Phenomenology of Anger
“Our struggles can have meaning and our privileges- however precarious under patriarchy- can be justified only if they help to change the lives of women whose gifts- and whose very being, continue to be thwarted and silenced” (Adrienne Rich, 1979, p.38).
When I say I like writing it won’t surprise you that I don’t mean the accepted scholarly type. The honed and edited academic style that slashes at the raw meaning and sanitizes the production of women’s knowledge.
I didn’t start with the canon, stale old white men. I started (a long time ago!) with the beaten bleeding words of angry women. Millet, hooks, Mackinnnon, Greer, Dworkin, Atwood, Walker, Rich, Lorde.
Riot Grrls and zines of working class girls desperate for their trauma to be felt and for their experiences to be validated. Angry. Screaming. Unrepentant.
“Both the victimization and the anger experienced by women are real, and have real sources, everywhere in the environment, built into society, language, the structures of thought. They will go on being tapped and explored by poets, amongst others. We can neither deny them, nor will we rest there. A new generation of women poets is already working out of the psychic energy released when women begin to move towards what the feminist philosopher Mary Daly has described as the ‘new space’ on the boundaries of patriarchy. Women speaking to and of women in these poems, out of a newly released courage to name, to love each other, to share risk and grief celebration” (Adrienne Rich, 1979, p. 49).
There is a reason that some forms of writing are valued over others: it is about who they benefit. Women’s writing, thick with suffering and anger, speaking into the spaces of other women’s pain, is a direct threat to the patriarchy.
Think about the majority of academic journals. How much anger and calls for direct accountability in relationships of compliance remain in the final manuscript? How much is silenced and erased and reduced by reviewer 1 and reviewer 2 and the editor? How many boards want to hear this kind of language? Academic language is a gatekeeper. It preserves the interests of middle class whiteness. Those of us who do not think or write in that antiquated style, must stay outside of the palace. We are too noisy, too disruptive, and our messiness calls for too much introspection.
We desperately seek a language that mediates our experiences without disintegrating them.
Poetry offers this. Hijacking traditional academic writing can provide us with the tools to challenge systems of power. My thesis was influenced heavily by Adrienne Rich, and we used poetry and reading aloud as research methods. Working with sex workers inside a women’s prison needed a creative method that navigated their trauma and resistance.
“Poetry is, amongst other things, a criticism of language. In setting words together in new configurations, in the mere, immense shift from male to female pronouns, in the relationships between words and created through echo, repetition, rhythm, rhyme, it lets us see and hear our words in a new dimension” (Rich, 1979, p. 248).
Rich draws from Susan Griffin to talk about our unmet needs, Griffin stated that for a feminist, writing may be solidarity but thinking is collective (Rich, 1979, p. 208). I have almost 8800 subscribers to this blog, and it is via this site and twitter that I receive many of my opportunities to collaborate, to think aloud, to debate, to have instant feedback and to reflect on words spat out in their raw form. It has offered me the space to be heard.
At 14, living in a deprived household with DV, parental addiction, and with my own undiagnosed mental health, zines and my friends provided that women’s circle, that space to be heard and to sit with the unmet needs of others. Much of the criticisms of social media are from those whose agenda is protected by peer-review and systems of hierarchy. It is why we have so many mediocre people in positions of power and cosplay radicals.
Rich writes that any woman who has moved from the playing field of male discourse knows the “extraordinary sense of shedding” of “ceasing to translate” (1979, p. 208). Mechanisms of power mean that academic language erases people, people of colour, disability, working class, women. You can enter if you do not push back and make these identities too visible. The invisibility is the issue.
Our writing should contain struggles and battles for space. When they withhold our preferred style of writing, they are clipping the meaning of language.
“The lack of the means to distribute is another form of censorship”. There is a reason when so much important women’s work is happening via blogs, zines, self-published magazines, posters, craftivism. There is a reason for the plethora of whatsapp groups and the mailing lists and the phone calls. We are hyper-connected to battle for our sense of belonging. That the words and experiences that are batting away, will be heard and felt somewhere.
We are resisting the limits they are giving us. We are saying no to the distinctions of taste that benefit the chosen few. We read of those women writers who were ridiculed throughout their lifetimes, who the critics didn’t understand, and yet whose ideas remain (Rich on Rukeyser, 1979, p. 99).
We must write unapologetically and continually. It is an act of resistance to keep going. Words are dangerous. It is why they are so keen for our discourse on diazepam, to take it down a few levels and numb its impact.
“We reach her as, or course, as we meet all poetic resources blocked from us by mindless packaging and spiritless scholarship” (Adrienne Rich, 1993, p. 101).
‘Spiritless scholarship’ is such a wonderful term. We all recognise it, the game-playing, the metrics, the corruption, the cliques. To whom does it benefit? Whom is being pulled upstream? And who is being left to drown? Whose struggle is being co-opted for career progression? It is dangerous for any woman to speak out, particularly those (like me) who are precarious. I applaud those who do persist in voicing their dissent.
We are not used to people sounding like they believe us, like they find us credible. Our experiences are stashed in special editions and seen as ‘women’s issues’. We must acknowledge how the system is privileging some to see how it is holding others under the water.
Always happy for people to make contact. @princessjack