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.
“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.
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.