It’s Time to Get Angry
Issue 9, Volume 113
The idea that women should sit still and look pretty is often used to silence women and reduce them to objects of attraction. When women do express their emotions outwardly in strong ways, they’re often labeled as “overdramatic” and “crazy,” a tactic used to invalidate their emotions. However, men have always been permitted to express themselves as passionately as they like, an attribute often seen in the film industry. Meanwhile, the same passion in female characters has been repressed as society limits the emotions of women in both reality and the media.
In the past few decades, male actors have often received notable awards for intense anger performances, deafening screams, violent outbursts, and overflowing tears. Christoph Waltz’s Best Supporting Actor award for Inglourious Basterds, J.K. Simmons’s Best Supporting Actor award for Whiplash, and Heath Ledger’s Best Supporting Actor award for The Dark Knight are all examples of award-winning male rage performances. Yet when portraying female characters, directors shy away from raging performances, instead opting for silent tears and retreating actions. Performances of female rage should be encouraged in the film industry to combat conservative expectations of how women should behave.
Female rage is the unleashing of all the grievances of women in response to their environment. It is frequently the consequence of patriarchal societies that characterize anger as an unfeminine and undesirable trait. With the growing radicalization of the film industry, movies and shows contain increasing instances of feminine rage to debunk gender expectations. However, it was a long journey before Hollywood reached this standing.
In the history of Hollywood films, male violence has never been as controversial as female violence. This view led to men being typecast as fighting heroes, while women remained as side characters. Even in horror movies, women tend to be the helpless victims, while men are the killers. A publication done by Gloria Cowan and Margaret O’Brien in 1990 found that in 56 slasher films, the slashers were primarily men. In all three movies of the Scream franchise, Sidney, the protagonist, is always the damsel in distress who is rescued by a man at the end of the film. Women rarely act as villains, but when they do, their characters are still developed from misogynistic stereotypes. Research done by Tania Sharmin and Sanyat Sattar in 2018 found that the top motive of female villains was jealousy and vanity, promoting the stereotype that women are constantly envious and self-obsessed. Mean Girls utilizes both of these clichés: Regina and Cady fight with each other over a boy, a scene that highlights the motive of jealousy, and later, Regina erupts in anger after finding out that she cannot fit in her usual size of clothing, characterizing her as vain. Directors purposely made these characters fit society’s misogynistic agenda to gain popularity with the viewers, continuing the toxic cycle of exchanging accurate representation for profit.
In the uncommon instances where female rage is included in films, its portrayal is still undermined. The male gaze sexualizes female rage and molds it into a sight of attraction for male audiences. In Kill Bill, directed by Quentin Tarantino, who is known for his violent movies, the lead character, Beatrix, awakes from a coma to seek revenge on her abusers. She accomplishes her goal of protecting her child, reflecting another societal trope of motherhood. Characterizing women as vengeful is common in Hollywood as a seemingly empowering trope, but it often ends up as misrepresentation, because the trope usually results from the character being a victim of sexual violence. It insinuates that sexual assault is the main reason for female rage, which is obviously a false statement. On Netflix, three prominent Indian films use the avenging woman trope: Ajji, Garbage, and Tottaa Pataaka Item Maal. All three of these films involve acts of sexual assault against the protagonists, leading them to strive for revenge in violent ways. Though women committing acts of violence equal to men is an improvement in the representation of female characters in the film industry, the reasons for female rage are still stereotyped. Male characters can become rageful for a variety of reasons, so the same logic should be applied to female characters.
With the demand for accurate representation in mind, female characters in recent years are being developed intricately, leading to the diversification of female rage. Female characters are being written with non-stereotypical motives for anger and portray varied forms of anger expression, not just revenge.
Teenage drama shows are a prime example of this unleashing of emotions, as teenagers already experience a rollercoaster of sensations from both high school and puberty. The wildly popular HBO series Euphoria depicts teenagers’ experiences as they navigate adolescence. Euphoria showcases both male rage and female rage uniquely. Nate Jacobs unleashes his built-up rage and sexual insecurity toward his father in an emotional fight scene, and Rue, the protagonist, fights with her mother over Rue’s drug addiction, which has forever altered their mother-daughter relationship. Cassie’s emotional screaming in the bathroom to her friends, Rue’s mother exploding at Rue for her attempts of gaslighting and intimidation, and Kat’s breakdown in her bedroom while her delusions yell at her to love herself are all notable examples of the ways Euphoria portrays anger in its female characters. Having characters that are relatable for the viewers, the majority being teenagers themselves, can subsequently increase a show’s popularity. Euphoria is HBO’s second most watched show since 2004, averaging 16.3 million viewers per episode in season two. Including performances of feminine rage has proven to be beneficial not only in profit, but also in dismantling unrealistic expectations of women, an observation that the rest of Hollywood should take note of.
Historical biopics are another example of authentic descriptions of emotions, since characters are modeled after real people and their experiences. In the critically acclaimed movie Hidden Figures, Taraji P. Henson does a phenomenal job playing Katherine Johnson, a brilliant NASA African-American mathematician who performed the calculations allowing for the U.S. to launch its first astronaut into space. Throughout the film, Johnson faces constant racial discrimination from her coworkers despite clear success at her job, which builds up her frustration until she bursts into anger in the office and shouts, “I work like a dog, day and night, living off coffee from a pot none of you want to touch!” Despite the overwhelming bigotry and lack of acknowledgment Johnson encounters every day, she continues to be resilient. Her moment of anger reflects not merely her frustration toward NASA’s unfair system, but also bitterness toward the racist and sexist system that she experiences every day of her life. Johnson’s screams are an eye-opener to her boss, as he later marches to the women’s restroom and knocks down the sign that limits it exclusively to white women. Hidden Figures embodies empowerment from the start to the end, criticizing government policies in the 20th century while elaborately representing its female roles, all accomplished with the help of female rage performances that illustrate accurate emotions.
Though the concept of female rage is not new, its recent resurgence in the film industry has given the topic more discussion. Directors are becoming increasingly open to accurately depicting all emotional aspects of women, whether good or bad, a step toward the modernization of our community. Female rage has progressed immensely in the last few decades, but there is still room for growth, as with any modern issue. Audiences can help promote films with accurate portrayals and make demands for improvement clear to writers and directors. The stereotype of women being gentle and soft should be left in the past. Women can be raging humans too.