“We can do it.”
– Rosie the Riveter
The podcast conversation from this episode with Amy Nelson of The Riveter happened during the Kavanaugh hearings–a week that was charged, to say the least, especially for many of the women in my life and most of the men as well. The pair of events was interesting. As many watched in shock and awe at the scenes that transpired on our screens, I felt a surge of anger roused from a deep well that many women know intimately. And, then there was Amy’s impassioned conversation touching on the reality of gender inequality and her attempts to change that.
“Women tell one another how to survive the patriarchy not how to change it,” she notes. “We are conditioned at this point to do that.”
But surviving the patriarchy in that way as a woman (and anyone else suffering under the rule of being “Othered”) also comes with a deep questioning of who we are and if something may be wrong with us else could these things seem so blithely unfair, and so pervasive? Like a systemic chronic illness, the patriarchal structure is steeped into the matrix of political, economic, historic, and religious organizing forces — and therefore so much of our lives. It makes it a sticky topic to talk to your parents about, and an interesting thing to explain to your children. It can feel, especially for those othered folks, like you’re between a rock and a hard place when you’re in a system that doesn’t hear your voice over idealistic principle.
Or, worse, on top of being denied who you are, we’re given few options with choices that are hard to live with, as nuanced in this poem by Nayyirah Waheed:
you took off your mouth.
gave it to him.
in the bathroom
before making love.
how much burning
I had a hard time writing this newsletter. I kept running into my righteous anger and caught myself shaking my verbal fist at the patriarchy (which I secretly love to rant about, and did so verbosely in my undergraduate days where it was free and easy in academia). I kept telling myself to make this piece useful, to sift out the hearty nugget and lift it up so that it didn’t get missed in a fiery slurry of how I really feel. Nevertheless, the fury which fuels the fist shaking lies deep in my core, like memory from past millennia.
Anger is an emotion that lets us (and others) know that something we value has been or is being threatened. Any good therapist or counselor will tell you that behind depression and anxiety is often repressed anger and rage. Behind that, is sadness and grief. Peeling back the layers on sadness and grief, we find the original hurt and pain.
“What do you do with the mad that you feel?” Mister Rogers asked his young audience. “What do you do when you feel so mad you could bite?” Which gets right down to just how primal anger is.
The righteous rage women carry is, generally speaking, multifaceted and multi-layered. It’s stored in our bones via our lineages and our collective histories both lived and captured in myth. And, we encounter the inconsiderate effects of patriarchy daily.
Consider for a moment, Joan of Arc, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, and that woman entrepreneur denied funding because she was pregnant. The small and large ways a woman–or anyone who identifies from a marginalized social location–encounters the structures of patriarchy is exhausting. Having your very existence ignored by suppressing voice, power, body — the very things that are you as a human–as if you don’t matter is a death by patriarchal papercuts situation we inhabit. I mitigate my way through the streets and through life as I meet so often yet another uncomfortable comment, a touch that goes too far, or encounter gender inequality in pay happening right under my nose. Even as I stand in disbelief and wonder how best to handle the situations of varying levels of appalling, I know how to survive it, and I also know that the patriarchal model isn’t the only social system on the block.
There are other models, based on other values and human dignity. There are other choices to be made in small ways each day in how we live our lives. Change can happen. While the anger we feel may be righteous, we must channel the energy of our anger in generative ways.
Maya Angelou said, “You should be angry. You must not be bitter. Bitterness is like cancer. It eats upon the host. It doesn’t do anything to the object of its displeasure. So use that anger. You write it. You paint it. You dance it. You march it. You vote it. You do everything about it. You talk it. Never stop talking it.”
Kali the Hindu goddess of creation and destruction, who was known for her power to rage, can destroy and create because that very power is the fire of transformation. Jungian Linda Schierse, notes in her book The Wounded Woman, “Kali’s power to rage symbolizes the power many women need to develop in themselves—the power to assert themselves, to set their own limits, and to say no when necessary.”
Turning anger into a creative force is a fierce act of care. We can take a tip from Rosie the Riveter here: it starts by rolling up your sleeves, showing up, and building a bridge between the world as it is, and the world we know is possible. To stand where we are and create from there is how revolutions happen.
There are many important conversations happening in the current milieu that aren’t all making the headlines and taking up airtime by the talking heads on major broadcast stations. Alternatively, these are conversing in ever-widening circles about what matters, raising good questions, hinging on a different set of enduring and humanizing values. What’s stirring is potent; it has voice, it has boundaries, and it is Mama Bear Warrior fierce.
If there’s one thing I learned from my coursework long ago, it’s that both men and women suffer under the structures of patriarchy. It leaves no room for the wholeness of humanity. What’s important is that the anger and rage that rises in us doesn’t bind us in fear and that we don’t become violent because we don’t know what to do with our feelings (our suffering). Instead, it becomes a clarifying force for what’s important and what else is possible. Somewhere in between is a sleight of heart trick transmuting anger and rage into a fierce act of love as we step out into the world.
St. John of the Cross tells us: “Where there is no love, put love, and you will find love.”
We can do it.