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reasonably ranty: why slut walking, pussy rioting and destroying the joint are the business

There’s nothing wrong with being an angry feminist.

As we’ve seen in recent weeks, there is still a lot to be angry about. The anger of feminists has for a long time been a force of good for us all. Birth control, the equality of men and women at home as well as at work, parental leave, the right of a wife to consent to sexual relations with her husband, and gender identity (to name just a few!) are issues that affect every person in the community. These are all social and economic issues that matter to all of us – they are not just “women’s issues”.

Fighting back against people, institutions and structures that ultimately cause harm to women, men, and the whole community is an important job. But by golly: it’s hard work.

One of the constant battles feminists have to deal with (of which there have been, and continue to be, many) comes in the form of derailing – the dismissal of an argument by attacking the proponent rather than addressing the issues being debated. When the patriarchy pisses us off, and we decide to speak out and say something about it, we are often told to shut up because we’re being too “emotional” and/or “angry”.

This also happens to other marginalised groups who try to engage with tools* of structural disempowerment (*pun intended), as the satirical Derailing For Dummies guide so brilliantly shows us. It is also perfectly articulated in commentary about US television host Melissa Harris-Perry recent glorious outburst of “eloquent rage”:

One of the ways White [privilege] and sexism works is through a putative disavowal of emotion as a legitimate form for expressing thought. Women and [people of colour] are overly emotional, so the conventional wisdom goes. We have been taught to overcompensate for this stereotype by being overly composed, even when anger is warranted.

The pejorative in the slur against women stems from the idea that the females of the species are irrational and ranty. Rationality, a traditionally male trait, holds a privileged position in this arena, and those who do not display it are told they cannot play the game.

More often than not, the “H-word” comes into it. Hysteria was a diagnosis reserved exclusively for women thought to be suffering from a “disturbance of the uterus” that manifested in symptoms that included, among other things, “a tendency to cause trouble”. Back in the day, when women were regularly diagnosed with, and even institutionalised for, hysteria, feisty women were easily dismissed and silenced for being “mentally unsound”.

While womankind can now look back with a giggle and thank the “hysteria” phenomenon for the invention of the vibrator (the treatment for this “condition” was “pelvic massage”, but Gentlemen Doctors of the time suffered from unfortunate fatigue) we still see the effects of the idea that if women speak up “out of place”, they are suffering from emotional excess. As seen recently during the sentencing for three members of Russian punk group Pussy Riot, it is very easy to dismiss “angry feminists” with such an ad feminem (ok; I made that up) attack:

The judge…stated that psychiatric exams found all three women were of sound mind, but that they each had “mild personality disorders” that predisposed them to “an exaggerated sense of self,” “stubborn adherence to opinions,” and other traits of defiance. … [T]his argument sounded familiar – a leaf from the old Soviet handbook: dissent defined as a mild mental disorder. It’s also a tried and true tactic for discrediting outspoken women.

Some criticism of the Slut Walk protest movement has also suggested that a bunch of women yelling ‘slut pride’ won’t actually make a difference to addressing sexual assault. This fails to recognise the importance of the protest itself in the context of sexual assault – an issue where stigma and shame forces victims to keep their mouths shut, ultimately allowing perpetrators to go unpunished. Speaking out against sexual assault and the culture of victim-blaming is inherently a powerful and important act. (There is also a lot of “feminist-criticism” of this protest, but those are outside the scope of this article.)

Of course, the mere existence of Slut Walk isn’t total victory. It will take more than a protest to change things. It will take constant pressure and indefatigable rage against a machine that oppresses us, our friends, our families, our colleagues, and our community. The machine holds an advantage in silencing us and the level of difficulty increases when we’re challenged for being “too emotional” or “too irrational” – code for not playing according to the rules of the privileged.

Alan Jones, that infamous troll who uses his real name on the airwaves to bully people, last week suggested that women shouldn’t be in charge because the ladies are ‘destroying the joint’. He said this even though high profile men have continually destroyed many places and institutions over the ages; see, for contemporary examples: George W Bush and QANTAS’s Alan Joyce. The response to that comment was swift, loud and fierce: women and men around Australia enlisted to “destroy the joint” because there are a lot of things about the joint that need to be torn down.

If we do not challenge existing structures, the culture of abuse in the Australian Defence Force would be allowed to exist because that’s just The Way It Is, and rape and sexualised violence will continue to be used as a weapon of war and genocide. The beauty of the Keep Calm and Destroy the Joint parody that appeared over the weekend is that it evokes a picture of something being torn down with rage – but we are being perfectly sensible, level-headed, and lucid while smashing things.

Let’s face it: a lot of the shit we have to deal with is so unbelievably appalling that anger is the only rational way to react. Sometimes, it is perfectly reasonable to be ranty.

By Sunili Govinnage

(Image credit)

4 thoughts on “reasonably ranty: why slut walking, pussy rioting and destroying the joint are the business

  1. “Alan Jones, that infamous troll who uses his real name on the airwaves to bully people..”

    Haha that’s awesome!!1

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