“It’s ironic that we’re having this fight again,” I laughed bitterly at myself and my husband as we navigated yet another fight about feminism. He repeatedly stated all the ways in which women are ignored or mistreated, and I repeatedly defended everyone else. “It’s not that bad.” “They didn’t mean to.” “Maybe they just don’t understand.”

I had a wake up call when I read Rage Becomes Her. Soraya Chemaly’s book made it into my hands mostly because I initially thought it was fiction, but then I became so intrigued that I couldn’t put it down. It not only altered my view on feminism, but it also helped me understand the emotion of anger as an important part of a woman’s life.

Chemaly begins with a vivid anecdote about one day when, as she sat at the kitchen table, her mother suddenly started throwing plates. The story itself was fascinating, but what captured me most were the flashbacks to times in my life when I had metaphorically (or literally) thrown my own plates. I watched as my 12-year-old self fumed in anger so much that I hid in my room repeating F-words in my head and silently screaming. The rage was palpable and left me feeling like I could explode at any moment. Then, I remembered all the times when I had swallowed that anger, kept it inside, and turned it against myself.

What Is Anger?

Admittedly, I was concerned when I first started reading Rage Becomes Her. Anger is one of the seven deadly sins, after all. I was afraid to continue until I examined the Catechism. In the article on the fifth commandment, the Catechism quotes Jesus’ words, “You have heard that it was said to the men of old, ‘You shall not kill: and whoever kills shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment.” At first, I had chills — and not in a good way. This powerful work resonated with me, yet I knew that anger is a terrible sin.

This powerful work resonated with me, yet I knew that anger is a terrible sin.

Something kept me reading. Later on, the Catechism gives a definition of anger:

Anger is a desire for revenge. ‘To desire vengeance in order to do evil to someone who should be punished is illicit,’ but it is praiseworthy to impose restitution ‘to correct vices and maintain justice.’ If anger reaches the point of a deliberate desire to kill or seriously wound a neighbor, it is gravely against charity; it is a mortal sin” (CCC 2302, emphasis in original).

I resolved to continue reading Rage Becomes Her to see what else Chemaly has to say and whether she advocates for the capital sin of wrath or the righteous anger that includes a desire for justice. As I read, I learned how we can choose to use righteous anger to help us pursue justice, while also avoiding wrath, which wants harm to come to others.

We can choose to use righteous anger to help us pursue justice, while also avoiding wrath, which wants harm to come to others. 

Women’s Anger

Chemaly writes about the cultural bias against women’s “rage.” I was shocked to discover just how much I related to the situations she mentioned: women who are dismissed in doctor’s offices, their dangerous medical issues ignored; women awkwardly side-stepping men twice their size, afraid to offend them; and women reflexively criticizing themselves first in every conflict. I had never associated these parts of my personality with women’s rights or even with being a woman. I just thought something was wrong with me.

As I read, things my husband had said to me started to click. I picked up on moments in the news and other media when women’s opinions were treated like nonsense while men’s opinions were considered genius. I noticed how often women’s issues are chalked up to “anxiety” or “being a mom” — and I became angry.

I noticed how often women’s issues are chalked up to “anxiety” or “being a mom” — and I became angry.

Channeling Constructive Anger

Other than validating our own feelings of anger, the most important thing that Chemaly asks women to do is to make our anger constructive. Chemaly encourages us to feel our anger, but not to let it turn us bitter. Instead, she highlights women throughout history who have been angry and used that emotion to achieve positive change. When I discovered that Chemaly’s words on anger echoed those of the Church, I felt the freedom to explore the effects of anger in my own life.

Ironically, when I read Rage Becomes Her, I was going through a period of severe postpartum anxiety and depression that was a nightmarish whirlwind of guilt, fear, and uncontrollable rage. I had stifled so many feelings about how I was mistreated during and after childbirth and about the medical mistakes that left me with severely painful consequences.

I used to jokingly throw around the phrase, “When asking, ‘What would Jesus do?’, always remember that throwing tables is an option.” During this time, it became a real point of meditation for me. In the story of Jesus in the temple, he is wildly angry about how the poor are being treated. People were forced to pay to be close to God, and those who were charged with helping others grow closer to God were instead gambling to make money. Jesus did not calm himself before flipping tables; he used his anger to pursue justice.

Jesus did not calm himself before flipping tables; he used his anger to pursue justice.

Chemaly emphasizes the importance of channeling our anger, not allowing it to escape us uncontrollably. Reading this book helped me find a new voice in my writing: I could channel my anger into healing and helping others. I began writing for people who have suffered what I have and to hopefully prevent others from that kind of suffering. This mission gives me determination and clarity in my work, opening up a new way of writing for others. I wrote a television pilot about the dangers of spiritual abuse and the neglect of women going through the postpartum phase in order to highlight the cultural problems that led to my suffering. I started consoling people who were going through the situations that made me angry.

Working Through the Confusion and Guilt

Rage Becomes Her also highlights the importance of finding a good therapist. Through the advice and reassurance of my therapist, I am learning to let myself choose to experience anger, especially in situations where it is the correct response. Allowing myself to feel the emotion of anger has lessened my wrathful outbursts and my overwhelming feelings of guilt and shame. It is now much easier for me to see the difference between wrath and the righteous anger that shows us where change is needed. When anger comes, I let myself feel it, examine what it’s really about, go to Jesus in prayer, and then work toward healing whatever made me angry in the first place.

When anger comes, I let myself feel it, examine what it’s really about, go to Jesus in prayer, and then work toward healing whatever made me angry in the first place.

As women, and as Catholics, we face a great deal of confusion and guilt about anger. Rage Becomes Her taught me the dangers of repressing anger and helped me see the mistaken ideas I had about when anger is and is not sinful. Chemaly inspired me to work through my anger and channel that energy into a solution for the problem. Jesus comforted me by showing me that anger can be a good thing, so long as it leads us to justice and not to wrath.

I am confident that, if we embrace righteous anger and use it to help ourselves and others, we will accomplish good together. Whatever your gift is, allow your anger to help you see who suffers from injustice (even if it is yourself). Then, ask God to give you guidance so that you can help those who suffer.

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Julia O’Donnell

Julia O’Donnell is a stay-at-home mom of two under three by day and a Catholic filmmaker and artist by night. She mixes screenplay writing and pattern design between wiping up banana applesauce and potty training. Check out her blog at suzannagoretti.com and her other work at theodonnellshouse.wordpress.com.

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