Anger can be a nasty thing, especially abstract anger. Anger at a concept, a theory, or an ideology can spark some of the cruelest, often hypocritical behavior in people. Look at the American political process. The left and the right are rarely angry at specific people, just ideas. Their angry is often so nebulous that virtually anything can set them often. It is so bad that even when they agree they are still angry with each other.
The same thing happens with other ideologues, be they religious like the Christian right, or secular like feminists. They create theories to justify their anger about something done to them, and then act surprised when the people they project that anger on become angry in return.
Yet what seems to bother angry people more is when one of their group lets that anger go. Anne Thériault wrote such a response to Sarah Beaulieu’s How I Stopped Being an Angry Feminist, and Started Loving Men article. In her piece, Thériault wrote:
I’m not angry because I hate men. I’m not even angry at men. I’m angry at the system that, for the lack of a better term, most people refer to as the patriarchy. As far as defining the patriarchy, I don’t think anyone has ever done it better than Ashley Judd, so I’m going to use her words here:
Patriarchy is not men. Patriarchy is a system in which both women and men participate. It privileges, inter alia, the interests of boys and men over the bodily integrity, autonomy, and dignity of girls and women. It is subtle, insidious, and never more dangerous than when women passionately deny that they themselves are engaging in it.
Patriarchy is defined as the “social organization marked by the supremacy of the father in the clan or family, the legal dependence of wives and children, and the reckoning of descent and inheritance in the male line; broadly : control by men of a disproportionately large share of power.” To say patriarchy is not men is akin to saying Christianity is not Christians.
The mental gymnastics Judd and Thériault attempt to play does not change that the concept of patriarchy, both as defined by society and by feminists, is intrinsically tied to men. If it were not, feminists would have chosen another word to represent their conspiracy theory, in the same way that if feminism were about gender equality and not just about changing women’s positions in society, feminists would have chosen a word for their movement that had no connection to the concept of female or feminine. Both words were chosen because they implicitly represent the intent and focus of those terms.
Thériault went on to rail against the ways she is complicit in “The Patriarchy”, which includes acts such as being non-threatening in the face of “blatant sexism,” telling men she does not hate them even though she is a feminist, and wearing make-up and dresses. What I found most curious was this:
I participate in the patriarchy when I write for the Good Men Project, trying to make my feminism safer, more palatable, in an attempt to convince you that I’m not like those other feminists, the feminists that some of you hate so much. And just to be clear, these posts have been my own choice to write, and I have come up with both the content and the subject matter, so don’t think that I am trying to obliquely criticize the project or its editors. I chose to try to sugarcoat feminism, and now I regret it, and I have to own that.
I fail to see how explaining “her” feminism is participating in “The Patriarchy.” If feminism is such an individualized ideology that every feminist can have her own personal take on it, then by default every feminist must explain how “her” feminism is different from all the others.
Thériault then listed all the things she is angry about, most of which have nothing to do at all with “The Patriarchy” and are simply complaints about expectations on her behavior, expectations that are coincidentally placed on men as well.
After listing this litany of complaints, she wrote:
So my hope is that, while reading this, those of you who have had negative experiences with individual feminists will try to understand that the unfair actions of one particular person don’t mean that you should write off the feminist movement.
She cannot argue that after arguing this: “I’m not angry because I hate men. I’m not even angry at men. I’m angry at the system that, for the lack of a better term, most people refer to as the patriarchy.”
The feminist movement, or more accurately feminism, is an ideology, i.e. a system of ideas. If one can write off “The Patriarchy” because it is a system one takes issue with, one can also write off feminism or any ideology one takes issue with. You cannot have it both ways, particularly when the latter system is actually practiced by real people in the real world while the former is just a doctrinal scapegoat.
Coincidentally, every experience one has is with individuals. No one person represents every member of a group, so when man does something to you, he does not represent all men or “The Patriarchy”; those are merely his individual actions.
Of course, such actions can occur commonly among a particular group, therein making it reasonable for a person to assume that members of that group will engage in that behavior. This does not magically disappear when someone declares themselves a feminist. Just as men within a given culture can behave in a common set of ways, so too can feminists behave in a common set of ways.
So when Thériault warned people not to “conflate your anger at things that have been said or done by people who label themselves as feminist with anger at feminism in general” it sounds like she is trying to have it both ways, which ironically sparks the anger she seemingly wants to quell (as does the sudden implication that the feminists who hurt others are not really feminists). Ultimately, Thériault wants people to:
Instead, maybe you could join me in directing your anger outward, to all the injustices that both men and women deal with in the face of the patriarchy and its desire to impose strict gender roles on all of us. Because I can tell you from personal experience that the patriarchy hurts men, too. Because I don’t want my son to grow up believing that being a boy means that he can only like certain things or behave in certain ways, in the same way that I don’t want to feel constricted by my gender, either.
If she does not want her son to grow up believing that being a boy means that he can only like certain things or behave in certain ways, then she should not support feminism either because that is exactly what feminism does, along with blaming her son for all of his mother’s problems and denying that he can ever be victimized in any legitimate way.
What I also want to address Thériault’s idea that “anger can be a good way, sometimes the only way, to fuel change.”
I agree that anger can motivate people to act, however, when anger is the motivator it often is the only thing fueling the person’s actions.
What begins as anger at a specific thing soon becomes anger at an abstract concept. And because the concept is so loosely defined, there is always a reason to be angry. “The Patriarchy” is such a concept, and Anne’s list of complaints is an example of there always being a reason to be angry.
Letting go of anger is the first step to actually making change. It allows you to see past the hurt and see the real issues at play. Yet the most important reason to let anger go is because anger often begets anger. Anger does not exist in a vacuum, and no matter how justified one feels in being angry, the more angry one feels, the more it will taint how one views and treats others, which in turn affects how people treat you.
I frequently tell feminists something: you are dealing with other people. Not caricatures, not “men”, and not the doctrinal conspiracy theory of “The Patriarchy”. People. People with feelings, emotions, and experiences you know nothing about, and people who have done nothing to you. No matter how justified you feel in your anger, you are dealing with other human beings who have the same emotions as you. If you would not want anyone treating you with contempt or as a scapegoat for their anger, you should not do it to them. And the best way to make sure you do not do it is by not holding onto your anger.