Book Review: Rage Becomes Her: The Power of Women’s Anger by Soraya Chemaly (2018)

September 11th, 2018 7:00 am by Kelly Garbato

Anger is a Gift

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free e-ARC for review through NetGalley. Trigger warning for discussions of sexism and misogyny, including sexual assault.)

Ask yourself, why would a society deny girls and women, from cradle to grave, the right to feel, express, and leverage anger and be respected when we do? Anger has a bad rap, but it is actually one of the most hopeful and forward thinking of all of our emotions. It begets transformation, manifesting our passion and keeping us invested in the world. It is a rational and emotional response to trespass, violation, and moral disorder. It bridges the divide between what “is” and what “ought” to be, between a difficult past and an improved possibility. Anger warns us viscerally of violation, threat, and insult. By effectively severing anger from “good womanhood,” we choose to sever girls and women from the emotion that best protects us against danger and injustice.

Anger is usually about saying “no” in a world where women are conditioned to say almost anything but “no.”

Because the truth is that anger isn’t what gets in our way—it is our way. All we have to do is own it.

— 3.5 stars —

After nearly ten years of marriage, and more than fifteen years together, my husband suddenly and unexpectedly passed away last year – leaving me a widow at the ripe old age of thirty-eight. The grief and shock quickly gave way to anger; in the process of reconciling his estate, I discovered secrets he’d been hiding from me. These were like a steady drip-drip-drip of awfulness that continued to pummel me in the weeks and months following his death.

My aunt – one of the relatives who came out for an extended stay as part of “Kelly Duty,” and who had a front seat to the dumpster fire that my life had become – said something that will always stick with me, and not in a good way. She was reading some paranormal/urban fantasy book at the time, and apparently the MC was not a fan of anger. She proceeded to give me this long speech about how anger poisons you from the inside out, and the only way to move on is through forgiveness. I’m sure she meant well, but the whole thing came off as insensitive, clueless, even manipulative. (I’m already feeling powerless, like I have zero control over anything in my life; now I don’t even get to decide how I feel about things?) I was still in the thick of things then, with bad news coming at me on the daily. Even a year and a half on, I am absolutely seething with anger.

Anyway, I didn’t know quite how to answer her at the time – probably I didn’t even have the energy for a rebuttal, and just let it go – but today, I am highly tempted to send her a copy of Soraya Chemaly’s book (possibly in conjunction with Mark Oshiro’s Anger Is a Gift, from which I borrowed the title for this review). Except I can’t hardly afford it, which is the source of some of my anger. This isn’t unusual, either, as I’ve learned from reading Rage Becomes Her: poverty, powerlessness, and a lack of authority are all associated with unexpressed anger. My continued rumination? Also par for the course.

Rage Becomes Her is an interesting mix. Chemaly both explores the sources of women’s anger (rape culture, the wage gap, the caring mandate, unpaid/undervalued care work – described as “the single greatest wealth transfer in today’s global economy” – sexualization and objectification, discrimination against pregnant or potentially pregnant women, the denial of women’s physical pain, etc. etc. etc., so on and so forth), as well as the effects that unexpressed anger can have on a body, a psyche, a relationship, and a society (depression, anxiety, heart failure, physical pain, abuse, divorce, inequality, authoritarianism).

In some ways, this reads a lot like Everyday Sexism, and similar books that catalog, interrogate, and challenge sexism and misogyny in modern culture. (In fact, Laura Bates and the Everyday Sexism Project do get a shout-out here. If you do any amount of feminist reading online, no doubt you’ll recognize some of the activists mentioned in this book.) However, there’s an added dimension that makes Rage Becomes Her unique: anger. In contrast to a lifetime’s worth of social conditioning that teaches girls to smile and be nice, Chemaly encourages women and girls to acknowledge and embrace our anger, harnessing it in a constructive way, as a tool of social change.

At least this is what Chemaly seems to be going for. I would’ve like to have seen more information on anger itself – examples of how activists have channeled it for positive change, for example – and less background information, for lack of a better word, on why women should be angry in the first place. Let’s face it: most of the folks picking up a book provocatively titled Rage Becomes Her probably have a good enough grasp of feminism 101, right? (But I do really appreciate her emphasis on intersectionality, which is something all of us could use a continued refresher in.)

Of course, as Chemaly herself points out, there’s a dearth of research on the mediating effects of gender (and race and class) on emotions, particularly anger (not to be confused with assertiveness and aggression, which are behaviors) – so that book might be difficult to write, at least at this point in time. As it is, Rage Becomes Her is a good enough place to start.

Fwiw, I read this book as an ARC. While I assume that it was thoroughly researched – as evidenced by a bibliography that comprises 21% of the Kindle file – the review copy did not contain footnotes, or even a suggestion of where they might go. This threw me for a loop since I’m the kind of dork that reads those things. I’m trying not to hold it against the finished copy, but it’s a struggle.

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

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