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Angry Feminism

Ellie Mae O’Hagan wrote an article recently at the Guardian suggesting that feminism should not lose sight of its anger in an attempt to look and sound pleasing. In response, she’s gotten a lot of people telling her that she’s policing, that she’s lost in an image of feminism as angry, or that she’s trying to tell people the right way to do feminism. The problem with all of these criticisms is that they apparently didn’t bother to read O’Hagan’s actually article and are responding to what they THOUGHT she was saying instead of what she actually DID say. Most of the criticisms seem to be angry because their authors are those sexy/funny feminists and they feel attacked. They feel like it’s the same old criticism that says you can only be a woman one way. They see someone telling them “No, you can’t be funny. You HAVE to be angry”. And they associate anger with pissing people off, with being dour, with making faces and complaining.

But O’Hagan didn’t say any of that. She said that feminism can’t lose sight of what it’s really angry about. Because at its heart, feminism involves anger at injustice. Most of the people criticizing her agree with that. For example Amanda Marcotte says “But the notion that being sexy or funny means not pissing people off is a hoary myth. It’s a shame to see a feminist pick it up and argue that being dour is, in and of itself, a virtue.

In my experience, if you really want to piss people off, be sexy and funny  while  you’re being angry.” This is exactly what O’Hagan said. She said that if we want to be sexy and funny, we need to remember that we’re doing it for a reason. That we can’t take the anger away. The very title of her piece is “Feminists Can be Sexy and Funny”. She’s not denying that it’s a possibility, or that it can be good and useful. The heart of her piece is that ”  Feminism that prioritises popularity over its own integrity will necessarily fail, as it is bound to reproduce the very problems it is fighting against.” This does not say that feminism cannot take any time to be fun, funny, sexy, or interesting, or spend any time on its image. It says that she’s worried that feminism is focusing too much on these things and losing sight of the fact that it does these things because it is pissed off at the injustice in the world.

Like many have said, anger is often the heart of comedy. O’Hagan is not denying this. She’s asking all of her critics to remember it as well, so that we don’t get fooled into believing that “sexy” means “empowered” or that “self-deprecatingly funny” means “edgy”. She wants us to remember our core message: society is the way it is on purpose, and the way it is is not just, not fair, and not equal. We can make all the jokes we want, but if we don’t keep sight of this, our jokes will change nothing.

I almost feel as if all I can do is quote from the article, because O’Hagan made her point quite well the first time, but apparently when she said “The goal of feminists must be to harness that anger to create something better, not stifle it with a feminism which pleases everybody but changes nothing,” people heard “stop having fun with your change and go yell at someone”. The call to do more than simply look, sound, and act pleasing is a call for content, not form. All the critiques of this piece have seemed to assume that O’Hagan was calling for a change in form, from sexy and funny to angry. In reality, she was asking for us to use all the forms we have at our disposal but to fill them with the content of anger that fuels our feminism in the first place.

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Olivia is a giant pile of nerd who tends to freak out about linguistic prescriptivism, gender roles, and discrimination against the mentally ill. By day she writes things for the Autism Society of Minnesota, and by night she writes things everywhere else. Check out her ongoing screeds against jerkbrains at www.taikonenfea.wordpress.com

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