Tonight I went to see Dr. Cheryl van Daalen give a talk called “Living as a Chameleon: A Feminist Analysis of Young Women’s Lived Experience of Anger.” My wife Susan told me about it and I said I’d go–but it wasn’t to be supportive. Usually when people find out about my interest in feminism they often think that I’m a guilty white liberal, or give me undue credit for being down with the cause. The truth is that I’m self-interested–as someone who feels like there’s systematic injustices going on, their anger validates my own. Their reasoning and different routes to the same destinations strengthens my arguments and my resolve.
The main thrust of the talk was that anger should be seen as valid and normal. As I nodded enthusiastically, I realized how rare that sentiment was in the general culture–though the subculture is a different story. In retrospect, what drew me to punk rock and has kept me there for nearly twenty years is that it normalized anger for me. I’m an angry guy, but that was cool in the punk scene–in fact, there’s something wrong with you if the injustices of the world don’t piss you off. Instead of turning that rage inward, punk taught me to focus it and fire it back at the people and institutions I felt were perpetuating the situation.
And far from something that needed to be mediated or medicated, anger has been an incredibly useful and productive fuel. It is an unstable fuel, I feel, one that has to be as carefully contained and monitored as nuclear power lest it rot away my soul or suddenly combust. But at this point in my life, I’ve managed to harness my considerable anger in such a way that I can go about my life in a more happy and centred way than most people with much less anger (ie. Road Rage).
The discussion brought out the important distinction between anger and aggression–one is an emotion and the other a behaviour. Our society supposedly condones feeling any emotion we like, so long as we don’t act on them–but there’s a hierarchy where it’s understood that anger is unsightly, ugly, while being quick to laugh is charming. There’s no such thing as Joy Management classes.