Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Is 2023 the Year Of Female Rage? We’re Here For It

Whether its in protests or pop culture, the rise of female rage is palpable – and powerful.

For too long – all of human history? – it was the default that women had to remain polite, remain quiet, or remain likeable (ideally – all three at once, while prettily staying in their corner). But in the past few years, it has felt like the tide is slowly, slowly turning. When Jacinda Ardern got caught on a hot mic seething against David Seymour last December, calling him ‘such an arrogant prick’, it was a rare moment of anger from a woman who has had to literally grin and bear it through a decade of sexist headlines.

For the most part, people were here for it. It was human, it was relatable. And without us knowing, it was also a harbinger of things to come. This was a woman who was far closer to her limit than any of us realised and that comment, which happened almost a month to the day before her surprise resignation, now feels like a little rage amuse-bouche. As we wrote in January, who could blame her.

Women have always been tired, women have always been angry – but it’s the public nature of this anger that is freeing to see. The 2016 election of Donald Trump still remains a watershed moment – Hillary Clinton was polite, well-presented, over-qualified and well-experienced, and she lost her job to a loud, dishevelled nepo baby who bragged about sexually assaulting women. The gloss of ‘polite’ wore off overnight; because polite will never protect you, as so many women know. Hot on the heels of the Trump election came the resurgence of the #MeToo movement, where privileged man after privileged man experienced a public downfall as their bad, if not criminal, behaviour was brought to light.

Throw into that rage cauldron a pandemic where women were both more likely to lose their job and more likely to shoulder the child-care burden, where the effects of those factors are still felt on the female workforce almost three years later. Add to that the fact that basic human rights like education, for the women in Afghanistan, and right to abortion, for the women in the US, have now been overturned, and the sense of global female exhaustion has been palpable for a while. And now that exhaustion is turning to rage, with a BBC analysis of the Gallup World Poll – which interviews over 120,000 people in 150 countries – showing that there is a widening gender rage gap. Around 40% of women say they felt angry in the past 24 hours, versus 27% of men. Are we surprised? As the saying goes, if you’re not angry, you’re not paying attention.

Last September, the alleged murder of Kurdish-Iranian woman Masha Amini sparked a women-led revolution in Iran, that – despite mostly disappearing from the Western news – has shown no signs of slowing down. Not only was this country-wide protest unique in that it was female led, it was also historical because it was led by young women – a government report found that the average age of protestors being arrested was just 15 years old.

And while the on-going revolution has seen tens of thousands arrested – and hundreds killed, including an estimated 70 children – it appears to be the most significant political protest against the government since the Islamic Republic was instated in the late 1970s. The mandatory hijab rule has managed to now anger three successive generations of women – and the protest reflects that. School girls terrorising political leaders, taking off their headscarves, giving the finger to the country’s leadership. It is both heartbreaking – teenage girls shouldn’t have to worry about things like this – and galvanising. The anger from the women of all ages is palpable – and powerful.

The importance of young female anger cannot be underestimated. You only have to look at the snowball effect of Greta Thurnberg’s role in the climate change groundswell to see what can happen. Back in 2018, when Greta was just 15 years old, she started off by skipping school to sit outside the Swedish parliament with a sign that read ‘School strike for climate’. Five years later, she remains one of the most identifiable activists on the planet, in a similar way to how an attempt to silence a 15 year old girl by the Taliban in 2012 turned Malala Yousafzai into a global hero. Underestimate the fury of an informed 15-year-old girl to your peril.

Female Rage In Pop Culture

Back in 2017, TV producer Ashley Lyle read an article about a planned remake of the iconic novel Lord of the Flies, only with all girls instead. The idea was laughed at – females just weren’t capable of that kind of primal anger, it was argued. Ashley told the NY Times that one of the most memorable pieces of criticism she heard was, “What are they going to do? Collaborate to death?” and her immediate thought was, “You were never a teenager girl, sir.” Well, that idea turned into Yellowjackets, the hit TV show where a group of teenage girls are stranded in the wilderness after a plane crash and slowly start fighting, killing and – it’s heavily implied – eating each other. It became a hit with both viewers and critics, with season two arriving on Neon shortly. It is… not for the faint-hearted.

Soon, we will get a new version of this young female rage. The Power, a mini-series that will arrive on Amazon Prime Video on March 31, is the television adaption of the best-selling dystopian novel by writer Naomi Alderman. It is – quite literally – electrifying stuff, telling the story of how females worldwide suddenly develop a ‘skein’ that allows them to channel electricity, which ends up causing a total shift in global power. The gender roles of both power and fear are quickly reversed; suddenly it is men who travel in packs on their way home in the dark, who fear the strange woman in their midst. Much like the bloodlust of Yellowjackets, The Power flies in the face of the assumption that women in power equals peace on earth. If anything, the women of the world are a coiled spring of rage, finally free to kick-start a reign of terror.

For so long, ‘likeability’ was seen as one of the most important characteristics a woman – and specifically, a woman in power, could have. But this is shifting both in the political field, and clearly in the pop culture one as well. Pop culture is often derided as not being serious, but it acts as both a mirror and a weapon for the culture at large. For instance, we got the messy woman for a while. Now we have the angry woman.

It’s interesting timing to have a pop culture revolution of female rage come at this point of the pandemic, of the climate change crisis, of the white male billionaires, of the will-they-won’t-they nuclear threats of the Ukraine/Russia war. Male anger is still so dominating, whereas female anger is still so domesticated – it’s hard to muster up the energy for anger when you’re shouldering the mental load of everything. Maybe that’s why we’re now in our revenge anthem era, or why shows like Yellowjackets and The Power are so cathartic to watch. If the 2000s were made up of TV series like Sex and the City and Gossip Girl, which showed us aspirational glamour, maybe the 2020’s will be dominated by aspirational anger instead. We love to see it.

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