& being a woman

This weekend I met up with some lovely women at a coffee shop for a writing group I run. We talked through our project and process and when it was my turn I pitched my new project, a horror script. I gave them the logline and an overview of the plot… but as I was describing it I became increasingly self-conscious about the kind of violence and anger I was describing—which, while appropriate for the story and genre, seemed like something I shouldn’t share with near-strangers. I stopped short before describing the more gruesome climactic details, and just laughed a bit as I searched for something to say. “I… I’m kind of filled with rage these days,” I said. Their eyes immediately lit up with sympathy and a similar fire. “Me too,” they said.

Being a woman is exhausting. Lately I keep thinking about how there seems to be a moment each day when I remember how marginalized women are. I’ll be enjoying my day, going about my business— and then read the news, or feel nervous around a man, or see a sexualized or gender-targeted advertisement, or need to watch my words carefully, or have someone act condescending or dismissive toward me—and then I remember it all over again. And each day it’s still just as painful. I remember that, generally speaking, I have to work harder to succeed, that I have to make sure that my Doctors are taking me seriously, that I need to be on guard when there’s a threatening man sitting near me on the bus. It often crops up in unexpected places, like when I read that because cars are designed with men being the “average human,” that women are 47% more likely to be injured in a car accident, like when I hear the phrase “first female president” and realize that we still have not had a female president, like when I watched First Man and felt ripped off that women have not even had the chance to go to the moon. (And this whole issue compounds, of course, for people of color, those with disability, and people in the LGBTQ community)

I’m not good at being angry. I avoid it, often quickly processing the feeling into sadness or anxiety instead. Growing up, I was taught that we should be slow to anger and quick to love. I am not angry often. It simply isn’t naturally occurring for me—I’m much more likely to be sad. And so, for a long time the idea that it was important to “stay angry” seemed oxymoronic to me.

But I can still remember the first time that I felt rage. Something beyond annoyance or indignant or frustration, and beyond even angry— it was something born out of love but felt far more dangerous than that. I felt a pure, boiling sensation that made me feel as if my soul was going to break free from my body, or that all the feeling within me would spark and cause a fire or an earthquake. The first time I felt rage was when a close friend told me that she had been sexually assaulted. And I saw red.

It feels like these moments of rage are happening with an increasing frequency. Part of that is growing up, part of that is getting more involved in the political world, part of that is the current administration and the decisions it makes. But most of it… is just part of being a woman. It’s looking at history and seeing an absence of women’s history, erased or simply not allowed to participate. It’s having the things you care about being deemed “less than” because they’re feminine, or being told you don’t belong when you like things that are masculine. It’s getting paid less for the same work, or getting passed over for promotions because you don’t look like “leadership.” It’s realizing that women have only been voting in this country for less than 100 years, and that your rights are astonishingly fragile. It’s getting told that your body is not your own, and that you owe it to others. It’s feeling as if you are an object rather than a person.

Generally speaking, I’m against the hyper-branded, capitalistic iteration of “girl power!” that is so prominent right now, an iteration that seems marked by digging into the gender binary rather than rising above it. But beyond that, I do believe in sisterhood. I believe in the collective power women have, and in our ability to stand together and rise up. Women have started revolutions and marched and been martyred, we have created astonishing art and written powerful words, we have organized and mobilized and invented and in doing so have moved mountains. Women, cis-gendered or not, are bound together by blood and scars— a constant cycle of renewal as we are torn down and beaten but then drag ourselves back up again. We are life and death combined.

I am not good at anger— and I believe that it is an unhealthy emotion to hold onto. But I am coming around on Rage. Rage is a fuel. It pushes us to stand up to the patriarchal hegemony and assert our existence and overturn laws that threaten us. Rage is fire and passion and blood. Rage is intrinsic to womanhood.

It’s exhausting to be a woman. But in the meantime, I’m glad that I can look to the other women in my life and say “I’m filled with Rage these days,” and they will say “Me too.”