So I want to talk a little about anger.
You may think that anger is a negative thing for us to be talking about when we are trying to focus on self care and self compassion, but bear with me and I hope you’ll understand why I want to speak a few words on this topic.
Anger is a noun, meaning “a strong feeling of annoyance, displeasure, or hostility.”
It is also a verb, meaning “to fill (someone) with anger or provoke anger in.”
So it is something that can happen to us – something that can be provoked in us by others’ words and behaviour and something that we can provoke in others.
Anger is a primal human emotion. It has many synonyms – here are just some of them:
Lots of these words have negative connotations, especially when describing women. The patriarchal notion is that women should not show anger. We should be ever-decorus and calm. RIGHTEOUS anger is for men. When women express fury we are branded ‘shrill’ and ‘hysterical’. Many little girls are taught not to be too emotional. This learning continues in adulthood when men often tell us not to be ‘too emotional’, accuse us of suffering from PMT and entreat us to ‘be more reasonable’. Anger can make some women so uncomfortable that they even try to erase it in others.
Conversely, men are encouraged in their righteous anger – it is seen as a medium of social change and a reasonable reaction to injustice.
So what has this got to do with doulaing? Well, I speak to so many people considering becoming doulas and to many more mothers and birthing people and anger features in many of those conversations.
I think if there was ever a moment in history when women have a right to righteous anger, it’s now. We are finally standing up and telling the patriarchy that it’s time to stop raping the planet and time to stop raping us. But many of us are, I think, singularly failing to harness our righteous anger. We are all too often politely asking permission and still talking moderately about our trauma. Sadly, tears are not as powerful as fury.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not calling on you all to go out there and lose your temper or tell your clients to furiously insult people when they aren’t being cared for as they see fit. Anger, expressed in public by women, still sees us shut down or even punished. But in private, the white heat of your anger can be used as fuel. It can be directed, like a laser, as a force for good.
I’m still working this through on a very personal level. As a child I was always told to contain my emotions, especially those emotions that could be loud. My feelings and emotional needs were firmly repressed and I was told they could be triggers for my mother’s very seriously debilitating mental illness. The message was clear – file away your emotions – feelings are bad and you should be invisible and no trouble. I still struggle to rebel against that conditioning.
I don’t think I’m alone. There is an overwhelming amount of female anger out there: women are bursting with indignation but struggling to work out how best to direct it. It comes bursting out without warning, often directed at the wrong person, at the wrong time or in a way that doesn’t land with the desired effect. I see folk misunderstanding what they are angry about and who they are angry with, which results in us falling out, instead of pooling the energy that our 10,000 years of righteous rage should be giving us.
I also see a lot of trauma manifesting as anger – old wounds opened and uncomfortable emotions triggered. So, whilst anger can be a motivation for political and social change, it can also send us off course. It can result in us focusing entirely on our own pain, our own plight, unable to see the big picture or empathise with others’ views. It can, when directed against us, cause us to feel closed and defensive and to double down instead of being reflective and open to the possibility that we might be wrong.
As doulas, anger is not something we can avoid. If you’re anything like me it leaves you shaking, exhausted and battling feelings of shame and guilt. Especially now, I am fed even more toxic message that these feelings are poisonous and somehow cause or worsen cancer – what a message to give people who understandably may be feeling fucking furious at the random injustice of their diagnosis!
But maybe we can see it in a different way. We might not have been able to change that experience for our clients. We might not be able to change the mind of that misogynist on Twitter. But we can seek safe spaces to express that anger; let it flow through us unimpeded. And if that energy is held by loving doulas around us, who ensure we feel seen and understood, the moment passes and we are left cleansed and spent, ready to rest and fight another day.
I would also remind you that whilst the personal is certainly the political, personal feelings do not a movement make. We NEED each other. We need to come together, find where we meet and overlap. This requires us to reach out to each other, even those who have very different fights on their hands. Whilst it might be tempting to think that, because men seem allowed to express their anger at will, that somehow it must be the reason for them being in the dominant position. But perhaps that is not the case. We don’t need to use the master’s tools against him.
There is an old saying: “Don’t get angry, get even”. In conclusion, I’ll amend that a little and suggest that actually, perhaps you could choose to allow that anger, THEN get clever, work together and plot the revolution!
If, like me, you want further reading on female anger, the book Rage Becomes Her: The Power of Women’s Anger, by Soraya Chemaly is currently on my reading list. And if you want a focus for your rage, come join the March With Midwives campaign and attend the vigil at your local hospital on the 21st November.
March With Midwives facebook page
March With Midwives facebook group