Book Review: Rage Becomes Her

Rage Becomes HerRage Becomes Her: The Power of Women’s Anger
by Soraya Chemaly
Nonfiction/Feminism/Civil Rights
392 pages
Published September 2018

This book goes in the same category as One Person, No Vote for me. I knew a lot of the general principles, but not the details, the statistics, the true scope of the problem. This book delves deeply into the statistics, but, like One Person, No Vote, is still very readable. I like nonfiction – when the author’s voice doesn’t bore me to tears. I’m slowly building up a list of nonfiction authors who I enjoy – Mary Roach, Soraya Chemaly, Carol Anderson – interesting that they’re all women.

Anyway.

Rage Becomes Her is about women’s relationship with anger. How we tamp it down for the men around us, because being angry makes you a target. Having an opinion online usually means getting harassed, stalked, threatened, swatted. We fear to provoke violence, so we don’t show our anger. And that’s fucked up.

Rage Becomes Her is also about why we are so angry. The rampant sexism and violence against women, the pressures put on us as women, the lopsided assignation of unpaid and underpaid labor.

Rage Becomes Her is about how boys and girls are socialized in regards to anger – it’s expected from boys, but girls are socialized not to show it, to be polite, to give way instead of saying NO. (I know I was brought up this way.)

Rage Becomes Her talks about the effect that anger has on our bodies. Did you know research shows that anger is “the single, most salient emotional contributor to pain”? Which leads into a very interesting passage:

Unaddressed anger affects our neurological, hormonal, adrenal, and vascular systems in ways that are still largely ignored in the treatment of pain. It’s hard to overstate what this means in terms of women’s health.

All over the world, women report much higher rates of both acute and chronic pain than men do. Of the more than one hundred million Americans who report living with daily pain, the vast majority are women. (A comprehensive study involving more than 85,000 respondents in seven developing and ten developed nations found that the prevalence of chronic pain conditions in men was 31 percent but in women it was 45 percent.) (Rage Becomes Her, p. 51)

Well that’s interesting. I’d never thought of my pain being connected to my anger. I certainly have plenty to be angry about currently, as a liberal woman. Interestingly, the book mentions that in the lead-up to Trump’s election, the angriest demographic was white women, especially conservative ones. It makes me wonder about the subconscious anger they must have felt while siding with white supremacy over their own gender. Internalized self-hatred is one hell of a drug. Chemaly delves into that, too. The myth of the “kind patriarch” and “benevolent sexism” and how women are often guilty of system justification, to their own detriment. If you gossip about a woman for showing her anger, it only reinforces that you won’t be able to show yours.

There is so much in this book that was eye-opening, like the fact that doctors are TWENTY-TWO MORE TIMES likely to recommend knee surgery to men with severe arthritis pain than to women, because women are expected to just suck it up and deal with being in pain. There were also unspoken rules spelled out, like when women swear, they tilt towards the “impure” in our social understanding of “purity” and hence, deserve punishment. Why is that a big deal? Numerous studies have shown that cursing numbs pain. Expletives alter our perceptions of pain, and if women aren’t allowed to use them, we’re saying women deserve to be in pain more than men do. (Also the point that women, using the same curse words men do, are considered more offensive.)

What I did find disappointing is there’s really only one chapter giving us any hint as to what to DO with all this information (and the anger it causes, ironically) – and it’s not all that extensive. I’ll be doing more reading on women’s anger; there’s several books out there right now, including Good and Mad: the Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger, which is currently on hold at the library for me.

This is a book I’d like to go back to and reference in the future, so it’s going on my list of books to buy eventually. It really is excellent.

From the cover of Rage Becomes Her:

A TRANSFORMATIVE BOOK URGING TWENTY-FIRST-CENTURY WOMEN TO EMBRACE THEIR ANGER AND HARNESS IT FOR LASTING PERSONAL AND SOCIETAL CHANGE.

WOMEN ARE ANGRY, and we have every right to be.

We are underpaid and overworked. Too sensitive or not sensitive enough. Too dowdy or too flashy. Too big or too thin. Sluts or prudes. We are harassed, told we are asking for it, and asked if it would kill us to smile. (Yes, yes, it would.)

Contrary to the rhetoric of popular “self-help” and entire lifetimes of being told otherwise, our rage is one of the most important resources we have, our sharpest tool against both personal and political oppression. We’ve been urged for so long to bottle up our anger, letting it corrode our bodies and minds in ways we don’t even realize. Yet our anger is a vital instrument, a radar for injustice and a catalyst for change. On the flip side, the societal and cultural belittlement of our anger is a cunning way of limiting and controlling our power.

We are so often encouraged to resist our rage or punished for justifiably expressing it, yet how many remarkable achievements would never have gotten off the ground without the kernel of anger that fueled them? Rage Becomes Her makes the case that anger is not what gets in our way, it is our way, sparking a liberating new understanding of this core human emotion.

Following in the footsteps of manifestos like The Feminine Mystique and The Beauty Myth, Rage Becomes Her is an eye-opening, accessible credo, offering us the tools to examine our anger and use it to create lasting positive change.

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