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I'm Not Mad!

In addition to the false idea that feminism's work has been done, there's something else that keeps us smiling quietly: the fact that anger isn't very ladylike.
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"I'm not mad!"

... but maybe I should be. Gloria Steinem thinks so.

In a recent interview with the Observer, Steinem is quoted as saying:

I think we need to get much angrier about childcare, about flexible working patterns. It's alarming to me that women are still encouraged to blame themselves. No one can do it all. If I had $5 for every time we've tried to kill off superwoman, I'd be very rich. But women are planning their lives, they have choices, and that didn't happen before, believe me. We thought our husbands and children would dictate everything.

Childcare, flexible working patterns, blaming ourselves, trying to do it all: um, yeah, of course we should be mad! I think many of us are. The trouble is, hell if we're gonna admit it. Most of us won't even cop to being pissed when we're fighting with our significant others. Be honest, now: Who among you hasn't said "I'm not mad!" a raging fit of anger?

Thought so.

In addition to the false idea that's peddled around -- the one that says that feminism's work has been done -- that effectively encourages a certain complacency in the face of, oh, let's see, unfair pay and treatment, unequal representation, a lack of support for working mothers, a culture of victim blaming, and the various and sundry other realities of which most women today are aware (just not mad about!), there's something else that keeps us smiling quietly: the fact that anger isn't very ladylike. The myth of the angry (not to mention ugly, hairy, man-hating and utterly humorless) feminist lives on.

I fear the truth is that that children's rhyme about sugar and spice and everything nice does more damage than just convincing little girls that boys are gross (made of snips and snails and puppy dog tails? who the hell came up with that one?); the message bores itself into our brains early and often. Women should be nice. We should smile. To be angry is to be unattractive, unladylike, unfeminine.

There's a line Steinem frequently drops that we reference in our book:

[Steinem] was asked if she felt women today are ungrateful for the gains of feminism's second wave. 'I hope so,' she said, and paraphrasing Susan B. Anthony, added, 'Our job is not to make young women grateful. Gratitude never radicalized anybody. We had to get mad on our own behalf; we didn't walk around saying 'Thank you so much for the vote.' We got mad because we were being treated unequally, and they are too.'

But will we get mad about it?

That Observer piece kicks off with a wild reference to the past: in 1984, Observer reporter Martin Amis interviewed Steinem at the Ms. magazine offices, and here's what he wrote about the experience:

As for Steinem herself, she is 'the least frightening' kind of feminist, being possessed of -- prepare to be amazed! -- both a sense of humor and good looks. She was, he wrote, relief slowly blooming, 'nice, and friendly, and feminine... the long hair is expertly layered, the long fingernails expertly manicured. Fifty this year, Ms. Steinem is unashamedly glamorous.'

Wait? A feminist -- one who wants us to get angry -- who's nice? friendly? with a manicure? Sacre bleu!

Okay, okay, that was some years ago. But, you know, I fear there are those who still think that way. Whose go-to response in the face of a feminist, or a woman who makes a rational argument, sensibly calling out an injustice for what it is, is to assume she's a mean, humorless, unmanicured man-hater. It's a good way to derail an uncomfortable conversation, doncha think?

It happens to me often enough. (Just check the comments to any one of a number of posts here!) And, you know what? I am mad! But that's not all I am.

Just last week I was at my former office, having the staff photographer take some publicity shots for me. We were squirreled away in an unused conference room, but soon enough, an old pal came around the corner.

"I thought that was you!" he said. "I'd know your laugh anywhere."

Damn right he would.

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