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Those Furious Women

As a graduate student at MIT, my daily commute took me past a construction site bordered by the sort of concrete dividers you see along highways. It was a pretty long stretch of concrete dividers, and on it someone had energetically spray-painted the following in large, excited letters:


This caused me much disquiet every time I passed by. Would people think I was one of those furious women? Who were those furious women and what were they furious about? What in hell would happen if their fury was unleashed? It did not bear contemplating.**

Back then, of course, I did not want to be associated with women at all, much less any radical furious women. I was a man’s woman, yessiree! I knew my place in the scheme of things!
Of course you all know how this story ends. The details of the transition have been related elsewhere (in essays in Women in Science: Meeting Career Challenges and in She’s Such a Geek!). I am in frequent communication with my Inner Pissed-Off Woman.
It’s ironic that I’m in even better touch with my IPOW now that I’m home so much. Being at home all day has been very isolating, and eventually one can self-impose the isolation. I can’t go out on the days I feel bad, then I don’t go out on the days I feel good. Being at home becomes a habit.
I’ve mentioned before how burned out I felt when I left my job as director of WESP at K-State and went back to industry. It was a personal relief to make that move and the right choice at the time for a lot of reasons. Nevertheless I missed my connection to the world of women in engineering programs. I missed being part of that conversation.
Blogging has put me back in the conversation, and has been an amazing conduit for the unleashing of my IPOW. It’s exhilarating and addicting, and sometimes I feel like I can’t get enough of it. There is so much I want and need to say, that sometimes the thoughts are all jamming against the top of my head at once, jostling for attention, begging to be written, and I feel paralyzed. My writer’s block comes not from dearth of material but from fear of not doing justice to the material. These few meager paragraphs have cost me an entire afternoon. They aren’t very special, nor do they deal with one of the big jostlers currently elbowing around my brain. I would like to be unleashed from this current bout of writer’s block.
Sometimes I wish I could go back in time to my younger self passing by the “unleash the fury” slogan and give myself advice, help the younger me avoid some of the crap waiting down the line for me. Then I wonder if I would have listened. If a woman like the one I am today had approached me in my early twenties I would have been terrified of her and would have wanted nothing to do with her. When I started blogging I thought I might be writing for the modern-day counterparts of the younger me, but I wonder how many younger women today want to listen to what women like me have to say. I just hope it doesn’t take them as long to find their IPOW as it did for me, and that they don’t have to go through as much misery.

**(It was only many years later that I learned “unleash the fury…” was a slogan associated with the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA. See here, for example.)

  1. Anna_Z
    August 30, 2007 at 6:48 pm

    I think one can have a very healthy connection to her Inner Pissed Off Woman without joining in whatever revolution is being promoted. Matter of fact, one of the things I am pissed off with is all the revolutions that seem to think being a woman makes me automatically a supporter/joiner/easy mark.

  2. Becca
    August 30, 2007 at 8:55 pm

    Well, as a woman in science in my early twenties, I can tell you this has become one of my favorite blogs. Just keep it up.

  3. August 31, 2007 at 1:06 pm

    Wow, there’s a little self-recognition trip. I went to a woman’s college for my undergrad degree and, oddly enough, spent a fair amount of time disassociating myself from the feminists (!) because they were all so pissed off. Well, so was I, but they were pissed off lesbians for the most part, and that I wasn’t. It took me until grad school to start calling myself a feminist again because now I was actually experiencing the discrimination and unfriendly environment firsthand. Sadly, it seems most of us have to learn for ourselves why our IPOW is so important. So don’t be so hard on your younger self. I think most of us knoew everything at that age, and only realize later that we didn’t.

  4. catswym
    August 31, 2007 at 1:27 pm

    why be angry if it is not to be used as an agent for change? to me, there is not much point in being angry just to be angry.
    but, i am definitely one of “those” angry women. and proud of it. isn’t there a bumper sticker or something that says something along the lines of “if you’re not angry you must not be paying attention”? anyway, i like that.

  5. August 31, 2007 at 7:50 pm

    A little story, which perhaps will explain my position better than a little logic:
    I used to be angry, back when I was in my late teens and early twenties. There’s just something about being homeless that will do that to you, go figure. But then, for no real good reason at all, a bunch of people – some of whom were my friends, but most of whom I barely knew – scraped a little money together to send me back to college. It wasn’t much, maybe $300, if I recall? but to someone who had just put together their entire life savings to discover it was only $81.36 – in pennies – $300 was infinity. I couldn’t stop crying from this huge gift they had given me, and I kept trying to give it back, because I didn’t have any way to repay, and, as far as I could see, probably never would.
    “No, no,” they told me, “you do not have to pay it back. One day, when someone else comes to your door in your current situation, do the same for them and then we will be square.”
    So, eventually, I went back to my very expensive college where I had to get special permission to work 20 hours a week on campus (no one worked 20 hours a week at this school), and I made just enough money to pay the rent. This was actually a learning experience in itself – I couldn’t rent a place for almost 2 months because no one in the area rented month-to-month…something I was asking for because I thought a 6 month lease meant I had to pay for 6 months up front and I didn’t have the money! Thank god someone finally figured out what was happening and gently explained to me what a lease was.
    I didn’t actually make enough money to also eat or get on a meal plan, but after one of the cafeteria workers realized that I tried to pay for lunch three days in a row, she started refusing to take my money when I would come. We would play an elaborate game where I would pull money out of my pocket – and I would have paid, too – but then she would shoo me back towards the door with a bemused glare that I would have dared to take out my money, and then, once no one was looking, she would wave me in for lunch. I can’t remember her name, but she was from Puebla, and every time I see Puebla mentioned in the news, I think of her and wonder if she is still working in the cafeteria or if she has moved on, or gone back home to the family that she told me she sent money to every month. But I think of her all the time. She is the only reason I ate in college.
    For two years after receiving this gift, I would start crying just from thinking of all of these people. My anger had not yet dissipated, and I was not sure how to reconcile this act with everything else that had happened to me, and I still didn’t have any way to pay them back, in spite of their assurances to the contrary.
    And then one day I took a step back and realized it was my very anger that was preventing me from paying them back properly. I tackled the entire world with anger, and that was the only thing I could give to anyone. I was unable to provide generosity or kindness to anyone, not even to myself. Now, I am not saying all this to say that a person never has a right to be pissed off, or that well channeled anger, when appropriate, cannot work wonders, but I am saying that the “system” or “patriarchy” or whatever it is you want to call it that made me homeless in the first place did so out of anger towards me, and it perpetuated itself in me through my own anger and bitterness. It left me able to respond to the world in nothing less than the same way it responds to the world. I fought the world the same way it fights the world, and through this ripple effect I was just another tool, in both senses of the word, for the “way things are done.”
    So, today, 11 years later almost to the day, I still cry when I think of everything these people have done for me. But today I cry out of gratitude for what they did, not out of anger that they had to do it. I stopped being angry because it was holding me back and because it prevented me from fulfilling my promise to them. I stopped being angry because being angry was the old system, the same system that I was railing against. I realized that all of these people had shown me a new system that worked a lot better, and didn’t play by the same rules as the one I had known.
    Frankly, I prefer the new system.

  6. September 1, 2007 at 11:36 am

    Well, I don’t think I have ever advocated anger for anger’s sake, and that’s not what the Inner Pissed-Off Woman is about. She has reasons for her anger, and she channels it for a purpose. She’s not some blind anger-monster rampaging around and bashing everything in sight.
    I think it’s possible to be angry about patriarchy AND be allies with men, who, by the way, have much to gain from dismantling patriarchy (if more to lose than women do). Anger does not preclude sympathy and gratitude. Hatred does.
    But anger and hatred are two completely different things. I don’t think patriarchy is about anger against women, I think it’s about hatred of women. Something very different. Anger you can negotiate with; you can have a dialog with someone who’s angry at you or you’re angry with. Hatred, not so much.

  7. PhysioProf
    September 1, 2007 at 6:39 pm

    “But anger and hatred are two completely different things.”
    Absolutely. Among other differences, anger can be channeled into positive action. Hatred, not so much.

  8. catswym
    September 3, 2007 at 11:57 am

    in case you were responding to me, zuska, i didn’t think you were advocating anger for its own sake. in fact, i thought the opposite. i was more responding to the first commenter who seemed to be for anger but against revolution (or change).

  9. September 4, 2007 at 2:12 pm

    The patriarchy hates women?
    Ah, it becomes clear at last. I’ve been struggling to find a way to express myself better here (why isn’t she getting it? Am I explaining things badly? Am I wrong? What am I missing?), but this statement sheds quite a bit of light on why we’ve been talking circles around each other. It is precisely what I’ve been missing. This statement is the fundamental difference between our two opinions, and if this is truly your position, I don’t know that there is much further for me to say to you, because your position will surely be an intractable one, as far as you are correct about one thing – hatred cannot, by itself, be worked with.
    Given that, though, I don’t understand how you intend to change the system? I mean…there’s nothing to be done with hatred. Period. Fini. And yet, you keep trying, so somehow you feel that this is not as large a stumbling block as I? Perhaps you are simplifying the situation and a little sussing out will uncover more nuance? Using shorthand?
    I must admit, I had an extremely hard time devising an adequate response for a number of reasons. Initially, your response was quite possibly the most personally disappointing I could have fathomed. As I looked back on my story I worried that it might be misinterpreted as a plea for pity – something I neither want nor expect as I don’t feel sorry for myself, and I certainly don’t expect anyone else to do it for me. I worried that perhaps it would be seen as an unfair attempt to trump the discussion by weighing in with heavy personal, which it also was not intended to be.
    But, in spite of these dangers, I put it there hoping that maybe someone would see it for what it really is – an illustrative story meant to point out that the world is complex, it is messy, it is human. You got burned by the world and got in touch with your IPOW…yet I got burned by the same world and got in touch with something different. Your readership can’t be that large – if we have two different responses to getting burned by the world here in this tiny microcosm, how many other responses do you think are out there?! Every action and reaction is filled with intention, history, personal motive, emotion, and value and there will be as many permutations therein as there are people in the world.
    But, really, the statement “the patriarchy hates women” is just so facile in its interpretation of human interaction and social structures, it didn’t even make the mistakes I worried it might. It just gave me….nothing. Was it grasping at straws or espousing bumper sticker platitudes in an effort not to offend me because the story was a personal one? Were you trying to be nice? Was it an actual response? Were you having a bad day? I can’t even tell, it is so far from anything I expected given the rest of the level of discourse on the blog.
    The patriarchy hates women?! I have a hard time accepting that that’s your full understanding of human interactions, but, if it is, our difference of opinion would seem to be truly a fundamental one – the difference, in fact, between a fundamentalist world view and a liberal one. If that is the case, I will never find a way to convince you to appreciate that social structures have a lot of opinions about those on the bottom – disrespect, distrust, fear, anger, frustration, ineptitude, and misunderstanding in particular. But not hate, per se. I will not be able to convince you that hate is often the result of the aforementioned emotions, but it is not a foregone conclusion even in their presence, and I will almost certainly be unable to convince you that if the previous emotions can be removed, it becomes incredibly difficult to sustain hate or the existing power structures at all.
    I will not be able to point you to some fascinating studies I listened to on NPR several years back, which talked about the many ways children try to get what they want from their parents [if memory serves, they were
    + logic (well, you let Kevin have it, so it doesn’t make sense not to let me have it),
    + threats (I won’t love you anymore if you don’t let me have it!),
    + bartering (I’ll love you forever if you let me have it and I’ll also clean my room),
    + flattery (if you let me have this, it is because you are the best mom in the world i love you i love you i love you),
    + guilt (if you won’t let me have it, does that mean you don’t love me any more?),
    + nagging (let me have it let me have it let me have it),
    + anger (I hate you and I’ll prove it by telling you so and having a temper tantrum on the floor right now)]
    and that over time the children adapt their strategies and tend to end up specializing in the 2-3 that work on their own parents specifically…and maintain a specialty in these strategies even into adulthood. I won’t be able to have you recognize the fact that these strategies obviously still work as adults, and how merely using one at all times, with all people, in all situations, seems rather autistic or at the very least childlike (well, it worked on mom, after all). I won’t be able to convince you that I do actually believe anger has a place, but that it is not more important or more powerful, in any way, than the other myriad options for making progress and interacting with other human beings.
    I won’t be able to do these things because the fundamentalist world view doesn’t recognize that any system, at the end of the day, is made up of messy, contradictory, emotional, unique human beings. Women, just like the patriarchy, are not something you can lump into a can like so many sardines, yet the fundamentalist only asks “where’s the key to this tin?” By extension, this world view also lacks the ability to appreciate different perspectives and tailor personal interactions as necessary to the person, or system, in question. Everything is my way or the highway with the fundamentalist. Because, after all, and most importantly, there is One Truth in the world, and as the fundamentalist is the only one who has been made privvy to that truth, any who stand in his way, or hers, is merely a casualty on the path to righteousness.
    You say you don’t advocate going on a constant blind rampages, that constant railing and hollering are not the only options, but why are these the only ones you ever talk about? Is it a passing infatuation? Do you advocate other methods in theory but not in practice? I suppose, ultimately, I’m left confused by your post, because you say one thing but do another. I had you pegged one way, but…well, what is it I’m still missing?

  10. September 5, 2007 at 2:38 pm

    I did not say “the patriarchy hates women”. Go back and read my post. I said, patriarchy is about hatred of women. There’s a difference.
    It’s a bit ludicrous to characterize something I never said as my full understanding of human interactions. It wouldn’t even be sensible to say that I understand patriarchy to be an adequate and complete understanding of human interactions, and I have never advocated that viewpoint. But just because patriarchy isn’t the whole picture doesn’t mean it isn’t a meaningful part of the picture.
    This is a blog about gender and science. This is a blog about women finding their voice to speak out, to voice their anger about injustice, inequity, sexism, sex discrimination, sexual harassment, etc. It is not a blog of flowers and puppies, where we all hold hands and think happy thoughts. If you don’t like what you read here, there is a simple solution. If what you are trying to do is debate me out of expressing anger so frequently on my blog, you should give up. But you should also realize that because I use this blog to speak angrily, that does not mean it is the only way I know how to speak.
    It’s insulting to be told I lump women into one tin. I think you can’t have been reading my blog very carefully, or over a long time, to characterize me that way. But then, you also call me a fundamentalist, which is also completely inappropriate. You are ascribing to me characteristics that are in your head. Because this is a blog about gender and science, and because I talk about anger and speak angrily here, you assume that I analyze everything in the world in terms of patriarchy, that I am always angry, and that I approach everyone in anger. If I wrote a blog about gardening, would you assume that I always analyzed the world in terms of gardening, that I always gardened, and that I approached everyone talking about gardening?
    In U.S. society, women – and here I do mean all women, because this does apply – are not supposed to be angry or express anger. It makes people (men and other women) uncomfortable, it seems threatening, it feels like it will destroy relationships. The emotional work of maintaining relationships and community is most often delegated to women, and mitigating anger is part of that work. This is not any revolutionary concept, it�s a pretty well-established piece of knowledge. One of my goals in life is to encourage women scientists and engineers to profitably and usefully recognize, feel, and engage their own anger about injustices they encounter in daily life, to utilize that anger as energy for endurance and change, rather than swallow it into a sense of helplessness, depression, anxiety, and other energy-sapping emotions.
    If you truly believe anger does have a place, then you should have no problem with any of that. But coming onto a feminist blog and telling the blogger that she shouldn�t be talking about patriarchy, or coming onto a blog that deals with women�s anger and telling the blogger she shouldn�t be so focused on anger, or calling the blogger�s analysis and critique �constant railing and hollering� is starting to feel a bit like trolling. I don�t offer my perspective in a pretty voice. I�ve never claimed to. I�m not about to start now.

  11. September 5, 2007 at 5:24 pm

    No, I’m not trying to be a troll, although I suppose what I am doing could be considered trolling of a different sort. Honestly, I’ve just been confunded by some of the responses on here that have seemed contradictory in one way or another, and I’ve been trying to fish and figure out which is the accurate picture – the one I built initially, the one that peeps out every so often, or other?
    At any rate, if I’ve been overly pushy in my curiosity, I apologize. The old SLC habits die hard.
    Peace out, word, powah, or some such. One day I’ll build the comments section on my site and you can come troll to your heart’s content.

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