What should we do with angry women?

September 25th, 2018

Women are angry. As we near the one-year mark of the allegations of serial sexual assaults by Harvey Weinstein, and as we are embroiled once again in a public conversation brought up by the Kavanaugh Supreme Court hearings, women are angry and tired at not being believed. On Monday, women and men dressed in black and walked out in support of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s allegations against Judge Kavanaugh and, more generally, in support of believing survivors.

Earlier this month, Serena Williams made headlines when she was penalized by an official for smashing her racket and vociferously protesting a call at the US Open. Critics condemned her behavior, and then there was a backlash against the criticism, calling it sexist and arguing that men received fewer penalties for similar behavior. While such behavior is less tolerated now, “bad boy” behavior from male athletes and coaches is normalized and is even seen as amusing. But an angry woman, and particularly an angry black woman, is frightening and deserving of punishment.

Like many women, I was socialized to rarely, if ever, show my anger. I learned that when women raise their voices, they are seen as “hysterical” (a sneakily sexist word derived from the Greek word for “uterus”), but men who raise their voices are passionate. This cultural phenomenon is usually compounded in the church, where “good Christian girl” is synonymous with being sweet, gentle, and compliant. Unfortunately, those very qualities also have the potential to make women the perfect targets for assault and abuse.

It has been a journey for me to accept and claim my anger, to realize it is a valid emotion just like any other and to know I am not wrong or bad for feeling it or expressing it in healthy, appropriate ways. Psalm 37:9 implores us to “Refrain from anger; leave rage alone,” and not to worry ourselves about evildoers because true justice comes from God. Ultimately, yes, this is true, but anger at the denigration of God’s beloved creatures is surely justified. Jesus himself certainly appeared to get angry during his earthly ministry in cases where it was warranted. However, it is also true that our anger can be unproductive and self-serving, turning into bitterness and hardness of heart. On my best days, I pray to God for the grace to use my anger at the world's injustices productively, and I try not to let rage work me up into a froth of self-righteousness.

For churches that use the Revised Common Lectionary, this Sunday we will hear Jesus tell the disciples in the gospel of Mark that anyone who puts a stumbling block in front of these little ones would be better off being thrown into the sea with a millstone around their neck. In a world where war rages, where racism and gender inequality run amok, where economic inequality is only growing, where our leaders work to divide and not unite us, Christians should stand with the anger of the vulnerable, of the little ones, of those who are most affected by injustice in the world.

As women, if we are paying attention at all, we should be mad. We are mad that we are not believed about sexual harassment, assault, and abuse — and then are asked why we didn’t report it. We are mad that we don’t receive equal pay for equal work. We are mad that the church takes our money, our time, and our gifts and does not support our equality. We are mad that Christian culture turns around and tells us not to be so mad, that we would be more respected if we were nice and gentle. Maybe there is a season for anger, particularly women’s anger. I pray that God will use our voices, lifted up in anger, for the in-breaking of a kingdom marked by justice and truth.

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