The Roles of Rage

It seems that the question of communication versus righteous anger just won’t leave us alone. Frank Rich’s op-ed piece in this Sunday’s New York Times made me feel shame and rage in equal parts, and I spent the day indulging myself in various righteous media-related favorites, reliving furies current and present. I agree with Rich: we can’t let the fire go out on the issue of the war and its mighty fallout, and I’m ready to own up to every moment of complicity I’ve given this administration—not just on this issue, but on all of it: global warming, health care, public education, you name it.

But sheer anger won’t solve our problems. I’ve been on a Katha Pollitt kick recently—even after a summer of Molly Ivins, reading Katha Pollitt is kind of like getting your teeth kicked in by the truth. She’s clearly brilliant, and I am in awe of her. But she’s terribly alienating. However relatively topically as compared with the momentous other issues that face us, the symbolic battle over abortion is clearly of vast import on the political playing field. I have thought long and hard about abortion, choice, the relationship between how a government deals with abortion and what kind of roles women can fulfill in that society, what religion really says about abortion—and I feel I have nuanced, if very strongly held, opinions. But I don’t think I could really sit down and have a conversation with someone radically anti-choice: the rage gets in the way. While this may not bother me much personally, how will we ever get anything solved? How can we reach a compromise through all that anger?

(Of course, sometimes conversation is possible, even where unexpected or unlikely; I learned this week about Encounter for the first time, a program that seeks only to kindle a new conversation about Israel and Palestine. I will admit both the program and the frankness of the discussion around it were greatly heartening: I need to be reminded sometimes that these things are indeed possible.)

And then there’s the question of how much anger we women allow ourselves to exhibit publicly. Certainly our Woman in the Field, such as Senator Clinton is, isn’t great at it. Although Clintonian appeasement is often hailed as an important asset (by me as well as by far more knowledgeable politicos), you know and I know that Clinton saves her public rage for whatever Pres. Bush has done, and only releases it in a carefully staged manner. And well enough for her—the cries of “shrill!” come whenever she opens her mouth, anyway. But faced with such backlash, what should we as women do? Do we accept that women will always have to “be careful” what they say in the public eye? Do we respond to outdated and essentialist assumptions that women only ever want to talk things out with loud anger? Do we acknowledge that there may be some truth behind that stereotype? Do we prize our particular positions or our flexibility more? Or do we vary?

I want to find a balance, in my own life and politics, between anger and conversation. Without a combination we’re stuck, and it is, without a doubt, a vital time to keep moving forward. Your suggestions for this possibly life-long task are welcome: how do you find this balance?

–Mel Weiss