree, our culture likes to box people in, which is particularly daunting when you can see how much pain the boxes are causing everyone.

I wrote about the “hating men” phenomena here: “The pain of Mars and Venus”.

But it is a topic I’ll probably revisit millions of times because too often (as was in my case) we fall into “hating all men” because of some story of personal trauma. From which we need to heal.

Butterflywings · December 16, 2012 at 19:47

Interesting. I need to do more thinking about this.
But I agree. Thinking ‘All men are bastards’ etc doesn’t make a woman feminist…and indeed many women get bitter at men as a gender due to bad experiences who don’t and wouldn’t dream of calling themselves a feminist. You only have to visit Mumsnet, or read terrible ‘chick lit’ to know that.
Going around believing the other gender are all bad, being bitter, generalising about ‘all men’ (or and ‘all women’) is the opposite of feminism. Feminism tells us that we can’t generalise in this way. And also that the messed-up gender norms we have can change. Yes for example men are socialised to be more aggressive…believing that can change gives us hope, believing all men are violent and incapable of controlling their sexual urges but the poor dears can’t help it because it’s all down to testosterone…THAT is hopeless, anger-inducing, depressing…and imo the real ‘man-hating’.

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