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.