In a recent post Xochitl Alvizo cited Beverly Harrison’s much-loved essay “Anger as a Work of Love.” Harrison captured feelings that were in the air at the time of its writing several decades ago. Women were laying claim to the right to be angry at the silencing of our voices, the double standard, the media portrayal of women, income inequality, lack of access to good jobs, failure to prosecute rape and domestic violence, and a host of other injustices.
Most of all we were protesting the cultural stereotype that the “good woman” (understood to be white, Christian, and married or hoping to be) would not protest loudly or at all, would turn the other cheek, and would think about others rather than herself. (Jewish women and black women had to strive doubly hard to “live up” to this standard, as it was assumed that Jewish women were “overly assertive” and that black women were “too strong” and often “angry.”)
In this context Harrison’s essay and Mary Daly’s epithet “rage is not a stage” gave women—especially white women–permission to get in touch with our feelings of anger and to express them. We understood that “good women” had been hiding and repressing their feelings for centuries if not millennia with the result that the structures of injustice remained intact.
Taking a cue from humanistic psychologies, we theorized that the repression of feelings harms the self—leading to depression, alcoholism, addiction, and suicide. Women—repressed white women especially– decided to express our anger and if necessary to let “all hell break loose.” I was among them.
I am writing this “next stage” reflection on anger from a specific context and situation. I grew up in a lower middle class white family in which anger was rarely expressed. I cannot remember hearing my parents fight (though I may have repressed memories of it). My father responded to questioning of his authority with “the silent treatment” rather than with yelling or blows.
My parents considered the open expression of anger to be “low class.” My mother and her mother would have also considered it to be “unchristian.” My brother responded by acting out the anger that was repressed in the family. Until I graduated from college, I was the “good girl” who tried not to rock the family boat.
For girls like me– I suspect Harrison and Daly were “good girls” too—the discovery of the liberating power of anger was a healing balm. With feminist permission and through the help of gestalt-bioenergetic therapy, I learned to “get in touch with” my feelings and express them.
Anger was not the only feeling I had repressed. I had also repressed hurt and vulnerability and need, as well as love. Getting in touch with my feelings was a good thing. I would encourage anyone who is struggling with repressed feelings to get in touch with them. But, I would add, this should never be the end of the story.
While I was still in the process of getting in touch with repressed feelings, I moved to Greece. One of the things that attracted me to Greece was the fact that Greek culture is “expressive.” Greeks scream and shout at the drop of hat, and they also cry and express grief easily. In this environment, I learned to scream and shout. This seemed to be good for me at the time.
Now that I have lived in an expressive culture for several decades (and in many ways become Greek), I can see its negative side. Stereotypes say that Greeks are “hot-headed” and “don’t think things through,” and this is also true. There is a great deal of family violence in Greece; the ability to express anger has not abated it, and in many cases exacerbates it. When things began to get difficult in my house remodel, the site manager and I would often scream at each other for hours on end. When one of my friends witnessed me unleash my anger at a shopkeeper, she told me that I was out of control and that she “didn’t recognize me” when I was angry.
This suggests to me that anger is not a panacea and that it is not always “a work of love.”
Where does this leave us? I would suggest that Daly’s epithet that “rage is not a stage” needs to be rethought. One meaning of “rage is not a stage” is that we should resist those who tell us that we should “get over” our anger and move on: as long as injustice exists, we are “right” to get angry about it. This is good counsel.
On the other hand if “rage is not a stage” means that we should “stay put” in the stage of expressing anger, then I would say that it is a false counsel. Anger is a trigger telling us that something “feels wrong.” We need to bring this trigger to awareness. We may need to cry out in order to do so. Rituals, liturgies, and therapy can provide safe spaces for this process.
But then we do need to “move on.” We need to examine our feelings and to think about where they are coming from and why. We can do this by ourselves and we can do it with others.
The next stage is to “transform” anger. Anger is hot like molten lava, and it is frightening and dangerous. We do need to exercise control over our feelings so that they do not harm ourselves and others.
This does not mean we must repress our anger. When we transform anger we remain conscious of it and direct our deep feelings of hurt and outrage into actions that can end injustice. This requires “skillful means.” It is not easy to figure out how to transform anger into a work of love. Recognizing and expressing anger is a first step. It should not be the last.
Carol is looking forward to the fall Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete–$150 discount for the next two women to sign up for the fall 2014 tour–www.goddessariadne.org. Carol can be heard in a recent interviews on Voices of the Sacred Feminine, Goddess Alive Radio, and Voices of Women. Carol is a founding voice in feminism and religion and Goddess spirituality. Her books include She Who Changes and Rebirth of the Goddess and with Judith Plaskow, the widely-used anthologies Womanspirit Rising and Weaving the Visions. Follow Carol on GoddessCrete on Twitter.
16 thoughts on “Anger is Not a Panacea: The “Next Stage” after Rage by Carol P. Christ”
Thanks, Carol. Your photo with your dog, in combination with the post, suggests we must fight for our rights via our rage, as you rightly point out, but also on the grounds of a feminist solidarity, itself rooted in unconditional love and compassion.
P.S. I should say your two dogs, maybe that doubles our compassion!!
My former dog a little poodle x was my true love, these 2 are pretty special too.
Thank you for this post. It came at just the right time. Because of a health crises and a decades long bad marriage, I found myself in the anger stage for two years. I have just recently come to the understanding that what I was dealing with was grief. And anger is one stage of grief. I have begun to heal and move on to the next part of my life. But, I have to say that my anger, it’s depth, strength, and longevity was a real shock for me and my family. This was a great post.
Good point Anina. I learned in therapy that something else is often underneath anger. In many cases it is disappointment, hurt, and need (for love and understanding).
This is interesting. I hardly ever feel angry, even though I have suffered things that would rightly produce rage in a person (terrible childhood sexual abuse, etc…). I do not know if I am repressing my anger. I used to suffer from depression, but through a deep immersion in my spirituality, and a paradigm shift in life itself, I have overcome that. I have only felt deep anger a few times, and it was mostly hurt, I realized, not anger, and so I just don’t know how effective anger is as a modality to act from. To me, personally, it tears me up inside to feel anger, and does a lot of damage (to my spirit), I think. My therapist thinks I am repressing my anger, I think that I see through anger. I think that effective change in the world cannot come from a place of anger. Thanks for your post. It’s allowing me to think about this a little more.
I remember going into therapy one week and saying I didn’t have any issues that week. The therapist looked at me and said, then why are your hands in a fist position. Guess what, I was angry about something and did not know it.
Thank you, Carol for this great post. I love that you picked up where I left off, as this is such an important topic and there is so much more to say about it. One of the things Audre Lorde says related to anger is that “Everything can be used, except what is wasteful.” To me it points to the fact that there are various ways in which we can use our anger for either constructive or for wasteful ends. This obviously connects with your great post today. Another great reflection on anger and the different ways we can use it is from Elizabeth Conde-Frazier. I recently heard her speak at the Hispanic Theological Initiative annual lecture; in response to a question about what we can do with righteous anger, she talked about the need to harness anger for good. I think that in both cases, Audre Lorde and Elizabeth Conde-Frazier (as I think with Beverly Harrison) are talking about anger that arises in response to injustice – and for them, anger is energy, a resource not to be wasted. Elizabeth is a passionate speaker, I recommend watching her in action. The video of her response is here, http://mediasite-ex.ptsem.edu/Mediasite/Play/1b41c1d4bdb84dc3a5f204a7b178307f1d, just start at minute 1:12:12. She’s a great speaker and a huge inspiration to me.
I’m with you that anger is not always the work of love – and that is definitely not what Beverly Harrison communicates either. She uses ‘always’ when she states that anger “is a sign of some resistance in ourselves to the moral quality of the social relations in which we are immersed” And one may disagree with that also, but I just wanted to clarify that she does not state, nor did I intend to imply, that anger was *always* the work of love.
I agree with you that Harrison’s essay was nuanced as you said in the comments on your post. However, the trajectory of the spirit of the times — feminism + humanistic psychology — and the title itself which was not qualified as “anger can be a work of love” was more optimistic about the function of anger than I for example am today.
Thank you, Xochitl, for your post last week and for this reply about the use of anger. I am also glad that you have clarified Harrison’s point. I went to Union in 1982 to study with Harrison after reading this essay – which was being distributed widely in mimeographed form among feminists. In this essay, Harrison speaks of three basepoints for a feminist moral theology: activity as the mode of love, our bodies, ourselves as agents of love, and the centrality of relationship. Most powerful for me are her assertions that “we must learn what we are to know of love in the struggle for justice” and that “the creative power of anger is shaped by owning this great strength of women and of others who have struggled for the full gift of life against structures of oppression.” In my judgment, this essay is very relevant for responding to systemic violence, as you did in your post.
Your posts always resonate with me, Carol, thank you for your presence and ability to bring yourself into your writing. The ability to transform our anger is a powerful magic in the purest, alchemical and natural essence of the word. Blessings!
Once again, an important conversation. As “good women,” we are told to stuff our anger. As early 2nd wave feminists, we were given permission to explode. Neither works very well, and both injure ourselves and those in our social environment. I would use the word “channel” rather than transform when it comes to anger (although both can happen, I think). If we just find the right outlet, our anger can become the energy to write the letter to the editor, organize a protest, stand up to a teacher or a boss, file a sexual harassment suit, etc. We’ve got a lot to be angry about, but living in the state of anger is detrimental to our health and to those around us. So use the energy that anger brings in its wake and, thereby, dispel it.
Nancy, do you think that a lot of “how” we use — in a healthy way — the anger that rises could be based upon our individuality? Some of us need to transform the anger, while others may need to channel it? So that is isn’t really a one-size-fits-all but comes down to how each of us handles the Fire within us? (I’m considering this from the Ayurveda perspective.) For instance, I know women who have a high Fire content in their innate constitution, and they are finally comfortable channeling the Fire, while others with a high Air element in their makeup are frightened of the Fire and more comfortable transforming it. Maybe this is what you are meaning when you say “use the energy that anger brings in its wake”? I enjoy reading all the comments to great posts like Carol’s and Xochitl’s, because the responses reveal how differently we perceive the message.
Darla, what a good question! I don’t really know the answer, because as an “n of one” (only one person), I know my own ways of dealing with anger and only anecdotally those of others. I know in my life, I sometimes avoid knowledge of things that will anger or upset me, because I need to retreat to greater calm and simplicity for my own mental health. These are the times when I take a vacation from reading the news, because “if it bleeds, it leads.” So at least in my life, I sometimes channel anger, and sometimes step out of its way.
Carol I look forward to your Monday posts. This one in particular spoke to me, as I have grappled with the family dynamic of female anger, or intellect for that matter, being inappropriate and not tolerated, and I have worked with the stifling patriarchy of the military industrial complex and government–often screaming silently and out loud . When I watch the World News and read the headlines it makes me want to run into the ocean screaming! I often think “am I crazy to be this angry, is this righteous anger or some repressed something from my past or present? Frankly it doesn’t matter, it is there and sometimes it is positive and sometimes it is just what it is. But I have tried to channel some of it into writing, and some into what I call Women’s Work—that would be women’s rights, women’s choice, women being allowed just to live. So here is my offering, I had not published anything before experiencing the Goddess Pilgrimage in 2009, this piece is published in We’Moon 2015 – WILD CARD. If it appears to be written by an angry woman, I would have to say, “It was”…
INVOCATION FOR EVOLUTION REVOLUTION
O Great Mother, Giver of Life, Mistress of Death and Bringer of Change, Your Terrible Beauty is ever present! It glows on the faces of women bent double in rice paddies; it shimmers on faces gazing at countless computer screens and common dish water; and it darkens the face of the mother brushing flies from her starving child’s brow. It is reflected back from mirrors as we color our lips and eyes, or trace smile and frown lines earned over decades of being and seeing all that is magnificent and monstrous in our world. Your power is ever present, vibrating in us from conception to death. Even after the moon blood no longer flows, the pull of your tides moves in our veins waxing and waning our passions in polarities of ecstasy and despair. It thrums in our hearts at the first touch of the hand of a newborn grandchild; and it courses through our fists clenched in righteous indignation as a Soldier Mother barely done suckling her newborn is told to “lock and load”, and sent off to an arena of patriarchal posturing, petroleum politics, death and destruction. The product of a perverted equality that rapes the bodies, minds, and spirits of our daughters, sisters, and mothers—and leaves destitute the hearts and souls of our sons, brothers, and fathers. The cacophony of this global dissonance, demands that we raise our voices in your sacred name and shout “Enough!” I brought you in and I can take you out!” A truth not written in the dogma that fires global strife, but deep in the psyche, souls, and cells of us all. The hands that pick the rice, brush the flies, and rock the cradle, will still the hands that wield the swords, and silence the voices of hate. It is a joyful and fearsome burden we accept—borne of compassion, reason and courage! O, Wholly Mother, Giver of Life, Mistress of Death, and Bringer of Change, it is our honor to share the burden of your Terrible Beauty as we birth this evolution revolution! Copyright 2012 Martha Hamed (Baywolf) We’Moon 2015 “Wild Card”
Mary, Thank you for posting “Invocation for Evolution Revolution.” What a powerful statement in opposition to the “perversions” of patriarchy!
I especially resonated with the statement: “[Your power] courses through our fists clenched in righteous indignation as a Soldier Mother barely done suckling her newborn is told to “lock and load”, and sent off to an arena of patriarchal posturing, petroleum politics, death and destruction. The product of a perverted equality that rapes the bodies, minds, and spirits of our daughters, sisters, and mothers—and leaves destitute the hearts and souls of our sons, brothers, and fathers.” I’ve always felt the equality available to women in military was perverted, because war is one of patriarchy’s defining characteristics. We’ve learned just how perverted this “equality” is with the knowlege that 40% of all military women are raped while in the armed services. I look forward to We’Moon 2015, and until then I’ll just have to print out your invocation, so I can read it when I need it.