Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Expressing Anger - A Woman's Writing Life

Why is it that women are ingrained not to express or show anger?  Is it because society has labeled this as "strident" or unbecoming?  Is it because we are told that men revile "angry" women?  Or is it because the admission of anger - especially in our writing - is one of the scariest things we can do as women?

My feeling is all of the above.  Writing is a scary and lonely endeavor.  When we come to terms with our anger through the written word, it makes us vulnerable. We might be viewed as "acting like a man" - heaven forbid! How dare we write about our desire to be ambitious and have power or have an identity outside of another person?

I spent a lot of time weighing how much anger I wanted to express in my memoir.  In the end, I decided my anger about many things in life could fill a book in itself!  And it may well because I need to write it.  And I'm not talking about cancer or losing the man I loved to an untimely death.

There still exists in women's memoir this pervasive notion that women should be "silent."  We write about our grandmother's recipes, our childhood memories, (usually laden with nostalgia and whimsy), our trips to California ... our nurturing and passive lives. This "storylessness" is endemic to women. Rarely, do we look the "tiger" in the eye.  I am not talking about blaming anger, but, rather, anger at not being allowed to tell the truth of our lives as women.

In Writing a Woman's Life by Carolyn G. Heilbrun, the author notes: "The expression of anger has always been a terrible hurdle in women's personal progress.  Above all, the public and private lives cannot be linked, as in male narratives."

Our memoirs should not be sentimental and passive, but gritty, ambitious and spoken with a voice of  authority about the messages, institutions and impossible expectations we suffer as women. We need to throw aside our guilt and commit to the story without suffering the "slavery of being a girl," as George Eliot put it.

Writing is the scariest undertaking, but it is also the most courageous.  Now we need to throw away the old stereotypes, let it rip and tell it like it is. 

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