ANGER IS A FUEL. A FUCKING AMAZING FUEL.

I remember walking down the street in downtown Kirkwood, Missouri where I'm from when I was around 13 or 14. A typical midwest suburb with a quaint and modest feel, 5 or 6 blocks of shops and boutiques that often evoke the overused words, "Oh cuuuuuuute." wherever you look. As a young teen I was walking and thinking, as I tend to do. When I think my forehead bunches up and I stare several feet ahead of me on the sidewalk. An older man walked past me and as he did, he stopped me and told me, "you should smile." 

My internal experience STILL tosses and turns at the thought of it. It's mix of what feels like dozens of emotions and responses. And apparently I am not alone in moments like this. I've heard from countless women and girls who experience similar confusing and contradictory reactions to being TOLD by a man TO SMILE. The two primary responses go head to head:

1. Oh my god, he's right. I must LOOK so ugly, so unfeminine just staring at the ground! I've been caught!

There's a gut response of apology and mild embarrassment. How unpleasant I must look! And who is SEEING me look this way? God, that's so awful to think about - the way I must APPEAR. And at that time, my perfect guy (John Cusack meets that hot guy in Sixteen Candles) could be around any corner and what if THAT was his first impression of me? Ewwwww. How HORRID. I'd have blown my chance and he wouldn't have seen me as I had planned to look in all my daydreams - smiling, knowingly, confidently with a touch of innocence and adorableness. Like I was in on some joke at the very same time that I was free of all of the silly worries that OTHER girls are caught up in...ahhhh, refreshing.

Yet simultaneously, buried beneath the knee-jerk apology, the shame, the embarrassment...

RAGE. 

2. FUUUUUUUCCCCCCKKKKK YOOOOOOUUUUUU!!!!! GO FUCK YOURSELF OLD MAN! YOU fucking smile, you mysognist creep and stop fucking telling ME or any WOMAN what we SHOULD DO! Who the FUCK ARE YOU!???!!! SERIOUSLY! What give you the FUCKING RIGHT TO STOP ME AND TELL ME WHAT TO DO??? I'll smile if and when I please!!!!! I am not here to MAKE YOUR stroll down the street NICER TO LOOK AT!!!! 

Oh the tirade I hear in my head minutes after the paralyzing response fades. I'm sure all I could do WAS smile when he said it. Oh, hahahaha, what? Yeah....smile? Wait, what...? Oh hahahaha, yeah....  Then turn away. Start walking, get your bearings, brain turn back on, what the hell just happened? Confusion. The 2 options appear amongst other subtle feelings. Why? It's just an old man telling you to smile. But it triggers SO MUCH. And more than anything it triggers the very thing, so many years later, that I STILL grapple with.

ALLOWING MYSELF TO FEEL ANGER. In the moment, as it happens, with clarity and precision as to why it's making me furious and what I want to do about it.

NOT 20 minutes later in the car after I've driven off. Or in the Facebook post I make about it that night. AS A RESPONSE IN THE MOMENT.

If this sounds familiar, well, I think we are part of a BIG club. I have read numerous articles on the subject and there are a lot of very logical reasons WHY many of us women have a tough time feeling ANGER. Either in the moment or hours later. Days later. Years later. AND IT'S PISSING ME OFF.

I was flying from LA to Chicago recently, just long enough to read the main articles in Vanity Fair. This issue happened to have 2 articles that I am guessing were not meant to be a commentary on anything in particular, they just happened to be in the same issue from what I could tell. One was about Bill Cosby and recounted details of the scores of women he drugged and raped. I hadn't read something recently that laid out the scope of his atrocities. The second article was about a prep school in the East Coast, St. George, that was starting to deal with the horrific sexual abuse charges it had collected and ignored for decades. They are both insanely disturbing stories for so, so, so many reasons BUT what stood out to me was a sickening similarity: in both stories the women (all ages) who were victimized acted in incredibly similar ways - they felt ashamed, they hardly retaliated, they stayed relatively silent about it - either refusing to speak about it or eventually speaking about it years later, they punished themselves both mentally, emotionally and sometimes physically, many still saw/interacted with their abuser as if nothing happened, many of the St. George victims were repeatedly abused for years. On the plane I started to feel really sick. I know the place where they all went to - we as women all do I am betting. It's where we shut up, shut down, do as we're told, obey, tune out, freeze, pretend it isn't happening, that it never happened, and go on. Smile.

Everyone knows that it's much preferred to be a happy girl. A nice girl. A carefree girl. NO ONE likes an angry girl. A loudmouth girl. And there is a lot of writing out about why that is and how we are conditioned to behave and respond in the ways we do. Ok fine. BUT I AM GETTING TIRED OF IT. I KNOW I am wired to swallow my impulse to lash out, yell, FEEL my anger and respond from that place. Not little angry tirades but REAL, DEEP anger and anger that is in response to specific things. Anger in response to a line being crossed...a line that involves our worth, our bodies, our selves as equal and respected. It's like there's a trip wire in place - and probably for good reason if you think about the way the world has been for us gals up until VERY recently. Acting out, fighting back, and expressing our rage were probably frowned upon at BEST and became grounds for things like prescribed medications, psychiatric examination, and lobotomies. Seriously. It happened all the time. THAT'S a Halloween-nightmare that women lived in consistently. Which is terrifying and suffocating to think about. Yeah, so I get it.

I'm just SICK OF IT. Because to me, anger is a FUEL. In myself and when I see it released in other women. A much needed, valuable, God-given fuel. When I started allowing myself to really feel my anger, when I started to see it bubble in me and instead of "calming down in order to express myself in an appropriate and careful manner" I began to let it OUT, and things started changing. I could literally FEEL the surge of it, the power of it. I could see how it impacted the person on the other end. They had to DEAL with how what just happened made ME FEEL. I did not, as I have been trained and wired to do, TAKE CARE of them...to make sure THEY felt ok at the expense of ME feeling ok. I was free to express myself solely because I had something to express. I began to value myself and therefore my feelings (which is what my talk is all about - discovering another set of values by which I want to measure myself and other women) which was new and was incredible.

Knowing what makes me MAD is fantastic intel. I don't want to STAY mad but man, do I love knowing that something makes me mad! It makes me ACT! It makes me THINK! It makes me want to address it and make space for my anger. And I love how it FEELS. It is like a volcano of power. It's a fucking force. And I see how uncomfortable it makes people. Men and women alike (but MEN...that is really fascinating). Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. Or not scorned. Anything, everything. I just think our fury is POWERFUL SHIT. And it's SCARY SHIT. Because we're the mothers of the world. The wives. The daughters. The object of desire. We caretake. We smile. We obey. We are liked when we go with the flow and not make waves. And we got schooled when we DID makes waves. And still DO. 

But it is time to make waves. Make LOTS OF FUCKING WAVES. The path has been cleared. The voices of the women who were snuffed out and suffocated, not able to speak up or speak out...I think about all of them sometimes when I worry about being TOO MUCH. TOO loud. TOO pushy. TOO in your face. But fuck it. It's time to be TOO MUCH. Our anger is part of who we are. And it's a HUGE part. We are expanding as women right now...in a moment of greater expansion everywhere - diversity of all kinds is HAPPENING. And I believe to shatter out of the stratosphere that has held us earthbound, we need FUEL. And we need our ANGER. As Beyonce says in her song that I am kinda  obsessed with, DON'T HURT YOURSELF (listen to it, the explicit version if you want to get your anger up):

I am the dragon breathing fire
Beautiful mane I'm the lion
Beautiful man I know you're lying
I am not broken, I'm not crying, I'm not crying
You ain't trying hard enough
You ain't loving hard enough
You don't love me deep enough
We not reaching peaks enough
Blindly in love, I fucks with you
'Til I realize, I'm just too much for you
I'm just too much for you

I believe most of us are realizing that we are MUCH BIGGER, MUCH STRONGER, and MUCH MORE BADASS than we thought. Embrace that anger ladies. It doesn't mean you have to stay there but let it catapult you. Fuel you. Focus you. 

FROM THE QUEEN HERSELF:

“The minute you’re not angry about things, the minute you’re not upset about things, what are you talking about? … I’m furious about everything. Good things don’t always happen to good people. And I’m very angry about it. But if I didn’t have the anger about it, I wouldn’t be a comedian. Anger fuels the comedy.”

- Joan Rivers, 2010