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WATCH: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the power of female anger


by Jennifer McShane
13th Jan 2021
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In her first extended public statement since last week’s deadly, Trump-incited Capitol riot, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) detailed her personal experiences during the chaos, the “acts of betrayal” inside the Capitol building and admitting that she feared being kidnapped or harmed in some other way. She passionately spoke of the injustice, the devastation caused by Trump but what stood out the most was her obvious and admirable anger


You can sense it from the start. The US Congresswoman is warm and welcoming until, of course, she gets to the Capitol riots. You can hear the anger, see the frustration. She minces no words. Justifies nor apologises for displaying this emotion. She is right. What have we left now, if we cannot get angry at the senseless, selfish violence that Trump deliberately sought out? It is something to admire, this obvious rage as she explained the fear and chaos she experienced and witnessed.

“I had a pretty traumatising event happen to me. I had a very close encounter where I thought I was going to die,” she said at the start. “And you have all of those thoughts at the end of your life, all of these thoughts come rushing to you. And that’s what happened to a lot of us on Wednesday.”

 

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A post shared by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@aoc)

She explained she “did not know if I was going to make it to the end of that day alive. And not just in a general sense, but also in a very very specific sense,” and added that “there was a sense that something was wrong, obviously with the violence, but there was a sense that something was wrong from the inside.”

Her anger was palpable; during the remarks, she specifically criticised two Republican senators, both of whom voted against the certification of the 2020 election just hours after the riot ended. AOC said the two “cast that vote not out of genuine belief,” and were motivated purely by “political ambition.”

“You will never be president. You will never command the respect of this country, never. Never. And you should resign.”

Gendered emotion

What makes her anger all the more admirable is that it’s so raw.  Because, as women, to express this is to be called “nasty”, “unlikeable” or “aggressive” – anger is a gendered emotion where women fall victim to the stereotype. Yet male figures, even Trump who displays anger during rallies might make what press describe as a “rousing speech.”

Headlines described AOC’s Instagram as “firey.”  But it wasn’t firey. It was a perfectly regular display of normal emotion, especially given the events of the past week.

Prior to Wednesday, Trump was said to use a “grammar of persuasion” when going off the cuff during his speeches. In 2017, one article said he was “articulate.”  Another said he rambled but used “impassioned, targeted conversation” to connect with voters.  This all downplays that he essentially shouts every word of every speech. But hey, that’s just part of who he is, right?

Dismantling the ‘angry woman’ stereotype

Anger is a powerful emotion. it warns us of threat, insult, indignity and harm, writer and activist Soraya Chemaly explained during a TedTalk.

“But across the world, girls and women are taught that their anger is better left unvoiced. Anger is a human emotion, neither good nor bad. It is actually a signal emotion. It warns us of integrity threat insult and harm. And yet, in culture after culture, anger is reserved as the moral property of boys and men.”

“In anger, we go from being spoiled princesses and hormonal teens to high maintenance women and shrill ugly nags.

In the talk, she explores the dangerous lie that anger isn’t feminine, and how women’s rage is justified, healthy and a potential catalyst for change.

“Anger confirms masculinity and it confounds femininity, so men are rewarded for displaying it, and women are penalised for doing the same.”

It will come as absolutely no surprise that women report being angrier in more sustained ways, and with more intensity than men do, she explains. “And some of that comes from the fact that we’re socialised to ruminate to keep it to ourselves and mull it over. So we do several things. If men knew how often women were filled with white-hot rage when we cried, they would be staggered. We use minimising language, brush it off, say it’s okay.”

But it’s not okay. And we need more angry women to keep saying that, just as AOC did for over 60 minutes.