The idea for "Rage Face" came about while I was finishing up my final semester of grad school. A lot of my work in recent years has been centered around the reclamation of narrative. As I was studying all the various ways women have had their voices co-opted, misrepresented, and flat out stolen over the centuries, I found myself going down a dark, fascinating rabbit hole tied to the subject of Female Anger.
In spite of continued inequality, when we think of the freedoms we currently have as women – ones our foremothers and other matriarchal ancestors could only dream of – it’s no wonder there seems to be a collective intergenerational rage many women can feel percolating deep from within, tying them back to them likes of fictional and real-life vilified women like Eve, Lilith, Jezebel, Medea, Medusa, and all the many women throughout history who have been burned, hung, beheaded, or otherwise violated for their supposed witchcraft; or silenced or rebuked by men under the guise of righteous indignation.
We live in a country that confirms and rewards masculine anger (think of Brett Kavanagh securing his seat on the Supreme Court with a petulant tantrum), while it confounds and penalizes female rage (such as the multiple times Serena Williams has been fined for expressing frustration during tennis matches). This discrepancy puts women at a disadvantage in multiple ways, including the fact that repressed anger can lead to physical concerns like comprised immune systems, cardio-vascular damage, and nervous system troubles. Also, exposed anger often has vastly different consequences where men and women are concerned. Women are instructed from a young age to suppress their anger and bite their tongues, lest people find them rude, unlikable, or downright hysterical. To present our anger in measured, soft tones or passive-aggressive sighs. But this is entirely problematic. Author and anger activist Soraya Chemaly puts it this way: “[Anger] is actually a signal emotion. It warns us of indignity, threat, insult, and harm. And yet, in culture after culture, anger is reserved as the moral property of boys and men.”
Chemaly acknowledges there are layered complexities to this statement depending what country or time one is referencing. In modern-day America, for instance, a poor Black man’s rage might get him killed, while a middle-class White man, angry about something very similar, could be perceived as a model of civic virtue. Black women, in fact, endure the brunt of anger-related stereotyping perhaps the worst, receiving the least amount of grace when it comes to expressing their rage. This cycle perpetuates the hurtful trope of the “Angry Black Woman”, though other races are not spared similar hurtful stereotypes (the "sassy" Latina, the "crazy" White lady, etc).
As progressive movements start to be more conscious of intersectionality, so, too, has the frequency and consistency of women – all women – expressing their rage openly. In her most recent book, Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger, Rebecca Traister argues that, even though it is a state of being that is only recently gaining traction as something publicly acceptable, the power of women’s collective rage for societal good has long helped to shape and improve our nation; we’ve just been taught to edit and sanitize that part of our history.
Traister points to how social movements in this country are often “kickstarted” by women’s anger. Using the example of Rosa Parks, she explains how women’s rage stories are packaged and sold differently in order to encourage us to look away from their anger, and to instead celebrate only the outcome of circumstances where women’s rage achieves positive results. Traister is clear: what happened on that bus seat was not only planned, it was fueled by Parks’ fury and that of the others with whom she attended a two-week workshop on implementing desegregation at the Highlander Folk School four months before the bus incident. But instead of acknowledging that, U.S. history books serve Parks up as a sweet little lady who just so happened to be tired, exhausted, and stoic on that fateful day.
In addition to Parks, Traister mentions a long line of women whose rage brought about change. Suffragists like Alice Paul, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Lucy Stone. Abolitionists like Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth. Organizers for Civil Rights, Labor Rights, LGBTQIA+ rights, and Immigration Rights Movements. Patrisse Cullors, Alicia Garza, and Opal Tometi, who founded the Black Lives Matter Movement. Tarana Burke, who started the #MeToo movement. Celebrities like Rose McGowan and Alyssa Milano, who helped popularize the #MeToo hashtag. The #TimesUp movement. The Women’s Marches. Historical political victories made by Hillary Clinton, Elizabeth Warren, Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, Ilman Omar, and others. Chemaly argues that female anger actually informs radical, agapeic acts of tenderness. “We have an anger of hope we see every day in the resistance of marginalized people,” she says. “It’s related to compassion, empathy, and love.” Audre Lorde, the celebrated writer and civil rights activist, describes feminine rage as “a catalyst for useful discomfort and clearer dialogues.”
As more women embrace giving voice to our emotions, however unbecoming, it doesn’t mean the world is fully ready to hear us. The #MeToo movement suffered major backlash once it got underway. The #TimesUp movement has almost died out completely. Women continue to be attacked, harassed, ridiculed, and judged for expressing any of their thoughts, especially rage.
For all the progress made in recent decades, there remains an unspoken rule where women are encouraged to restrain or control their anger. For example, actress Uma Thurman confessed to needing to wait “until she [was] less angry” to formulate a response to a red-carpet interviewer’s question about rapist Harvey Weinstein. Even pop queen Beyonce’s celebrated “Hold Up” video, which features her smashing parked car windows with a baseball bat while lyrically accosting her partner for cheating, still portrays the singer as smiling, sexy, and looking as if she has just stepped off a fashion runway.
In others ways, women are learning to express themselves louder than ever. from the huge significance of the global women’s marches to the immediate reclamation of disparaging comments, like the time Mitch McConnell attempted to rebuke Senator Elizabeth Warren with the now-famous phrase “Nevertheless, she persisted”, and women across the country turned it into the feminist rallying cry of 2017.
Of course, like any other layered, engrained system of thought, it is important we attack these patriarchal influences from multiple angles to really dismantle the misogynist thinking that has controlled human thought for so long. Chemaly asks, “What if we didn’t sever anger from femininity?” What if, instead, we learn to treat it with reverence and use it to tell our side of the story, which hasn’t been told for thousands of years? What happens then?"
My guess is: a lot changes. In personal relationships, communities, our country, and the world at large.
In an effort to help normalize the expression of rage on women's faces as well as the experience of having women fully give in to feelings of anger and distress, I teamed up with my friend James of James Ramirez Media to do a photo series. The purpose was to flip the usual gaze of a male pointing a camera centered on women and to end up with raw, expressive, unapologetic images of anger rather than polished and curated social media-approved faces. In the process, we also found out it gave women a chance to scream. Like really, gutturally scream. When else do we ever let ourselves do that?
The shoot day was an interesting experiment in of itself: watching the ways many of us try to still look beautiful or measured while we're angry, seeing how much easier it was for many of the White women to access their anger than the Women of Color. Noticing how many times the Women from marginalized groups veered toward sarcasm and humor as a cover up. How some women cried. How some people never quite gave in fully to the anger. How everyone said they felt better after yelling.
If you enjoy this series, are female or otherwise non-male gendered, and are interested in taking part in a future shoot day, please email me! I want this project to grow, just like I want representation of female stories in media, art, history, and culture to grow.
Like Hélène Cixous says in her seminal essay, The Laugh of Medusa, “Women must write her Self: must write about women, and bring women to writing, from which they have been driven away as violently as from their bodies.”
It's time to get our voices back, ladies.
Let's reclaim them loudly, boldly, and without shame.
"My rage intensifies because I am not a victim...It burns in my psyche with an intensity that creates clarity. It is a constructive, healing rage." - bell hooks