"I, justonlyjenn, take thee rage, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and health, ‘til death do us part."
I was reviewing my archived post from November 2016, after Trump was elected. That’s the last time I felt as acutely angry as I have felt for the past two weeks. Its been nearly two years since Trump was elected, and even after hundreds of thousands of people knitted “pussy hats” and marched for Women’s Lives and shared their #metoo stories; after the bravery of Dr. Blasey Ford’s moving testimony, and the thousands of women (and men) who courageously came forward and shared their assault experiences in hopes that they would be heard, we still have to watch Brett Kavanaugh sworn in to serve on the Supreme Court for the rest of his life, and what will likely be much of the rest of mine. It’s Election Day 2016, 2.0.
After Trump was elected, I vowed I was going to become more active in my community, and I was going to channel my rage into something productive. I was going to write and march and volunteer and scream. But in the end, I have done nothing. I have been a harsh critic of what’s wrong with our government and society from the comfort and safety of my own head; Facebook page and living room.
Two years ago, I expressed my discomfort with my rage. It was an unfamiliar feeling, and one that I did not “do” on the regular. I felt rage for weeks after the election, and it genuinely surprised me that it lasted that long. Usually if I felt angry, it was for a fleeting moment, or maybe a few hours, and then those feelings were comfortably stuffed back down inside where I consciously and subconsciously thought they belonged. Even now, my feelings of anger and rage that I have been feeling over the past two weeks have somewhat mutated into the more familiar feelings of depression and exhaustion. But my anger has not entirely dissipated. I haven’t told it to go away this time.
This time, I have something to help me navigate my anger. I have been listening to Rage Becomes Her: The Power of Women’s Anger, by Soraya Chemaly. I am not yet done with the book, but from the moment I heard the first word uttered in this audiobook (it’s also available in print, by the way), I knew it was going to become a powerful tool for me to use going forward. In the first chapter aptly named, “Nice to Meet You, Rage”, Soraya says, “Reflect with me for a moment: how did you first learn to think about emotions, and anger in particular?”
I have spent much of the past twenty-five years of my life reflecting upon my childhood and how learned behaviors and experiences have affected my attitude; the decisions I’ve made; the people I dated, and the jobs I’ve taken. I’ve worked extremely hard to unlearn so much of what I was taught, and to stop repeating behaviors and actions I either witnessed or that I developed as coping mechanisms. I have thought a lot about my depression and sadness over the years, but I never once thought about anger. Well, to be more honest and precise, I never thought about my own anger. Once I began to reflect on my own thoughts about anger, so much of my life, and especially the past twenty years came into focus and began to make much more sense.
When I think about anger, I think primarily of my mother. My mother was extremely angry for most of my life, and from what I’ve heard from my older siblings, she was angry throughout their lives, as well. My mother was not well-liked by me or my siblings, and she had few friends, until she and my father moved to Florida (when I was about 27; she was about 68, and my father was about 73.) I did not love my mother growing up; I was terrified of her. When I was twelve, I had a diary, and in it, I referred to my mother as “the dictator”, and I wrote that I hated her. One day, she (intentionally) rummaged through my room; found the diary; read it; confronted me with it after school, and then took me out into the backyard, where she stood over me and made me rip out each page over a garbage can, and vow that I’d never keep another diary again. When I was fourteen or fifteen, I vowed to myself that I would become my mother’s “perfect daughter”, hoping that if I behaved and thought exactly as she wanted me to, and never did anything to upset her, that she might finally be happy. I effectively turned off my own thoughts and feelings and became a “Stepford” daughter. I worked hard in school; went to church with my parents every Sunday and continued religious education classes once a week until I graduated high school. I didn’t watch Rated “R” movies; I didn’t have sex; I didn’t drink; I did not once even think of trying any drug. I thought what she wanted me to think, and felt what she wanted me to feel. When teachers or other parents would ask me how I was doing, if my mother was nearby, she would answer for me. “She’s fine,” she would say, and I would just smile. Despite my best behavior, my mother remained miserable, angry, controlling and mean. Suppressing my own thoughts and feelings, and not even getting the satisfaction of making my mother happy, meant I often felt powerless and depressed. On the rare occasion I actually let my sadness or depression show, my mother screamed at me that I had nothing to be depressed about. On the even rarer occasion that I expressed an independent thought or opinion, my mother would rip into me, calling me selfish in a tone usually reserved for words like “whore” or “slut.” It took me until I was nearly 30 years old to get rid of the feeling of dread and stomach-churning fear that I had when my mother would call or visit.
So historically, when I have thought about anger, I have thought of my mother. To be more specific, I have thought about me not wanting to be associated with or likened in any way to my mother, and I have done everything in my behavioral power to be the opposite of her. But if I am being completely honest and more precise, I have never wanted to be perceived as an angry woman. Society, and my own internalized misogyny tell me that angry women are unattractive and unlikable, and I very much want to be liked. I want to be liked and special, and I want to matter. Angry women are dismissed and disregarded as “crazy bitches.” I dismissed my own mother was a “crazy bitch.” I do not want to be my mother. Thus, I will make everything okay, by being agreeable at all times. When I feel otherwise, I will listen to some angry music, and stuff that shit down, just like I learned to do as a child.
I never made that connection before now. And when I continue thinking about anger, I realize that I have continued to silence my own anger my entire life. I have kept it politely contained in a cancerous little black box hidden deeply in my core. I have buried it under layers of fat and mountains of financial debt. Everything I wrote about two years ago - my “fear cycle”, and how I have repeated the same behaviors out of my fear of failure, or even a fear of success, I now view as my fear of my self – my true and full self. I have been afraid to let my rage out because I thought it would destroy me, or more so, that others would destroy me for expressing it. I thought it would take away from my arguments; my validity. I have stuffed it down so far, for so long, that I have remained a largely silent, compliant citizen; working as a friendly, supportive Executive Assistant at investment banks and large corporations for twenty years (much more on this later, by the way.) Regularly over the past two years, I have stifled my anger and rage in hopes that I would somehow figure out how to package actual facts about enraging injustices into safe, digestible little treats that might “bring us all together” and make some Trumper/conservative/cousin/any person on the “other” side care and “see the light.” But out of frustration from my inability to do so, and frustration with my own frustration, I would just give up, and go back to just trying to live my life: silent; compliant and utterly and cyclically miserable.
But this time, I am not just going to go back to living my life in the same way I always have. I am not going to silence my anger any more. My number one priority is to get comfortable with my own rage. To feel it; let it linger; let it stay. Let it become a regular part of my feelings repertoire. Because stuffing it down has done me a great disservice. It has cut me off from a huge part of myself, and it has helped drive my feelings of self-doubt and fear. It has made me doubt and second-guess so much of what I know to be true: that privileged, white, racist, rapist men have been ruling our country from day one and ruling the world for centuries. It has allowed me to turn that harsh reality so easily into: “#notallmen” or “no, it’s not really that bad; I am just being dramatic” or “I should just be grateful for how much has changed.” It’s what is driving my need to write this sentence: just because I wrote “privileged, white, racist, rapist men” doesn’t mean I think all white men are privileged, racist and/or rapists. I shouldn’t have to clarify that, but I will, because like Ani DiFranco sings in Not A Pretty Girl, “every time I say something they find hard to hear, they chalk it up to my anger, and never to their own fear.”
So, I’m here now, and although I am uncertain about my future, I am not afraid. This anger feels good; it feels right. I have the right to feel angry, and so do you. I am going to do my best to turn my anger into measurable and results-driven action. I am sure I will stumble along the way, but I vow to act, and to carry my anger as a full part of me and driving force as I do.
Yes, Donald Trump is still President and Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed to the Supreme Court. Yes, Russia interfered with the 2016 election, and is trying to interfere with the midterm election coming up. Yes Trump and Graham and McConnell lie to the American public, and blame the Democrats for everything. Yes, they have an entire television network dedicated to their point of view, as well as the majority of the radio waves and a large part of the Internet, but they still accuse the "mainstream, liberal media" of lying and being biased. Yes, they control the White House, the House of Representatives, the Senate and now the Judiciary. But even with all of that, they still don't control the majority of Americans. Even with all of that, Trump didn't win the popular vote, and Kavanaugh barely squeaked by. Yes, there is validity to the concept that a "win is a win", no matter how narrow the margin. But there is also value in knowing that they will never have ALL the power, and we still have tremendous power to wield. I KNOW that how Trump acts, and how Graham and Hatch, and McConnell and Collins and Flake have acted is WRONG and a sign of their true weakness. I KNOW without a shadow of doubt that WE are on the right side of history; NOT them. Thousands of people have already harvested their rage, and have been lining the halls of the Capitol and filling the streets. Now I need to harvest my own righteous rage and indignation, so I can help them turn it all into measurable, results-driven action. And I vow I will.
Sharing my thoughts in hopes of defining myself and connecting with you.