Why Are Men So Afraid of Angry Women?
By Ciana Alessi
Men have always had an irrational fear of women engaging in non-dainty, unpleasant, or traditionally “non-feminine” emotions and actions. Radical Feminist and poet Adrienne Rich said it best when she stated, “Women are perceived to be appalling failures when we are sad. Women are pathetic when we are angry. Women are ridiculous when we are militant. Women are unpleasant when we are bitter, no matter what the cause. Women are deranged when women want justice. Women are man-haters when they want accountability and respect from men.” I think back on this quote as I look, reluctantly, at this horrific portrayal of Serena Williams making its way around the internet.
Why aren’t women allowed to be angry? Why can a man like Elliot Rodger manifest his anger into murder and still be praised as an “incel hero” by an online community, while Serena Williams is turned into a grotesque caricature because she openly expressed her frustration and anger at the 2018 U.S. Open? It’s helpful to look back in history to understand the context behind the above cartoon, specifically at the start of feminism in the U.S.: women’s suffrage.
While American women were fighting for their right to vote, American men fought back through cartoons, posters, and other modes of propaganda. Although most of these depictions are about how women won’t be good wives and mothers if they are allowed to vote, there is a general feeling of anxiety that centers around two things: women gathering together and talking (the horror), and women “acting like men” -- that is, using violence and pursuing their self interests.
This cartoon emulates the general image American men had of suffragettes: unstable, un-”ladylike”, and still requiring men’s guidance. The suffragette era is when female anger is explicitly and publicly villainized, essentially set as a taboo. Considering this gross tradition -- by white, American men -- of drawing white women as unruly, crazed fools because they dared to speak out of term and ask for voting rights, of course matters only get worse when race is also in the picture. Unfortunately, we first saw this very clearly when cartoonist Ben Garrison disrespected the saint that is Michelle Obama in this picture, portraying the former First Lady with enlarged muscles, a traditionally masculine stature and stance, and a disapproving grimace, next to a super standard looking caricature of, supposedly, Melania Trump (in reality it just looks like a random, attractive white woman). Michelle Obama is a strong, outspoken, educated black woman who surely requires no assistance from men in her endeavors and appears to have no urge to succumb to traditional female gender roles; Because of these facts, she is a primo target for a racist, unsavory cartoon depiction by a white, male artist. The same goes for Serena Williams, who indeed also possesses all of the above traits, creating the perfect opportunity for yet another white, male artist to express his disdain for women who don’t abide by the rules of normative femininity.
Because of the incident at the 2018 U.S. Open, however, Serena Williams became an even larger target for cartoon-criticism, as she openly expressed her frustration in a way that was ever-so-slightly violent (if you consider breaking a tennis racket a violent act) while, more importantly, openly challenging male authority. The artist behind the cartoon, Mark Knight, claims he merely wanted to draw attention to Williams’ “tantrum,” but the true function of his cartoon is to further dissuade women from challenging the status quo. One of the central problems with the cartoon is that there’s nothing wrong with women being angry. If you call a woman trying to sufficiently assert her position to a man, being unequally penalized for it, then responding angrily to such treatment a “tantrum,” then that implies you would have preferred she quietly accept her (possibly wrongful) punishment like a proper lady would. It’s important to note that Williams’ critics are scrutinizing her reaction to the situation, not the justice of the ruling itself, and this shows where their priorities lie. The rationale behind drawing Serena Williams -- a successful, established, undeserving woman -- in such a negative light can only be to discourage such behavior from other women. Yet, Serena Williams’ behavior was not inherently wrong, it just wasn’t “feminine”.
Many men (and women) need to realize that women engaging in anything deemed non-”feminine” is quite alright. Moreover, this engagement is necessary in order to strip the word “feminine” of its created meanings. Be angry, be outspoken, be brash, get frustrated, don’t be feminine (or be feminine!), if that’s what you feel. To reverse Rich’s above critique of the gendered status quo, I say to all women: You are strong when you are sad. You are fearless when you are angry. You are inspiring when you are militant. You are justified when you are bitter. You are valiant when you want justice. And you are right when you want accountability and respect from men.