Emilie Pine in The Guardian:
When I was 11, I read Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. Like every girl who wants to be a writer, I idolised Jo. Rereading it recently, I re-encountered so many things I’d loved, from Jo’s exuberant character to her ability to make an independent living from writing. But I stumbled when I came to these words from Marmee: “I am angry nearly every day of my life, Jo; but I have learned not to show it … I’ve learned to check the hasty words that rise to my lips; and when I feel that they mean to break out against my will, I just go away a minute, and give myself a little shake for being so weak and wicked.” Marmee’s advice to Jo is: repress your anger, because the cause is not the problem – it’s you.
…Rage is beginning to feel like a permanent state of being. The cultural turn towards listening to women’s anger is, obviously, a good thing. But there are times when it feels as if being vocally angry has become a requirement, rather than an option. Where once women’s emotional labour was invested in suppressing anger, now we work to display our pain for a public gaze that is often unsympathetic. Think of all the hashtags: #MeToo, #TimesUp, #WhyIStayed or #WhyIDidn’tReport. A lot is being asked of women – not only that they identify and labour to fix the problems of gender inequality, but also that they absorb the emotional and social consequences of protest. Protest is necessary. But it is also exhausting.
I thought about all these questions as I watched Hannah Gadsby’s standup show Nanette, a call to action to angry women. Gadsby reveals the damage done by the self-deprecating scripts gay women are forced into by our homophobic culture. She demands that the narrative changes – both her own, and ours – to accommodate her fury. But then, in the show’s final moments, Gadsby declares that she is wary of anger. Anger, she says, is a way to unite people, but ultimately it only serves to spread “blind hate”. It’s a double bind. We need anger to call out inequality and violence, we need anger to provoke a reaction, and we need anger to drive us towards change. But anger will scar and consume us. It’s a salutary warning. Gadsby’s invocation to tell our stories, but to resist anger, is worlds away from Marmee’s advice to Jo. No longer are women expected to shake themselves; instead, we are being asked to shake the world. But giving permission to women to be angry does not mean that we have divested ourselves entirely of 19th-century attitudes to women and power.