Bossy Takes: Lady Rage
Dearest Darlings of Dames Nation, hello & welcome. Pull up your comfiest chaise longue, drape yourself in your most glamorous swishy robes, pour yourself a frosty beverage, and strap in for a longform Bossy Take on a topic we’ve been discussing at length for longer than we care to mention: LADY RAGE.
Dame Margaret: Hiiiiii, Dame Sophie, My Lady of Righteous Indignation!
Dame Sophie: Heyyyy, bubbeleh! I am now picturing myself as a patron saint of fury in robes of scarlet, flying in on a little cloud of flames. Something really chill & not remotely grandiose.
DM: Could you maybe have a crown of bloody daggers, do you think?
DS: Absolutely. A shining golden crown with bloody daggers that are also shooting out bolts of lightning. Or maybe the lightning bolts are shooting out of my fingers? I’m picturing kind of a mix of Storm and Pallas Athena and Anya the Vengeance Demon, with a tiny dash of St. Mary for compassion.
DM: Perfect, yes, exactly.
DS: Anyway! Hi! Let’s talk about why feminine fury is so potent and terrifying!
DM: LET’S! I think it’s fun that we both agreed, immediately, that we were going to open this week’s newsletter with that classic gif of Madeline Kahn from Clue, even though you’ve never seen it [Editors’ note: We know. We’re fixing this soon.] I feel like it’s such a strong archetypal depiction of Lady Rage.
DS: I’ve seen this scene before and even without the context of the rest of the film, it’s such a perfect distillation of that feeling of having successfully suppressed one’s ire and vexation for so long, and just managing to keep it together, until you get to a point where people try you so much that you just cannot anymore and, well, flames burst out on the side of your face. Women do this alllllll the time, and nobody can deal with it! Including ourselves. Oh, irony.
DM: WELL, it’s hardly surprising, given the way Society pathologizes ANY emotion women express that’s not Bright Sunny Pleasantness, that women tend to shove anything more complicated or powerful than that under the rug UNTIL we explode with a marginally incomprehensible level of incoherent fury.
DS: Oh, my goodness, yes, when your palette of Officially Acceptable Emotions runs the whole entire gamut from Very, Very Mildly Annoyed (But It’s Fine, Totally Fine) to Absolutely Transported By Joy (But Not Too Often, Lest Ye Be Mistaken For a Manic Pixie Dream Girl Or Hysterical), it’s easy to see how that would be a problem. People get really worked up about female anger, and it’s a strong undercurrent in these pixel pages every week. Maybe it’s a stronger leitmotif in our minds than it is in the actual words, though? That feels uniquely feminine, too.
DM: I definitely think it’s stronger in our minds, and in our back channel discussions, than it is in our writing because, for better or worse, you and I are both very invested in presenting the kindest possible faces to the world. We are not indiscriminately kind, but we exert ourselves to be generous and — as we’re going to touch on later — there is a common tendency to conflate a general air of warmth with an eager willingness to eat shit. So, I feel like a lot of people would be surprised to hear that we think of ourselves as angry.
DS: I described myself once to our chums Andrew & Craig as being furious all the time, but rarely actually angry. Which is super weird, and made them laugh uncomfortably, as it should. Having these wild emotions and sublimating them into something socially acceptable for at least part of every day is deeply weird.
DM: In this way, ALL WOMEN ARE THE HULK.
DS: Oh, my goddddd. When Mark Ruffalo had that moment where he is actually Hulking out and tells Cap his secret of Hulkitude, I cheered right there in the theater. I was like, “Banner, c’est moi!” I felt so seen & understood.
DS: Shall we unpack this a bit further? We’ve been talking about this for so long and I know each of us has some favorite facets of lady rage to discuss. This whole conversation keeps revving my fury engine and also helping it cool down, which is interesting to observe and experience. What’s feeling especially resonant to you lately?
DM: How often my friends and I seem to ask each other permission before we actually admit that we’re experiencing anger. “I know ___ was just trying to help, but isn’t this email weird?” or “I’m sure I’m blowing this out of proportion….”, etc. etc. I sometimes feel like IT TAKES A VILLAGE [of HARPIES and SHREWS and VALKYRIES and VIRAGOS — every last one of them terribly, terribly shrill] for a woman to admit that she is feeling mad!
DS: Yeah, there’s our feminine socialization in action right there. “Is this emotion that I’m having actually the emotion that I’m having? Am I authorized to have this emotion? I’ll need that emotional authorization form filled out in triplicate before I can actually experience it without feeling bad.” This is a huge benefit to back-channel communications with fellow ladyfriends. It’s almost worthwhile to get mad, if only because of the loud communal cackling I get to do by processing that anger with my pals. And I do think there’s something valuable about the way women respond in undercover, subtle & funny ways to the ridiculousness we witness daily. For one thing, so much great art has arisen from feminine rage. For another, I don’t want to go around actually Hulking out all the time, but I do want to acknowledge my negative feelings more honestly in public. I think. I have a lot of conflicting thoughts about this.
DM: God bless our back channels and may all our diplomatic cables remain private. You and I do sooooooooo much work behind the scenes refining our SHEER MURDEROUS RAGE into at least marginally productive public actions. Which is a thing I have a lot of ambivalence about. Sometimes I wish I just did more SMASHING OF HEADS. But I feel like both of us are pragmatically conflict-averse. If we’re going to put energy into something, we want it to be something positive, we want it to be something useful.
DS: As deeply empathetic Hufflepuffs, we are both hugely conflict-averse. Maybe we should invest in some plates for the express purpose of smashing them? Emergency rage plates we can just slam on the ground when truly provoked?
DM: A stress counsellor once recommended that to my health class — having a special set of dishes just for smashing. At 14, it seemed ridiculous, but at 31, I sort of wonder how I’ve managed to survive this long WITHOUT such a thing.
DS: *adds Thrift Shop Rage Plates to annual budget* One thing that I have been thinking about a lot is that although I am not a person who holds many grudges, I do have a very serious 50 year-old cultural grievance I would like to air.
DM: TELL ME MORE!!
DS: Ok, prepare to laugh, and also to nod with profound understanding. I am seething, almost every day of my life, about the way that men managed to co-opt The Beatles.
DM: Not laughing, just cheering — as a woman who’s never really felt safe learning to love the Beatles because I know I will never do it hard enough to satisfy the men who think that band is THEIRS, this rage of yours makes a LOT of sense to me.
DS: If there’s one thing I could tell girls & women, it’s that their love for the things they love is enough. I mean. When girls (and let’s be real: plenty of boys, too) were screaming, weeping, and having major sexual epiphanies over those lovable, cheeky, suit-wearing moptops, the cultural tastemakers of the time (aka music critics, aka Important White Men) didn’t take them seriously. But those same girls were also supporting (and still do support) the entire fandom industry with their disposable income and enthusiasm. Then those darling moptops lose the suits, grow their hair even longer, smoke some weed, Columbus sitars, and start examining the darker side of their feelings with weird instrumentation & elliptical lyrics, and all of a sudden they’re the True Gods of Authentic Rock Genius? FUCK OFF, self-appointed dudebro arbiters of cultural legitimacy! The Beatles were always awesome, and they were always writing great songs that synthesized a whole bunch of musical genres in a seemingly-effortless-but actually-quite-artful way, and you know who heard that first? Teenage girls. Teenage girls are always figuring out what’s good and interesting and freaking out about it and getting policed for it, and it makes me furious. I wasn’t even alive then, but I just am so mad on behalf of those kids!
DM: OH MY GOD, yesssssss. “Teenage girls are smarter than you” is the #1 anthem on Bossy Dames Radio. See also: How young women act as linguistic innovators, and then are attacked for it!
DS: Yep! And/or getting totally ripped off, as is very frequently the case for young innovators of color.
DM: Yeah, this is a great moment to note that a LOT of what we’re saying about our experiences as Nice White Ladies™ is at least equally true or (more often) SIGNIFICANTLY more true for members of other marginalized groups, or people who are lucky enough to belong to multiple marginalized groups at once! Like, it can be socially challenging for us to express anger, but for black women, it can be socially challenging and also sometimes fatal. SO.
DS: For real. This resonates so strongly with my immediate post-Lemonade thoughts, which can be summarized as *unintelligible squeals of delight* and repeatedly smacking my forehead while whispering “that woman is a damn genius.” And you know? Cute male artists who make the leap from Accomplished Boy Band to Serious Artists can enjoy the Genius label. Beautiful women who make the same transition aren’t ever permitted to be considered fully Serious Auteurs. There’s always a qualification, a snickering reminder of her past career, or jabs about collaborating.
DS: My (least) favorite delegitimizing strategy of all: rumblings about how her work is “just autobiographical”, as if one’s life experiences were not a perfectly valid source of creative output, and as if that’s the only seam women can ever mine for their work. I went on a bit of a rant about this on Twitter recently, and I can’t stop thinking about it: why is women’s art specific and autobiographical, and never specific and universal? (I mean, I know why, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to shut up about it anytime soon.)
DM: It’s especially galling in this case because Lemonade happens to be both autobiographical and universal! Particularly in its incendiary and genius depiction of female anger. Our dear friend Hottie Kamille has written eloquently about this aspect of the album, focusing especially on the open rage that Beyonce is able to embody in “Don’t Hurt Yourself.” But the line from Lemonade that really gets me where I live is from “Hold Up” — “What’s worse? Being jealous or crazy?” Because so often, that’s the dilemma for women — which is going to be more difficult: choking down my anger even if it makes me act in ways I do not respect (jealous) or displaying my anger to a world eager to dismiss it as insanity (crazy)? It makes me think of how hard we train women to observe and respond to the tiniest social cues, to always read body language, to find the subtext between every line, and how highly society prizes those skills when women use them in service to other people. But the second we start using those social close-reading skills in self-defense, we’re crazy. The second I read between the lines and see hostility, or selfishness, or disregard, I’m making a mountain out of a molehill. What’s worse — being jealous or crazy? What’s worse — internalizing my observations, obsessing over them, analyzing them until I fall apart? Or giving myself permission to act on my observations, to experience the anger that they lead me to, even when people will try to gaslight me for it?
DS: This is such a classic example of how girls are socialized to regulate our emotions so well that we learn all the shades of ok emotions to experience. And that’s great! But we’re rewarded for focusing so closely on the “acceptable” emotions that we delay learning how to manage a sufficiently wide spectrum of negative (well, “negative”) feelings. It can feel dangerous just to say aloud “I’m really pissed about XYZ!” and move through that feeling to whatever awaits us emotionally on the other side of that first feeling.
DM: And then, of course, it’s not like it’s easy to figure out how to be angry even once I have decided that I am allowed to be angry. I, for example, suffer from a very particular fallacy, one that informs me that if I have been nice to a person once I have to persist being nice to them indefinitely, no matter what behavior they subsequently exhibit. And then, if they do something so egregious that even I have to admit their bullshit has crossed over from Average Everyday Bullshit into Fully Actionable Bullshit, I feel like I can only cease being nice to them if I issue a formal Statement of Niceness Revocation, possibly with a provided Action Plan for Niceness Reinstatement. I have drunk a loooooooooot of Kool-Aid about how much of my patience and generosity other people are entitled to, basically. And keeping myself from drowning in this LAKE OF KOOL AID WHAT I DRUNK is a constant struggle. One which, thank God, you help me with all the time, Sophie.
DS: Well, I try, and I’m happy to do so! Not that I’m so great with expressing my anger in the moment, mind you. I know I tend to either shove it down or flip out in a way that later makes me think, “what was that about?” I will overthink that stuff for days before choosing to act or let it go. But yeah, what are friends for, if not to reassure each other that the block button exists for a reason?
DM: I always say that the best way to close the wage gap would be to let women have their best friend come in and negotiate their salary on their behalf. Maybe we could address the rage gap similarly? Just let our best friends come in and clearly express on our behalf all the anger we try to tidy away in our own lives.
DS: I’m in favor of communal action to normalize lady rage. (#NormalizeLadyRage? Should that be a thing? I mean, I will if you will.)
DM: I am definitely in favor of normalizing lady rage. And I would hope that the pair of us writing this small novel on the subject will go some way to accomplishing that.
DS: Ok, let’s do this! Pinky swear.
Dames Sophie & Margaret: Ok, friends, if you’ve read this far, 1) 1,000 blessings upon your sweet & shining heads. You are heroes. 2) What are your experiences with lady rage? Do you feel like it’s a thing you have to avoid, lest you face dire social or behavioral consequences? Do you have tips for fellow Dames Nationals on how to manage & normalize it? Holler at/with your girls! We eagerly await your wisdom, howls, and ripostes on Twitter (and in our inbox — if a lot of you have responses, we’ll compile them in a future issue). Spread the word far & wide, Project #NormalizeLadyRage is here!