Reflections after “She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry”

There is a lot for me to mull over after watching the new feminist documentary “She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry”, as my journey into and through feminist philosophy has weaved in and out throughout my life. To see it in a historical context, hearing from women who organized for reproductive rights, equal pay, and child care, really does shed light on how deep the roots of oppression wove into the female identity; that they still continue to penetrate just shows their perseverance.

A few years ago, I swore that I was not a feminist. There was so much to this. For one, I had always felt this disconnect from the concept of femininity, and what it meant to be a woman. There were many reasons for this, a negative disconnect with my mother, a feeling of not being equal from my father, a defense mechanism I needed to cope with the various struggles I was having, and the distance and humor of a male perspective that kept me afloat. (Later would I realize that feminism also challenges the concept of what a “lady” is, and that my natural state of being could not stand patriarchal practices and standards, even as I tried to use them myself)

Later in my very early twenties, as I began to understand more about oppression and what it meant through Occupy, I grew to the notion that I did not want to be labeled as anything but an anarchist- one who believed that constructs designed to limit us were dehumanizing at their core. While I shared notions of feminism, I denounced it as a label, using the defense that even the feminist hero-Emma Goldman- did not describe herself as a feminist, so why should I? I just wanted everyone to be equal, I didn’t want to focus on any specific cause because they were all interwoven.

But with the work I was doing, and the ideologies I was delving into, I began to accumulate a community of feminists-strong women who were fierce and kind, able to communicate boundaries and problems with dialogue through a beautiful threading of language I didn’t quite understand, but admired. I began to pay attention.

As the documentary showed, and I learned through reading numerous dialogues and quietly standing back  in conversations to observe their voices and their perspectives.. feminism is actually about much more than it is initially presented as, especially by media (movies, news stations, online news sources and journals). Its about abortions, and rape culture, and empowering female voices, for sure. But its also about how patriarchy has hurt families, friendships.. how it has become a systemic force which restricts individuals from having meaningful relationships, and individuals from being themselves. It has created a mold that all must follow, where emotion is removed or seen as weakness, and sex has been taken from love and cast into a conquest or payment. Where expectations become demands and manipulation becomes commonplace.

What struck me as interesting about this particular documentary, and the common theme portrayed from all whom spoke in it, was the idea of anger as a driving force. They spoke of the Women’s Liberation movement being so powerful because for so long they were stifled, and became a powder keg of action. I’ve definitely seen a lot of anger in movements, but more often than not, that anger is dismissed and encouraged to be almost tamed for the sake of progress. Time and again, I’ve seen others shy from individuals who have that type of emotional charge.

Perhaps that is one of the things we lack. Our society has now become indifferent to so many things, like violent movie scenes and murders on the news, so that we are able to continue functioning. The goal is to keep going. Keep going to work, keep being a good spouse, a good parent, a good citizen. We can’t fathom anger fitting into that. Anger is dangerous, and uncontrollable. It is something to avoid and make scarce.

When contemplating this, one has to compare with the ideologies of the Buddhist monks, concepts wrapped into famous characters in our generation like the Jedi in Star Wars, and the yoga practices that have become such a trend in even our everyday exercise routines. Don’t attach… don’t let fear and anger rule you. “Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”

So like I have found most of the ideas around feminism, there is a pull towards the middle ground. While people have a tendency to lean entirely in one direction or another (anger/indifference, empowerment for women/hatred of men, action/inaction) these are not what the cause is about. I found that idea demonstrated in the movie, when, as the Furies began to let their anger turn into blind action and hate, eventually the other groups pulled them back. It was also evident when one of the speakers admitted to getting kicked out and feeling rejected, but then acknowledging why and joining back in.

Yes, the history of feminism has been so rich with questioning, and with discovery, and searching. I find it appealing to see how it’s mostly tried to work towards or been pushed towards a middle ground with not only sexism, but also with racism and homophobia, showing that they can be challenged and recognized as part of the larger problem.

Nowadays, we struggle so much with our extremes as the extreme nature of our oppression has seeped into subtlety. The middle is constantly changing, throwing us off balance, and forcing us to adjust. I find that in my own life, as I plant one foot firmly to lose ground beneath the other, and I think many of us do the same. Financial insecurity, food insecurity, and safety insecurity have left our nation reeling, not sure enough of ourselves to quite make the big changes needed, or unify in the powerful way that the Women’s Movement did, or the Civil Rights movement.

There is a shame in that, that I often must cope with, for after watching a film about such powerful organizers and how dedicated they were to the cause, I note my decline in active protesting and organizing from 3-4 years ago. There is a strong urge, especially being enveloped in a history of passion, to march on down to DC and to demand change. But as the film shows us, it took many years, methods, and minds to make the change that they accomplished. First they needed to change the mindset of their fellow women.

So, in my own ways, I counteract the culture by integrating alternative language into my daily life. I speak truths that come off as strange for their admittance, shaking the shame and stigma off self care, identity,  and struggles. It seems little, but upon recent conversations, others have admitted their own secrets to me, or shared that they brought up conversations within their circles about concepts I’ve presented. The ripples begin to move across the pond.

So I’ll conclude, stating that I believe the film has a lot to offer those who identify as feminists.. or not. It’s challenging to what we know, or what we think is reality. There are still many battles to be won, or tidal waves of change to crash on our shores. But first, we must become aware of what we’re feeling, and follow the reactions those realizations give us.

For me, being told I was a feminist wasn’t enough. I needed to learn what it meant, and especially what it meant to me specifically first, before I could claim it as my own. Perhaps, that is the real challenge. To find a community in our struggles to make this world a better place. (Corny!)

Thanks for reading, if you made it through. I weave in and out of some different topics that I would eventually like to explore more, but for now, that’s it. In love and struggle, Kara

Contemplation on Defense and Openness

As I was driving home from my job where I do social work today, I began to think about what separates people from each other, and how difficult it is to really exist in this culture. Capitalism has such a competitiveness nature to it, that it seems like our only options the majority of the time are to be defensive, and protect our limited resources, or to be offensive, and eliminate that which may threaten it.

There is a lot of stigma around mental illness and addiction. It is often a “me vs. them mentality”, when in actuality, I often believe it is an extreme version of something we all deal with. All of us have coping mechanisms.. ways of protecting ourselves. Sometimes, we do this through habits or behaviors. You learn not to make eye contact on the street, to remain silent when someone accuses you of something or raises their voice around you, to move out of the way when someone is walking in the middle of the sidewalk, to have a glass of wine to help you fall asleep. Or, you raise your voice, you beep your horn at someone who cuts you off, you ball your fists when you hear something you don’t want to hear.

Anger and fear are not isolated from each other, and they’re not necessarily easy to navigate either. It doesn’t quite matter what your mental capacity is or isn’t. We aren’t taught to accept and channel these emotions, we are simply taught to repress them. And when others can’t repress them, we see it as something wrong with them.

Social Work is an interesting field, at least for me. Its like plugging in a part of me that already analyzes, that already exists. When you work with people who supposedly “need” your help, there is a balance of boundaries, of compassion, of understanding. You’re not supposed to be judging or taking things personally, and you’re not in a competition for who is better or worse. You just realize that you’re able to help in some simple ways, and do.

Daily life is not like this. We don’t treat “normal” people with these same standards of compassion and acceptance. Instead we hold them to standards, often those produced by our society, and our personal or religious beliefs. What we don’t allow for, or account for, is the amount of anxiety and stress beneath the surface. If someone comes up to a cash register, and argues with the clerk for 15 minutes about a sale on a product, most of think: Geez. What’s their problem? Can’t they just pay and move out of line?

And yes, market places and other business settings, especially in a corporate and capitalistic environment, are supposed to be removed from emotion, or personal connections. Its more of a “Here is the rule. If I break it, I will give you something. If you break it, you don’t get anything.” Its simple, its impersonal, its general. It provides a barrier and mode of interacting that is most certainly more efficient.

But that’s the thing. That person arguing about that sale might not ever cross our mind again. We had to wait for them, and were bothered by their demands, but unless we’re mentioning it to a friend as something that bothered us, we are not going to put anymore energy into them.

But we start to think about what might actually be causing that behavior, things gets complicated. Perhaps they have trust issues from bad relationships with family or friends, perhaps their reading comprehension fell behind in school and they just got by because no one noticed, what if they really don’t have that much money and need the item? Or, even harder to understand, what if they have money, but are afraid to spend it in the fear that they will lose the security that comes with it? It is true that for a person living in the United States, money is power, and security. And power doesn’t necessarily mean influence, it means the ability to survive.

I cannot help but have these thoughts about almost every person I come across who seems disgruntled, or quiet, or a bit loud and pushy, or confused. I want to know why. I want to get to know them so I can speak their language. So I can figure out what they need, and how. I think if we all were able to do more of this, a lot of our problems would be solved. The barriers would come down.

But not at first. No, I do not pretend to dismiss the fact that when the dam is lifted, flooding will ensue. In fact, I think the dam is already bursting at the seams with the amount of anxiety and stress every individual is going through nowadays. “Mental Illness” is only an illustration of that. Its not wrong, and it doesn’t make anyone who suffers from it someone that we should feel superior over, or pity. No, its just a conversation that needs to be had, and some things we can do to interact better with one another.

I dream of a world where we can all be open with each other. I know I personally have a difficult time truly opening myself to anyone, even those closest to me. Peeling layers away reveals more layers, more defenses. But as I slowly undo the layers for myself, and learn to love them, I’m slowly changing the way I’m interacting. To share thoughts about anxiety or other similar matters might seem courageous, but really..I think its just simply necessary. At least, if I want to find some more infinite capacity for love in my heart.