Issue XX: Rage

Issue XX: Rage

Welcome, dear reader to the 20th issue of Dis-Course! I will quickly mention that this is the last issue that will be published bi-weekly and I will be publishing once a month for a little while. In this time we will be posting the upcoming themes and submission deadlines on our Instagram and I strongly encourage you to share your work to be published in the newsletter! The topic of the week is rage. I’ve broken this issue into two parts. One that discusses the universal dynamics and effects of rage on the person. The second goes into rage and identities, specifically female rage and its space [or lack thereof] in society. 

Rage - Universally

Much like jealousy, rage is one of those universal yet taboo emotions we seldom feel we can discuss. The intensity of such a heightened emotion brings with it a sense of vulnerability. Whenever I’ve seen a bar fight –or some display of rage of that nature–, one emotion that seems to come up rather quickly in the aftermath is embarrassment. People feel embarrassed by their outburst and the display of their feelings. We don't get to claim the charisma of stoicism if we react with rage. 

As children, we all had tantrums or the odd meltdown. With the exception of more extreme cases [often due to an underlying cause such as ADHD, autism, anxiety, or learning disorders], it is normal for children to display anger or frustration via temper tantrums. As we develop, we learn to manage our distress. Most of us learn communicational skills which means that we no longer have to resort to outbursts. However, we continue to experience frustration, distress, and anger which we often bottle up to maintain civility and decorum. This leads us to suffer from what one might call a form of emotional constipation. When we don’t have healthy outlets for a natural emotion, we end up boiling over in unconstructive ways. 

Understanding rage is crucial to channel it constructively rather than being beckoned into unhealthy behavioural and cognitive patterns by it. Trying to ignore or suppress it only gives it more space to covertly fly under the radar and influence your decisions and actions without your conscious knowledge. I have been told at a couple of points in my life that I was holding onto anger that I had yet to notice. It took my mother, or that one ex, for example, pointing it out for me to identify it. Not to say that I was particularly violent. But I can admit that I was unnecessarily reactionary in everyday conflicts, or that I was drawn to uncharacteristically aggressive hobbies (playing the drums, tactile sports, finding myself in the middle of the aforementioned bar fights...) This said, people are still responsible for their acts of rage. One cannot claim oblivion as an affordance of acquittal. Acts committed under ignorance can still cause harm to others. However, harbouring unacknowledged rage can perpetuate our internally or externally destructive patterns and it is nobody’s responsibility but ours to check it.

A common consequence of unidentified anger is self-destructive behaviour. Most people, I’d like to believe, do not walk through the world with malevolent intentions. We don’t want to inflict harm on others and would not do so willingly. Yet, we rarely consider the violence we inflict upon ourselves with our bad habits. Ranging from bad sleeping habits and not eating clean, to smoking and recreational drug use, we all have behaviours that are detrimental to our health. An angry state can trigger us to engage in harmful acts by enabling what this article calls “permissive thoughts”. Picture someone taking up smoking again as a result of finding out their partner was unfaithful, or putting their fist through drywall as an act of rage. Neither of these acts are particularly hurtful to anyone but the individual themselves, yet they are acts of rage. While these are both more extreme examples, we can have our anger running in the background in smaller doses too. A bad day at work may lead to a few unnecessary drinks at the bar. We may overindulge in a shopping spree because we had a stressful conversation with a parent.

A general sense of being wronged by the world can lead down the cognitive avenue of “I deserve to do X harmful act because Y unfair thing happened to me”.  We permit ourselves to be destructive due to our rage. These continued negative thoughts may manipulate us from within without our knowledge or consent. This cycle becomes as vicious as our rage; we go from one destructive behaviour to the next and consequently, our anger harms us more than whomever we feel angry toward. 

Rage and Identity

Anger and rage are deeply gendered in society. There is a clear divide in how we approach the anger of male-presenting versus female-presenting children. According to studies of aggression within social psychology, a learned behavioural trait in female aggression is covertness. While children socialised as male tend to demonstrate overt aggression [physical and verbal violence] children socialised as female tend to demonstrate relational aggression. This term refers to behaviours with the intention of damaging someone’s relationships such as rumour spreading, gossip, or manipulation. There are a few potential reasons for this. Verbal development in young girls develops sooner than boys which is linked to the use of relational aggression. Furthermore, the social discouragement of girls from expressing anger or frustration may result in them resorting to more intricate forms of aggression.

As I roll into the discussion of female rage, I think it is crucial to discuss the effects of gender inequality on people socialised as boys. Somehow, we have marketed anger as the only emotion men are allowed to express without the fear of judgement. We limit any space that men can discuss and process their feelings and encourage the expression of rage instead. As a consequence, we have masses of men who only feel comfortable expressing anger; or who become violent toward others or toward themselves. The mental health of men plummets as a result. We lose thousands of lives annually to suicide due to the archaic notion that “men don’t cry”. The topic of male emotional socialisation is vast and deep. Though I have touched on it in a previous article, I plan to further focus on the topic in a future issue.

As a complete contradiction to society's approach to male rage, the anger of women is consistently invalidated and infantilised. I think most women are familiar with the sentence “You’re so cute when you’re mad!”. Our expressions of rage are equated to being hysterical or crazy [because there couldn't possibly be a sane reason as to why, in a world dictated by our oppression, we might be angry]. By stifling our anger, we are biting our tongue; becoming complacent in the undermining of our pride. “Indignity becomes imminent in our notions of femininity,” says Soraya Chemaly, author of ‘Rage Becomes Her’ and it rings a little too true for comfort.

In November 2020, a close friend was approached on the street. She was accosted by a man in his early 20s –the same age as us at the time– who didn’t take no for an answer. I won't go into detail but I will outline that the next couple of days were followed by police reports and a Facebook post that started a mini #MeToo in the scope of our city. Many had had similar experiences. Over the next few months, I watched as my friend struggled to process the rage that had been unlocked from this run-in. [She sits across from me now, reading Murakami and drinking an iced latte; she is content in her new city]. It was this experience that made all the other micro-incidents unbearable. Every other time that someone had transgressed her boundaries and she had not reacted –as per the teachings of social decorum– rushed to the forefront of her mind. She was angry for a long time. An anger that some might have viewed as misplaced, yet an anger that had been brewing as time and time again she, like many other women, had experienced injustice and had to maintain good manners. She had to sit pretty in her indignity. It took a deeply threatening experience like this to break the dam.

I can think of more than a couple of micro-incidents in the last few months alone in which someone [a man] directly undermined me and I had to react with civility. The imposition of external labels of “hysterical”, “easily triggered”, and “such a b*tch” are enough to be oppressive. I know that if I reacted in the ways that I wanted, at comments made at my expense –these comments were directly linked to my female identity– I would be labelled as an angry feminist who can’t take a joke. Whilst I don't necessarily have any qualms with this, I take issue with two immediate consequences of this label. First, other women would be categorised alongside me as the men in the room [obviously harbouring more than a couple of misogynistic bones in their bodies] would fail to comprehend the nuances of individuality within social groups. Thus, all feminists must be raging party poopers [such as myself]. Second, it's not my job to educate anyone. I do not bear the burden of emotional labour to make other people less horrible. If someone has reached their twenties+ and still makes juvenile, objectifying, misogynistic comments, that's on them. I will not try to redeem their existence in the world, wearing their sexism on their sleeve for all to see. How embarrassing!

Like all other emotions of a high calibre, rage contains an immense potential for action. The Greta Thunbergs, James Baldwins, and the Gloria Steinems of the world weren’t born out of indifference. We must learn to harness our anger. I do not have enough space in this article to delve into other perspectives on rage. However, we must acknowledge that expressions of anger are gendered and viewed from a racial perspective and that the anger of individuals is politicised due to people’s identities. The imposition of these gendered and racialised judgements further fuels our fury but as discussed above, rage caged harms the individual more than anyone else. Unfortunately, I don’t have easy answers as to how one can learn to control or direct their anger. It appears that this is a deeply individual process. Some get into MMA, some get into crocheting. However, what seems to be a red thread is catharsis. I encourage you to find what helps release your anger safely and to use this outlet as a means of identification. It's easier to see what’s inside a kettle when it isn't bubbling and hissing.

Reading next

Issue XIX: Gratitude
Issue XXI: Coming Back

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