There is a place for anger in feminism.
This statement seems incontrovertible. But what about this one?
There is a place for anger in academia.
It seems like this should be an incontrovertible statement, doesn’t it? But is it? What about feminist anger in academia?
This is a blog that works to bring together, explore, and work in the intersections of feminism, gender, and academia. With that in mind, here is what has been keeping me up at night, not just this week, but certainly more so this week.
This week I have been watching three events unfold in the news: the ongoing strikes by precarious workers at York and U of Toronto; the discussions that are unfolding after conceptual poet Kenneth Goldsmith read Michael Brown’s autopsy as a poem at Brown University, and the jury handed down the shameful not-guilty verdict for the man who murdered Cindy Gladue.
They are not directly connected to feminism and academia, at least not at first glance, but I am trained as a literary and cultural critic. I can’t help but read these events through the theoretical lenses I’ve developed over the years. I am also a woman who (sometimes) works in academia, who lives in Canada, and who writes about women, poetry and poetics, and the Canadian nation. And each of these events make me ask: where is the collective anger?
Don’t get me wrong, there is anger out there over each of these events. Take, for example, the #ImNotNext hashtag that Indigenous women have been using to raise awareness about and gather collective momentum for a call for a national inquiry. Or the series of articles written by precarious workers on the line. Or the work of the Mongrel Coalition Against Gringpo. Oh yes, there is righteous and active anger out there.
What I am wondering is this: where are the places where anger crosses lines and forms coalitions between academics and people outside the academy? Between people with more and less privilege? Between people who are “seen” by institutions and those who are not seen?
Remember when I wrote about Sara Ahmed on the necessity of anger for not just the individual, but also the feminist movement to advance? She does this in The Cultural Politics of Emotion. Anger, for Ahmed, is vital. It is vital for the feminist movement to stave off apathy, exhaustion,and isolation. Further, she surges readers to consider the ways in which anger is a necessity for a future-oriented hope:
If anger is a form of ‘against-ness,’ then it is precisely about the impossibility of moving beyond the history of injuries to a pure or innocent position. Anger does not necessarily require an investment in revenge, which is one form of reaction to what one is against. Being against something is dependent on how one reads what one is against….The question becomes: What form of action is possible given that reading? (175)
Ahmed draws on Black feminist writing and Audre Lorde specifically to think through the ways in which anger is crucial for the necessary energy to react against injustice. Lorde writes
My fear of anger taught me nothing…. Anger expressed and translated into action in the service of our vision and our future is a liberating and strengthening act of clarification….Anger is loaded with information and energy. (Sister/Outsider 124, 127)
Anger, as Ahmed puts it, is framed here as a “response to injustice; as a vision and version of the future; as a translation of pain into knowledge; and as being loaded with information and energy” (175). Anger, she writes, is not simply a response to the past, it is an opening up into the future. It is a means of moving forward out of what is without forgetting what was. “If anger energizes feminist subjects, it also requires those subject to ‘read’ and ‘move’ from anger into a different bodily world” (175).
Too often women are told that their anger is a waste of time. Of course, this devaluation and depoliticization of women’s emotions only increases if you are a woman of colour; especially, as Blair M. Kelly writes, if you are a Black woman. Ahmed and Lorde are not the only writers who extol the vitality of anger for a feminist, anti-racist, social justice movement, but they are two I find myself coming back to again and again, because they articulate so clearly for me why anger is necessary and empowering.
I want to return to them today for the specific reasons I mentioned at the start:
The material conditions of precarious academic workers.
Questions about racist, white male privilege, art, and (in)appropriation.
Canada’s ongoing and disgusting disregard for the human rights and dignity of Indigenous women.
Bear with me, I know these reasons are not coequal. They do intersect. They are, I think, legible together when read through my main argument: we need anger right now. As feminists, we need it. As academics, we need it. As humans living in this world and caring for other humans, we need it.
These three connected but discrete examples remind me of the importance of anger for feminists as individuals and for the feminist movement in all its iterations.
In short, these reasons make me wonder: where is the anger in academia? Where is the anger and outrage in Canada?
I mean really, where is the anger? Where is the out-in-the-street supporting-each-other-across-disciplines-and-employment-statuses? Where is the collecting-national-demand-for-an-inquiry-into-Missing-and-Murdered-Women? Where is the broad-scale, national-level use-your-tenure-to-speak-up-risk-taking? Where is the collective action in service of the academic mission as well as the publics on behalf of whom we work.
Let’s not forget, after all, that in Canada at least most of us are working at public institutions. What is our responsibility? How can we activated those responsibilities in collective and sustainable ways that attend to immediate issues as well as long-term structures of inequality that cross the bounds of gender, race, and class? How can we use anger to fuel our work? And can we salvage hope in the process?