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  • Writer's pictureErin

Emotional health 101: The feminine rage redemption

The past week has been pretty rough. To spare the TMI details, I've been in a six-month long battle with my healthcare providers in an attempt to replace my current birth control to no avail, leaving me with a well-past-expired piece of metal inside my body and a growing hatred toward the American medical system (which, I can assure you, I was already not fond of). I've also had some other tricky symptoms that no one seems to have answers for, and have spent the better part of this past month feeling generally unwell. My body image hasn't been great lately, either, largely due to the former statements. School is ending, grades are due, and students have endless questions about how much this last assignment is worth, or whether I got their email, or if I could write them a letter of recommendation for next year, or if I have a copy of the spending report for our club activities. They forgot their deadlines and then I'm the one at fault for their grades plummetting. My house feels constantly dirty and my to-do list is perpetually full. When I check one thing off, it seems, three more get added.

And then Palestine is being destroyed by colonizers. Most people with platforms either flat out refuse to speak up or repost some AI-generated image of the destruction in a sad attempt to appear as if they care. The more celebrities and corporations I block on social media, the weirder, more fringe advertisements I get served by the algorithm - most of them siding with or directly identifying as "proud Zionists."

I just found out one of my student's entire family is displaced in Sudan, where there is also a horrific civil war taking place.

Then there's The Congo, Haiti, Hawaii, Ukraine, Yemen, and so many others who are suffering alongside them, largely shadowed by "more important" events.

When do we even have time to discuss the environmental crisis?

Certainly what I'm about to say isn't the biggest deal in the grand scheme of the world, but holy shit, I'm tired. And when I sit with my emotions for just a bit longer, I realize that it doesn't really stop at that. I'm actually enraged. I think many of us are. Maybe we don't even know it.

A cardboard box in a pile of dirt that has been lit on fire. On the side of the box reads "If found in the trash, please return to recycling immediately."

This is where it gets tricky, though, because as a traditional American girl raised in a small town with good Christian values, fury isn't an emotion I know how to relate to. I'm supposed to be content and agreeable. I'm supposed to be quiet and polite. My default is gentleness. My brand of "feminine energy" is one of smooth skin, big smiles, manicured nails, a soft voice, and a calm disposition - at all times and at all costs. Chances are, if you're reading this, you and I are united in this reality.

When I touched anger as a child - when I cried until I couldn't speak without gasping for air, I learned that the outbursts wouldn't get me what I wanted. Maybe the lack of that thing wasn't necessarily bad, and maybe understanding that tantrums aren't the best way to handle big emotions wasn't the worst lesson. But what stayed along with those teachings was the understanding that anger is bad. Rage is worse. Expressing either will forever be punished - ignored at best, permanently abandoned at worst. So what does one learn to do instead?

Eventually, when we hear the words "calm down," we actually start to push down. Our cultural connotation of this demand translates to "You're being too much right now, and I don't want to deal with it. Your emotions scare me." With that understanding, we learn to keep our anger and rage away from the public eye as much as possible. We take a nap instead of punching a pillow. We run ourselves a bath instead of head-banging to My Chemical Romance. We assume it's better to say nothing than to speak up, express our hurt, and run the risk of worrying or annoying our loved ones.

And again, it's not that any of these are necessarily bad reactions to getting in touch with our anger. It's just that after years of defaulting to the quieter option for the sake of our "emotional health," we start to forget what our anger even feels like. When it visits, it's unwelcome. When it reaches out, we've lost the number. We don't recognize it anymore.

So no wonder we have such a hard time dealing with it.

Nearly all of us are trained to subjugate our anger into some form of quiet acceptance, if not resentment. It's also no wonder, then, that we tend to "lose our cool" every so often. The amount of rage each of us holds within is a guarantee that we will not always be able to contain it. With this in mind comes another interesting, albeit harmful, social conditioning that has cemented itself into our culture: that men stereotypically get a bit more of a pass to let their anger spill over. Until very recently, it was only socially acceptable for men to yell or show aggression, for men to fight or engage in combative activities. Men had authority over their wives and children, therefore permission to release anger onto them. Men who have traditionally held positions of power are the ones who were allowed to punish, shame, exploit, and harm those beneath them.

I want to make one thing abundantly clear: It is never okay to take out our anger on other people, no matter who we are or what social conditioning we were raised on. Men have historically had more ability to do so without severe repercussions, but that doesn't make it enviable. In fact, I believe the work of the modern masculine person is actually lengthier than for anyone else - not only must they unlearn the pattern of projecting anger onto others, but then they must then rewire their understanding of anger in the first place. It is not an action. It is nothing more than a feeling we build a relationship with, then react accordingly.

Here is the work for everyone: Identify what your anger feels like. Ask: Is it different from rage? Are you scared of either one? Develop a steady conversation with it before reacting, then provide yourself a safe outlet for its release if need be.

That work is truly what I'm here to write about today, because it's what I'm currently being nudged (forced?) to face in my own life as a woman. I can feel the ancient rage awakening and stirring inside of me, and I know it's not meant to be ignored or stuffed down any longer. It's one thing to be chronically annoyed by the day-to-day at work - non-attentive students, late assignments, demanding higher-ups and the like - but when much larger themes of injustice, exploitation, lack of care, half-assed attempts by the 1% to solve problems that will never effect them in any way start to make their way into the collective's awareness, this fury becomes much deeper. It rattles our bones and boils our blood. It feels like a distant calling from some deity buried far below the Earth's surface, but still somehow lives within us; a tether to the underworld. This is true rage.

And this is powerful beyond measure.

Warm red glow from a candle being held in a bathtub in an otherwise dark room

When we talk about sacred rage, it may sound strange at first. Of course, we are accustomed to believing that rage, anger, fury, or any synonym to this feeling is inherently bad. That's the first thing to unlearn. Feeling this is not bad at all. We should not be afraid of its visit nor try everything in our power to push it away. Doing so only perpetuates the behavior that gives rage a bad rep in our culture; when we stuff it down, it eventually spills over or hardens into resentment. This is when it gets misfired. We yell at people we love, say things we don't mean, burn out too quickly, get demotivated, depressed, regretful and hopeless until we have no life force left. We've then exhausted this precious resource of energy without ever knowing that it can actually be used for good. All because we've been taught that our feelings are wrong.

Rage can be destructive and harmful and even violent. This is the first definition you'll find when you search for it. But when we face our rage, talk to it, and create a relationship with it, it becomes a tool for action. Instead of turning into resentment, it becomes motivation. When we do the opposite of what we've always been told to do (calm down, sleep it off, stop being so dramatic or sensitive) - when we give ourselves a safe outlet to release it, we can finally start to relax and center our thoughts on logical next steps. This is much easier said than done, and even as I write about it I realize how little I've actually practiced it myself. But it's time we respond to that ancient call, especially as feminine beings raised on a false "feminine" stereotype.

What does that look like?

When I listen for the call - or in other words, when I get in touch with my anger - I picture it coming from a feminine deity. A goddess, perhaps. But she is not the same as the beautiful Grecian goddesses I grew up learning about, like Aphrodite or Athena. She is not conventionally pretty or soft or smiling. She is wild - covered in deep soil, her nails grown out like claws, her hair long and tangled. She is the antithesis to everything we have learned is feminine, yet she is the divine feminine at its core.

So if you would consider yourself a predominantly feminine person, conjure her. Place her at your altar (maybe a photo of Kali Ma or Gaia...maybe a smooth volcanic rock or something that symbolizes her) and light a candle. Ask her what kind of music would help her express, then blast it. Close the blinds, black out the room, perhaps turn on some red lights if you have them. Start to move your body in ways that feel intuitively good. Don't be afraid of what comes up; just let it come.

It might surprise you to find that this whole time you've been coasting through all the anger-inducing moments of your past, you were adding more fuel to her fire. This is not a bad thing, but it can be scary when you face it after so many years of neglect. You might be afraid of your own fury and how quickly it sets in. You might be afraid of what you'll do next.

But part of this practice, too, is setting a container. Some may consider this the healthy "masculine" quality that comes into a very feminine state of being. When we know that we need to converse with and move through anger, we give ourselves a timeframe to do it in. Maybe we need five minutes to punch a pillow or scream in the car. Maybe an hour-long dancing session would do the trick. Whatever it may be, we stick to it. Afterward, we do a little self-care.

Here's how my recent encounter with rage went. After days and weeks of piled up angst, I knew it was time to answer the call. I did much of what I just described above: closing the blinds, putting on red lights, picking a few songs out of a "rage mix" from Spotify, and moving with the music. I started on the ground in child's pose, letting the memories and associated feelings come back into my body - letting them build again. I slowly started to rise and roll and twist. I allowed my limbs to curl, fingers flailing, toes wiggling, as the music gradually gained intensity. Before long, I found myself strutting around the room, then jumping, then head-banging, then losing myself in the movements, tripping all over the place, falling onto the couch, slamming fists into pillows, grunting, sweating, panting.

And to close the container, I intentionally put in a few songs toward the end to slow the energy down when I knew I'd be getting tired. It was now. After allowing this rage to course through me so feverishly, the only thing left to do was collapse. I returned to child's pose, now much less pent up and much more surrendered. I felt small, but in a good way. I let the music hold me. And then it all went quiet.

I've been tired, but underneath that was pure anger. Underneath that, still, was fear. Feminine rage is that nuanced, layered response to systemic and personal injustices: gender-based violence, societal expectations, and the ways the patriarchy has for so long limited our lives. It is the rejection of believing that things will always be this way.


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