When I was 15, I had my first job working at Tim Hortons. I was that typical new, compliant underdog on staff, and since I could stay so calm in stressful situations, never letting my frustration show, all the older people I worked with threw me into every situation that dealt with the most demanding, temperamental customers – because I could “handle it the best”. It wasn’t until later that I realized they were not complimenting my work style, but rather manipulating me so that they could avoid dealing with moody people. But either way, in all my years of customer service experience, I never once got angry. Sure, I may have ranted to my parents on the ride home from my shift, but in the moment, I just did my job and shook it off. Similarly, when I was learning to drive and even to this day, I’ve never had any “road rage”. There was even one time where another driver swerved sharply resulting in me being forced off the road, and I stayed so calm that I forgot how to honk the horn or yell or make offensive hand gestures. I just gasped and turned back onto the road, making sure the situation was safe. By the time I even thought about being angry, the other driver was long gone.
Anyone who knows me knows that I am a pretty agreeable person. I don’t like conflict, and though I don’t always turn away from conflict, I do my best to diffuse it when I can. I don’t feel like I have much of a temper at all. Despite the fact that I’ve got a Gaelic name, a reddish tint to my hair, and Irish ancestors, my temper does not seem to reflect that fiery heritage.
So, when I was recently asked, “What makes you angry?”, I did not have an answer. I started to question: Where is my rage? Am I naturally an inexpressive person? Or have my life and experiences shaped me into being compliant and agreeable? I’ve been pondering that question for a while now and I still don’t have a clear answer, but it has opened my eyes to something I had never thought of until now. Despite the countless reasons for me to be angry with the world – climate change, the patriarchy, the feeling of hopelessness and dread for the future, the feeling of being trapped in a system where my life seems planned out for me to be stuck “working for the weekend” for the rest of my life – I still don’t seem to feel mad. WHERE IS MY ANGER?
Source: Pinterest, Artist: Monica Garwood
Don’t get me wrong – I am a very emotional person internally. I don’t express a lot on the outside, but I feel everything on the inside, and I can usually feel the emotions of other people as well. I definitely get mad, and the people who are closest to me can attest to that, but I tend to talk things out until the feelings naturally diffuse. Otherwise, I deal with my negative emotions through journalling or thinking alone rather than giving into anger, outwardly expressing it, or using it some way. I feel a lot of emotions every day, but rage never really seems to show up to the party.
My life-long best friend has rage. She is the fiercest person I know when it comes to justice and equality. She is pursuing a double major in gender studies and political science, and she is a strong, vocal activist, feminist, environmentalist, and social justice warrior. In our friendship, we agree on almost everything; we share all the same values, beliefs, morals, and viewpoints. But our actual personalities could not be more different. She is extroverted, outspoken, and not afraid of facing her anger – she lets her rage fuel her fire by translating it into her activism. I am very introverted, introspective, and whatever anger I have inside of me I’ve confronted by unintentionally diffusing it before I can transform it into anything else. So, when I pondered the question of what made me angry, I thought of how different I was from my best friend and what this looked like when we were kids.
I was praised for being the quiet, compliant kid, and my best friend was punished for being the opposite.
We met in kindergarten and we were inseparable; we used to go around telling people we were sisters, and it got to the point where most kids in our school still thought we were related up to around grade 4. She was the loud, opinionated one who pushed back when she didn’t agree with something – she always stood up for herself and others. I, on the other hand, was the shy kid. I never spoke up, I went along with what other people were doing, and I confided in only my closest friends to talk about things that bothered me. But when I think back to this childhood dynamic, it is now clear that I was praised for being the quiet, compliant kid, and my best friend was punished for being the opposite. I was always described as the following: shy, quiet, nice, polite, kind, a good listener, positive. I was identified with these words so much growing up, all the way until I graduated high school, so I must have internalized a lot of it from a young age. I was praised for being quiet, nice, and agreeable, and I probably subconsciously strived to uphold this “do-gooder” persona. And since my best friend was constantly told that she should be less bold and less angry, I saw those traits as negative – things we should not be.
This past summer, I read a book by Mona Ethaway, called The Seven Necessary Sins for Women and Girls in which Ethaway writes about 7 things females have been told not to do as a result of the patriarchal system we live in (I highly recommend it!). Ethaway addresses topics such as profanity, ambition, attention, and anger, which women have been told to suppress and shy away from. But Ethaway urges women to face these “sins” and indulge in them (in healthy ways, of course) to empower themselves in their feminism and rise up to drive systemic change. When I read her words about anger and the patriarchy, I started to question whether my anger was silent as a result of being a naturally agreeable person, or whether it had been silenced. Ethaway writes the following:
“[The patriarchy] pummels and kills the anger out of girls. It socializes them to acquiesce and to be compliant, because obedient girls grow up to become obedient foot-soldiers of the patriarchy. They grow up to internalize its rules, which are used to police other women who disobey. We should not let patriarchy hammer girls into passivity. Well-behaved, quiet, acquiescent, and calm: no more,” (Ethaway, 2019, p 16).
Source: Penguin Random House
Reading these words and thinking about upholding the patriarchy by being well-behaved made me mad. I felt my anger returning, and I did not shy away from it. I am angry! So, let’s try this again.
What makes me angry? Well, toxic masculinity, the tainted legacy of colonization, system racism, people who sit in silence and close their own bubble when great injustices happen all over the world every day… and simply the fact that full unanimity may never exist. There may never be peace, wrongs may never be completely righted, and people will not always agree on the most sustainable, just ways of moving forward in this world. There will always be division, greed, apathy, selfishness. I am angry at the fact that making the world a better place is hard.
Change is hard and it is exhausting. A world that is just, right, healthy, and safe for everyone feels like a fantasy. Now, I don’t want to get all cynical and pessimistic because it’s not that I don’t believe goodness exists and change is possible – I very much do! That is exactly why I have dedicated my life, education, and career to being an activist and change maker in this world to fight for a better future on this planet. I really do have hope for improvement. My anger, frustration, and rage come in when I realize the huge, long, scary, dangerous road that we will all have to take to get there. But that’s what I will continue fighting for. And THIS is the rage I need to start channeling into my work and life to contribute to change and be heard.
The long, dangerous road and fight for a better world got me thinking of Frodo and Sam and their wearisome, treacherous journey to destroy the ring in Mordor (I know, geek alert). We are very much travelling that same journey in our world. We have to use our rage, anger, trauma, and sadness as much as we use our hope, joy, love, and motivation to drive us forward. We need all the living parts of ourselves to sustain our journey and make progress. In my life, it is not going to be easy to unlearn all of what I’ve been conditioned to believe growing up. It won’t be easy to face my anger, express it, speak out, and embrace my rage, but I am growing to be able to do so. And I will keep trying for the sake of young Siobhan, who felt the fire in her heart but was praised for her ability to snuff it out. It’s time to rekindle that flame and let it burn! It’s time to fight!
Frodo: I can’t do this, Sam.
Sam: I know. It’s all wrong. By rights we shouldn’t even be here. But we are. It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were, and sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something. Even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back only they didn’t. Because they were holding on to something.
Frodo: What are we holding on to, Sam?
Sam: That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo. And it’s worth fighting for.