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A Review of Soraya Chemaly’s “Rage Becomes Her: The Power of Women’s Anger”

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.

As a feminist, I’m always searching for books that will entice, aggravate, and question me about the patriarchy. I want to feel invigorated and volatile after I finish reading feminist articles, mostly because rage is something that little girls are often told not to feel. The unnatural infantilization and development of young girls into a patriarchal society that continuously tells them to hide their anger is a topic that I feel connects to many other issues in feminist literature. For example, when women are told they should smooth things over rather than confront someone about an issue as a child, they learn to be the mediator, constantly suppressing their own feelings and learning that it’s okay, even natural, for their boyfriends or their boss to interrupt them. Why is it that women are so often told to hold their anger in? It’s almost as if the world is afraid of the collective power that women possess by getting angry and speaking about their discontent with their patriarchal status. 

I picked up Soraya Chemaly’s Rage Becomes Her: The Power of Women’s Anger for this reason. Reading Chemaly’s personal and informative account of female anger is like moving through the stream of the emotions I’ve pushed down ever since I was told for the first time to “keep the peace.” While Chemaly fluidly analyzes the research and feminist theory that inform her work, she also intersperses her work with representational anecdotes, intricate metaphors and connections to her own family that reflect the many seemingly ‘small’ events that indicate women’s suppressed anger. 

The first chapter of Chemaly’s work is entitled “Mad Girls” and contains the most enticing opening, representing her seamless blending of the personal and the analytical. Chemaly recounts the story of how a boy in her daughter’s class continued to destroy her daughter’s castle of blocks until her daughter asked him to stop, stood in his pathway, and moved herself to a different area of the classroom. Chemaly attempted to politely talk to the boy’s parents, but was met with a sympathetic, yet unhelpful, response that reflected their disinterest in getting involved in the conflict. This anecdote stayed with me for the entirety of the book because it synthesized Chemaly’s personal writing while also demonstrating the fundamental flaws in how we raise children. As she goes on to demonstrate, boys are often treated in ways that not only excuse but encourage their anger. When they grow up, they’re less capable of accepting answers of “No, I don’t want to go out with you” or “Please don’t interrupt me.” Although presented through the lens of children’s play, Chemaly demonstrates how her argument will unfold, connecting ‘small’ events in childhood to larger societal structures that tell women they should keep moving their castle around while boys continue to tear it down. 

While embodied with Chemaly’s personal storytelling, her work touches on many aspects of feminist theory and thought, including how the female suppression of anger is connected to lower self-esteem in women, an increase in objectification, gendered disparities in the negative impacts of social media, and the unequal shouldering of parenting and sexual assault. While the work seems to take on many diverse and heavy topics (which I normally would find disorganized), Chemaly is efficient at connecting these various topics to a larger spider web of women’s anger being suppressed. In fact, it’s essential that her work takes on this many topics since one of the main points she proves is that  we teach children how to behave in gendered ways that reinforce and support the patriarchal issues we face in adulthood. This connection makes her beginning anecdote even more influential and stinging.

Although it’s a difficult read at times since it deals with heavy and upsetting topics, I believe Chemaly intends to present the book as an example of the work that still needs to be done in dismantling the patriarchy. In one section, she connects the allowance and encouragement of anger in boys, as well as the suppression of tears, to the increasingly violent and graphic digital responses to the #MeToo movement. Chemaly recounts the story of Anita Sarkeesian, a woman who was targeted in an ongoing campaign of virtual harassment from misogynists called Gamergate. Since she challenged the sexism in the gamer industry, she was repeatedly hounded, threatened, and attacked online. While this section of the book was difficult to get through, given the amount of threats and sexist harassment I see online on a daily basis, Chemaly forcefully reminds readers that online sexist harassment is a larger mirror of patriarchal society itself and that the impact of this harassment cannot be diminished. 

The most notable attribute about Chemaly’s work is that although she universalizes women within an experience of stifling their anger and caving to male demands, she also presents research and analysis that demonstrates the racial and cultural differences in how women are taught to process anger and how their anger is received. One essential notion that she reiterates is that while white women are often taught to cry when they are frustrated, an element of their development of societal standards of passivity, those tears can be used to victimize and target black men, who have often been the victims of white women’s tears. Just look back at what happened with Amy Cooper in 2020. A white woman called the police on a black man after he politely asked her to put a leash on her dog. In the video of the encounter, she is on the phone, claiming she is being ‘threatened’ and ‘assaulted.’ While there was rightful public outrage over racial bias, the fact that she felt that her response was not problematic shows how far white women’s tears can be utilized to enforce racism. In this way, the intersectional implications of women’s suppression of anger is vitally important to acknowledge. 

Chemaly presents the effects of women’s anger with a diverse subject matter that implicates many feminist topics within the result of raising girls to stifle their anger. Although she presents many positions, she always critically analyzes the effects of certain events. he reflects that women are often penalized for not having children by society and family, as well as the biases against women who engage in non-marital sex, and she also reflects on the damaging effects of pornography on how women are viewed. Although she recognizes a sex-positive strain in that society should not criticize women who have sex, she simultaneously acknowledges that the pornography industry is sexist, flawed, and destructive to a healthy and equal society of women who engage in casual sex. Chemaly presents each point with the same industrious criticism and insight that she does with the former. 

Even if you don’t agree with some of the points she makes, you’ll be convinced by the end to do something and to be angry. Chemaly’s Rage Becomes Her is the feminist work that we need in an age of desensitization and patriarchy — it is simultaneously angry and sad, reflective and biting, and most importantly, pushes one to action. As Gloria Steinem claims in her review of Chemaly’s work, “After all, women have a lot to be angry about.”

Works Cited

Chemaly, Soraya. Rage Becomes Her: The Power of Women’s Anger. New York, Simon & Schuster, 2018. 

“Central Park: Amy Cooper ‘Made Second Racist Call’ against Birdwatcher.” BBC News, BBC, 14 Oct. 2020, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-54544443.

I'm an English major at University of Windsor. I enjoy reading, writing and painting. I'm very interested in social justice issues, like climate change, women's rights and sexuality/gender studies.
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