Ninety-eight years ago, white women gained suffrage. Not even a century separates me from women who fought tirelessly for the vote. So my jaw drops to the floor when I hear people say that they “aren’t into voting” or they “aren’t informed enough to vote”. I can hear my ancestors rattling inside me– every woman who suffered for me to breathe easy. I contemplate the documentary, She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry, which dissects feminism in the US (emphasizing second and third wave). And while this essay is intended to rile up everyone, to encourage all adults to vote, I think about my own anger and voting– how the two are intertwined. To be angry in America is to be either be oppressed, awake or both.
Electoral politics are not everything. They’ve largely been an apparatus of violence for marginalized groups. People of color are still being disenfranchised in this country when voter registration laws that target them over any other group. Disabled folks have to find transportation to arrive at the polls or ways to accommodate their abilities in order to vote. To be cis in America is to have the government see me as ink, not pencil. Which is to say that if I were trans, the government would be trying to erase me right now. I am not seeking justice in my ballot. That is too high a bar. I am demanding better by voting. I refuse to complain about a government I invested no effort in improving.
My civic dedication doesn’t soften my rage. Privilege diverts my glance from the current carnage. “Don’t look at school shootings! Don’t worry about police brutality because it won’t impact you! Forget their names!” But I can’t. If we failed to honor their lives, can’t we at least remember their names? Privilege always has a rebuttal, normally the threat of losing my own privilege. My anger is a turnoff. I’m too emotional, too expressive, too offputting. I’m a bitch.
Part of me dislikes the whole concept of the angry woman. Social constructs of femininity restrict it. Womanhood is molded in smallness, restriction, the subtraction of our space to make room for everyone else. The physical smallness bleeds into emotion. There’s something refined about a woman in control of her emotions, and conversely, something low class, or unaware of social conditioning, for women whose feelings have sound. What emotional women are is alive. Emotional disengagement prevents self-actualization. You cannot assess what you want if you don’t understand how you feel. If a person is afraid of their feelings, they’re probably fearing their desires as well. Moreover, the process of emotion containment exhausts so much energy that little is left to focus on self-interest. It’s all about societal approval. I’m an emotional creature. My feelings are a palette of neons, pastels, neutrals, and bolds. They are not for me to judge but to experience and express. My feelings– anger included– force me to address what’s bothering me and where it’s located in my body. My chest is tight– the feeling is anxious– why am I anxious? Because I want something for the first time in a long time, and maybe I won’t get it. My face feels warm– the feeling is connection and validation. Why? Because the person I’m with sees me and is actively listening. We cannot tame the human out of ourselves. We cannot vanquish our softness and remain intact.
The other part of me celebrates anger. I have a really healthy relationship with it. Acknowledging rage is liberation. When I understood that I was entitled to my anger, that I did not have to couch it in pleasantries or hide it like contraband, anger transformed from an anvil to an instrument. My anger fuels my activism. Blood simmering inside me is how my body lets me know what’s misaligned with my values.
Rage is the correct response to grade schools being shot. Anger is the unraveling of the “thoughts and prayers” rhetoric spewing in the face of preventable tragedies. I feel the betrayal of elected officials who restrict reproductive rights. The reality is that if America identifies as a secular union, it cannot legislate the bodies of one population. Religion does not have a place in secular law, nor in my uterus. I want to know that marriage equality will be protected. Every union is deserving of the same protections. There is no unequal love. Health is not a privilege. It is a right, and our laws need to reflect that. My activism cannot be confined to issues that affect me. To be a patriot today is to ask who is hurting, who is benefitting, and what can I do to help. To be privileged today is to ask where are the experts and pass the mic. My job is not to be the mouthpiece for the poor, trans, the addicted, people of color, but to witness their words and feelings. When the oppressed share their experiences, it is not a debate. It is a call to action. Accomplice-ship (I don’t like allyship because I feel like it creates a remove. I want to be where the work is not clean or tidy but uncomfortable and mattering) is not a negotiation.
Ninety-eight years, count them like rings around an Oak tree. Think of every protest, ship, sacrifice, and oppression your DNA endured for you to be American today. Feel those generations on your way to the polls. I love this country more than any other on this earth, and so, I fight for her with my ballot, with activism, with support during times of struggle. I will not abandon you, America. This is how I show up for you– in my voting booth, enraged, and still, patriotic. Still, American. Still, more than my great-great grandmothers could have dreamed. Because, if she’s beautiful when she’s angry, she is unstoppable when voting.