Wrong: Teen Vogue Tells Girls They Should be Angry All the Time

This kind of aggressive advice from a teen magazine will only worsen our culture's violent rhetoric.

Protesters hold banners during the Women's March On Portland in Portland, Oregon, USA on January 21, 2017.

By Liberty McArtor Published on August 3, 2017

“Yes, we’re angry. Why shouldn’t we be? Why aren’t you?”

This is how author Laurie Penny ends her Wednesday essay in Teen Vogue. She tells readers that “many women you know are angrier than you can possibly imagine,” and that’s good.

This advice, demanding to know why teen girls aren’t seething and insisting that they should be, could harm a generation coming of age in an already rhetorically violent culture. 

Not Just Raining on Her Parade

I’d like to give Penny the benefit of the doubt. She writes that girls are raised to hide anger. That “we worry too much about how men and boys will respond” to it. She doesn’t want that to get in the way of girls being honest about their feelings. All healthy concerns.

Teen girls can be forthright without coming across as angry. The difference is vital, especially in the professional world. 

I’ll momentarily ignore her cheap “patriarchy is so scared of women’s anger” comment to show that I (kind of) understand. I’m an introvert born with a naturally serious expression. I’m often told to “lighten up,” “smile,” or “be happy!” So while she’s exaggerating, I sympathize with the feeling that “if you leave the house without a sweet smile slathered across your face” you might be called names. And yes, it’s frustrating when any emotion other than serenity draws a sarcastic query about your menstrual cycle. It happens to all women.

While these tendencies may be worth criticizing, they don’t call for a 1,400 word essay encouraging anger. That doesn’t serve her readers’ mental health or happiness.

You Can Be Forthright and Polite at the Same Time

Penny says young women often ask her how to be more “forthright” without “coming across as too angry.” Her response to them? “There are worse things to be.” 

Bad answer. Here’s a better one: You can be forthright without venting. Without anger. That advice will be vital when these girls enter the professional world. Here’s some other advice Penny could have offered:

  • Learn to clearly articulate your opinions
  • Defend your beliefs firmly, but politely
  • Express disagreement without disrespect
  • Be up front about your goals and desires
  • If you point out a problem, offer a solution.

Women and men who follow these basic rules aren’t known as angry grumblers, but as good communicators. They’re also likely to be respected, because they’re polite. That virtue is underrated. 

Mixed Up Definitions

Penny notes that “anger is not the same as hatred, although it’s easy to confuse the two, especially in a political climate where hatred of others comes easy and rational rage is met with mockery. Anger is a feeling. Hatred is an action.”

She’s right that anger is not the same as hatred. But hate is not just an action. Hatred is very much a feeling — and can be a sinful one. “Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer,” 1 John 3:15 tells us. We’re not even supposed to hate our enemies.

Anger rightly sparked should be a catalyst for productive action, not a desired stated of mind.

Contra Laurie Penny, there’s no such thing as “rational rage.” The very definition of rage is “violent uncontrollable anger.” While Penny misses this nuance, she does seem to understand that anger must be controlled. “Choosing to control your rage, to use it for good, is better by far than squashing it down or letting it eat you away from inside,” she writes. “It can focus your attention on what has to change, in your life, in your community.” 

Right. It’s okay to feel angry. It can spark passion that spurs us into productive action. But we shouldn’t stay angry. That’s like staying hungry or sleepy. It’s not a desirable default state of mind.

Perpetual Anger is Bad for You

In fact, chronic anger isn’t healthy. Whether bottled up or frequently expressed through outbursts, it can make us physically ill. Plus, if we’re always angry, we don’t have much time to notice the good parts of the world or give thanks for them. 

Penny’s essay gives the impression that girls ought to be (and that most women are) angry all the time. That if we’re cheerful or make efforts to smile more, it’s because men are forcing us to do so. That women who control their anger are not “strong,” but under the “patriarchy’s” thumb. And that healthy change is achieved by “rage” rather than respectful discourse.

Her advice will lead to more shouts hurled at campus speakers, more aimless marches, more violent riots, and more partisan division that gets us nowhere.

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  • Patmos

    It’s the difference between the mind and emotion. When Paul wrote to the church at Ephesus to be angry and sin not, and to give no place to the devil, it has within it an inherent discernment. This kind of anger is about holding fast to righteousness, and not being easily moved. Unfortunately today’s social justice warrior knows no discernment, just mindless emotion, and as such is all over the place. They don’t really stand for anything except some abstract form of injustice born out of the very emotion of anger within them. Their mindset, or lack of one all together, says: I have this rage in me, let me see where I can try to apply it.

    • Liberty McArtor

      I like how you put it: the lack of discernment. Discernment is key, especially when balancing justified anger with constructive action.

  • Mensa Member

    Liberty McArtor (great name!) makes some very good points but I think she misunderstood the main point of the Teen Vogue article.

    I don’t think Penny was advocating for girls to be constantly seething with anger. She is pointing out the societal double standard about women’s emotions vs men’s emotions. Men who get angry are “strong” but women who get angry are “the b word.”

    There is righteous anger and there is misplaced anger But it’s never healthy for girls to bottle up their anger in corder to conform to societal expectations.

    • Andrew Mason

      I agree there’s a distinction between righteous anger and misplaced anger, but people differ over which is which. Consider the linked article – it claims that righteous causes for anger are the denial of basic human right like health care are denied, when women are blamed for violence committed against them, racism, homophobia, or class prejudice, but the problem is others would disagree. What Penny deems homophobia could be righteous anger against wickedness, what she deems racism could be righteous anger at having laws deliberately ignored by officials and women raped by Illegals who shouldn’t even be in the country, and what she deems the denial of a basic human right could simply be people refusing to support the murder of unborn babies. Without specifics it’s impossible to know what she means, though her choice of terminology – patriarchy, privilege, or straight and cisgender, all suggest a way left-of centre position. Given the heat between the Left and the Right, and how passionate some groups can be e.g. Pro-Lifers, to say women are told they cannot be angry seems silly. Perhaps a better question would be what are women permitted to be angry about, and how may they express it? A similar question could be asked for men, but of course that’s a different topic.

      • Liberty McArtor

        Good observations. I didn’t get into her leftist views very much, but you’re so right here: “Perhaps a better question would be what are women permitted to be angry about, and how may they express it?” Too often unbridled anger at the “correct” issues is lauded by the left as activism, while a woman’s anger at any other injustice, like abortion, is hushed and even degraded by “feminists.”

      • DR Jensen

        Well said and said well.

    • Liberty McArtor

      Thanks for the comment M.M.! I see your point. Like I said at the beginning, I want to give Penny the benefit of the doubt, and I acknowledge (and even share) some of her frustrations about double standards and the pressure on girls to bottle up anger.

      I do, however, think there are more constructive ways to go about the discussion of anger, its healthy expression, and how to balance righteous anger at injustice with productive and respectful discourse. There is already so much anger in the world, especially in our nation right now. I feel Penny could have approached the topic in a more helpful way, especially for the young audience she addressed.

  • Gary Kauffman

    I, too, was born with a naturally serious expression and, like you, am often told to “lighten up,” “quit being so serious” and “just smile.” I am a 58-year-old man, so I’m pretty sure this is not a gender issue (in fact, it is often women who make these comments to me). I am also sure that people with naturally sunny dispositions with a lot of smiles and laughter are told to “quit taking everything so lightly,” “that not everything is funny” and “just be serious once in a while.” As humans, we have a natural tendency to want everyone else to conform to our way of thinking – serious people want light-hearted people to be more serious, light-hearted people want serious people to be more light-hearted; old people want young people to think older, young people want old people to think younger, men want women to respond more like men, women want men to respond more like women, etc. Women are just as likely to see an angry man as out of control and needing anger management as a man is to see an angry woman and think she’s the “b-word” – and, men will view an angry man as a jerk and women will view an angry woman as a diva. We will always view others through the lens of our own personality and experience. The difference for Christians is to begin to view others through the lens of Christ, to see them as he sees them. It is only then that we will be able to transcend beyond our own limitations and be able to begin to treat others the way we want to be treated ourselves. The ability to show anger, righteous or otherwise, is not the answer, or even part of the answer, for either men or women.

    • Liberty McArtor

      Great points!

  • blackfeather

    most of them already are….anyone remember “PMS”?

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