Good For Her: Are we finally realising the power of female rage?

Women are furious – on screen, on the page, in music, in real life – and rightfully so. The 2020s have so far felt like a tipping point, and it seems people are finally paying attention to women’s collective anger.

Good For Her: Are we finally realising the power of female rage?
Rachel Roberts

“Well-behaved women seldom make history,” is a quote you’ve probably heard before. It was originally written by historian Laurel Thatcher Ulrich all the way back in 1976, and yet nearly 50 years later, it feels just as fitting as complicated, angry women are dominating the forefront of popular culture, and demanding change in our reality, too.

‘Female rage’ has become almost a buzz phrase. Films featuring fierce displays of women’s anger are being categorised as ‘good for her’ movies, and masses of people online are joking that they proudly support women’s rights and wrongs. And whether it be through a simmering monologue or a display of bloody murder, audiences are actively seeking out – and obsessing over – a cinematic universe where women finally snap.

The female rage hashtag on TikTok alone has amassed over two billion views so far. People want to see it, and people want to talk about it. But female rage is a complicated subject, and although it has been present in our media landscape for decades, the real-life anger of women has always been (and continues to be) dismayed.

Women who put up any kind of resistance are perpetually labelled as ‘crazy’, ‘psycho’, or ‘overreacting’, and these harmful labels and stereotypes often worsen for women of colour. In March last year, Kerrang! joined Nova Twins and Witch Fever In Conversation for International Women’s Day, where this very issue was discussed. “We’d do a performance and people would be like, ‘You’re scary.’ No-one says that to men in bands,” Amy Love shared at the time.

“I read this book called Dangerous Women and it explored how as a white woman I’m totally fine in trying to be the scariest that I can because it’s not a stereotype that’s associated with me,” added Witch Fever’s Amy Walpole. “But women of colour have to deal with that offstage and all the time. If I hadn’t read that book, I’d never consider it a privilege for me to go onstage and be as big and scary as I can be.”

The fight to dispel these damaging beliefs continues. Political and real-life events are triggering more conversation around women’s frustrations. In particular, discussion surrounding bodily autonomy and abortion rights reignited when Roe v. Wade was overturned in the U.S. in June 2022. The late 2010s also saw the resurgence of the #MeToo movement when Hollywood was put under scrutiny in light of the Harvey Weinstein scandal.

Yet among the sexist podcast clips that can often litter your social media feeds, it seems a shift is occurring, and people are noticing that women’s anger is very real, reasonable, and powerful. Years ago, early interactions with female rage on screen or on a page may have been with Stephen King’s Carrie or Susanna Kaysen’s Girl, Interrupted. But there has been a colossal boom in the exploration of female anger, and when you start to really dive into it, you realise that now it is absolutely everywhere – sometimes it’s explosive, and other times it appears quiet and contained.

Some of the most talked about examples of female anger on screen in recent years spring from the films of A24: Mia Goth’s iconic “Please, I’m a star!” from Pearl, Toni Collette’s “Nobody ever admits anything they’ve done!” dinner table rant in Hereditary, or even Florence Pugh’s menacing smile in Midsommar.

You may also think of the likes of Bella Ramsey as Ellie Williams in HBO’s The Last Of Us, as they – quite frankly – smash the absolute shit out of creepy cult leader David, or Aimee Gibbs (Aimee Lou Wood) in Sex Education going ham at a bunch of construction workers for asking her to smile, just after she had attended a funeral. It’s even present in films such as Greta Gerwig’s box-office smash, Barbie, which despite being dressed up as a fluffy pink daydream, consistently attacks modern-day sexism, most potently in America Ferrera’s powerful monologue.

Even in our very own musical landscape, female rage is the spine of many Kerrang! approved hits. Just look at the discographies of artists such as Delilah Bon, with her unforgiving track Dead Men Don’t Rape, or Scene Queen’s Pink Rover, Paramore’s Figure 8 and Meet Me @ The Altar’s Say It To My Face. Men and people of other genders are also contributing to the conversation within their art – hardcore band Going Off just released a rage-fuelled track about sexual violence, Pay The Price, which as frontman Jake Huxely told us, explores the idea of “returning the violence tenfold”.

Female rage can be found in every corner online, and huge numbers of rage-filled movie scenes and songs are ending up in compilation edits on TikTok or Instagram. Julietta, a 19-year-old movie fan and blogger, found her way into the topic of female rage through Tumblr. “I was immensely engrossed in the Tumblr community where young girls or women were talking about the experiences of girlhood and womanhood,” she tells K! “They weren’t calling it female rage [back when I first joined], but I think the topics that were discussed there fit the description of it… I think that holding in your emotions in real life and only being able to express them online could also be considered a form of female rage.”

Julietta runs a popular female rage-themed Instagram account under the name of @vielietta. She gravitates towards films with a theme of ‘misunderstood’ or ‘unhinged’ women, with her favourites being Pearl and Black Swan. Although she does recognise that the actions of the characters in some of her favourites aren’t condonable: “It’s not the actions you relate to but the feelings,” she says. “The female characters are often shown screaming, finally letting their emotions out and getting rid of what’s holding them back from happiness.

“A lot of girls like watching movies like this because they get the feeling of being somewhat understood and are able to finally relate to someone or something, or even reflect on themselves. That’s what gives them comfort.”

Journalist, speaker and author Gemma Hartley is especially clued up on women’s relationships with their own emotions. She took a deep look at emotional labour in her book, Fed Up: Emotional Labor, Women, And The Way Forward. “My book arose out of my frustration with the unreciprocated mental load and emotion management work that went into my relationship with my husband,” she tells us.

“It then grew into an exploration of the ways women are expected to manage the comfort of those around us in all areas of our lives, whether it’s rewriting our emails to strike the ‘right’ tone at work or calculating how to respond when we’re catcalled on the street. The cultural mandate is that we mask our own needs and emotions in order to cater to others.”

Gemma believes female rage arises as the result of living in a “patriarchal society that invalidates and denies our experiences as valid”. Similarly, Julietta says her understanding of it is “when a woman holds in her emotions for so long that when she’s not able to do that anymore it often results in her looking like a villain”.

“Female rage is a raw and powerful call for change, and it’s dangerously subversive because it creates a break from the placid mask we’re supposed to maintain,” Gemma explains. “I believe anger for anyone arises from a sense of injustice. Where men often feel that sense of injustice in the face of their power being threatened, I see women’s anger as arising from their power remaining unrealised.”

Gemma says it is indeed our reality that is causing the creative industries to explore female rage further: “The resurgence of Tarana Burke’s #MeToo movement brought collective female rage to the surface and showed how it can be wielded as a tool for political and cultural change,” she states. “As we watch a severe backslide in political progress and human rights, especially here in the States, I think more women are keen to use their rage to demand change.”

With that said however, some argue that female anger is sometimes fetishised when portrayed in film or TV, making characters unnecessarily sexualised or providing them with an unattainable ‘bad girl’ image.

Both Julietta and Gemma find that the key to finding ‘authentic’, true-to-life recreations of female rage is down to who is telling the story. Having women behind both the camera and the script can often make a big difference. “Fortunately, [most of] the popular and respected movies are the ones portraying female rage in a realistic way,” says Julietta, “so they make us feel understood, comforted and seen.”

Among continued unrest, women’s anger will only continue to swell. And as a result, female rage won’t disappear from your screens, books, music or televisions either. But in the right hands, the stories of angry women can cultivate vital changes and bring about comfort for those watching, listening and reading.

As Gemma sums it up, “We need to stop talking about women’s rage as if it’s a passing trend. It’s the culmination of a long history of oppression, and we aren’t going to simmer down anytime soon.”

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