Posts from Memory Lane: How Feminists Can (and Should) Use Righteous Anger

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

These posts were written during the summer while I was in Bangladesh, in preparation for the upcoming academic year. Long story short: when I looked back at the archive, I didn't have the desire or the time to put them up. But now, since I'm coming back to the blog, I decided that some of them aren't half bad. Read on!

In the newspaper while I was in Bangladesh, a health official claimed that women who requested maternity leave would just "keep on making more babies" and that they should just leave their jobs because it wasn't what they needed to be doing anyway. They were, as he put it, baby-making machines. As you can imagine, we were more than a little upset.

From this article, my sister and I had a (loud) conversation over lunch about how feminism looks in Bangladesh. We know how sexism looks, clearly, but what about the response to it?

As a feminist myself (though one who comes from a Western tradition and history) and, at that point not knowing how she felt about the movement, I let her talk for some time before delving into my opinion. She said that oftentimes the representation of feminists is of the loudest ones - the ones that are asking for, in her opinion, the most extreme types of things (though we didn't get too specific on this, we talked about people who didn't want women to become housewives and mothers, for one thing). We went back and forth about whether these people were useful in the movement or whether they were spoiling it for the other people who had more choice-oriented opinions. I interjected that the media has its own agenda in showing "those types" of feminists in their worst light so that they can undermine the movement itself and she agreed. But something that we left aside was whether those feminists - the angry ones that the media always seemed to find - were necessary in the movement. They had righteous anger, which we ourselves kept inside to be played out in arguments over the kitchen table, but that they touted out on the streets. Is it appropriate to say that their expression is injurious?

I think that righteous anger is important.

Types such as that which rises in response to horrifying sexism is necessary to spur people to action and to break down barriers. My sister argued that maybe that type of anger was necessary before when women had to fight and fight for every little thing, but I think that it's still relevant today - especially with all the retrograde thinking that is coming up in response to slowing economics, at least in the American and European contexts. We need it to bust through the walls that still exist for us. We need it so that we can demonstrate against sexism, speak loudly over others, and not to give in to the habitual docility that goes along with the feminine stereotype. We need it because it can be healing and rejuvenating also.

But, righteous anger should not be used to stifle other women and foster narrow-minded opinions.

Telling women that they shouldn't be housewives or get married for "the movement" is not a way to use righteous anger. Or, in a historical context particularly for black women in the United States, telling them that if they used birth control pills, they were harming "unity" and "their role" is just another form of oppression*, this time within the bounds of so-called progress. These are choices that people need to make on their own as they define their own feminism and their own lives, not for someone else to be telling them how to live. Suggest, sure. But order? No way.

The bottom line is that righteous anger can be used to spark inspiration, education, and revolution, but it cannot and should not be used to re-establish the same bounds of oppression that we have sought to dissipate within the feminist movement and any other progressive work.