Home Opinion OPINION: Women’s anger and the art of the feminist manifesto

OPINION: Women’s anger and the art of the feminist manifesto

11 min read

Lauren McCain, a junior studying journalism, discusses various manifestos written by women that were meant to challenge the views of a male-dominated society.

This is a submitted column. Please note that these views and opinions do not reflect those of The New Political.

On top of the coffee table in my living room sit Valerie Solanas, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Bell Hooks and Sara Ahmed. When I say their names, I am referring to their writings; although imagine those four women trying to squeeze onto my $15 thrifted coffee table — it barely holds my coffee. The shaky table certainly could not withstand the larger-than-life impact each of these women have made in modern feminism. These women, each claiming incredibly different identities in their lives, all have one thing in common: they are the author of their own manifestos. 

Utilized for centuries by royals, political parties, philosophers, and occasionally by a foreign dictator or domestic terrorist, manifestos are a collection of ideas, theories and demands directed to a large majority or high power. Notable manifestos that many are familiar with discuss the uprooting of political systems, like “The Communist Manifesto” by Karl Marx & Friedrich Engels published in 1848, as well as “Common Sense” by Thomas Paine in 1776. While these remain crucial documents in history, it seems unavoidable to recognize that manifestos were primarily a tool for angry, fed-up men. 

But who speaks for the angry, fed-up women? It is my understanding that women have plenty to be angry and fed-up about, but the notion of female anger has long been trivialized in American society. An angry woman is made to seem unnatural and unladylike. Is it so hard for a woman to just smile and be pleasant and polite? A woman who dares to display anger or force is subject to being called “bitchy” or “unhinged” or to be dismissed with the classic: “It is a woman’s job to overreact.” 

In Hillary Clinton’s book about the 2016 election “What Happened,” she discusses the pressure she felt not to get angry for the entirety of her political career, writing that “a lot of people recoil from an angry woman.” 

This past July, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) was aggressively confronted on the steps of the Capitol by Rep. Ted Yoho (R-FL) after she had expressed that she believed poverty and unemployment were causing an increase in crime in New York City. Yoho reportedly stuck his finger in Ocasio-Cortez’s face and called her “disgusting” and “crazy,” among other things, before walking back down the steps, where a reporter from The Hill heard him say, “f—ing bitch.”

Would the congressman have been so inclined to make the same comments to a male representative?

Verbal abuse, sexual harassment and attacks against women are side effects of men feeling threatened. It is a way of checking women and knocking them back into their place, reminding them that men still hold power in this world. A fragile man’s greatest fear is a woman with power and anger.

In the first line of Valerie Solanas’s “SCUM Manifesto” she writes, “Life in this society being, at best, an utter bore and no aspect of society being at all relevant to women, there remains to civic-minded, responsible, thrill-seeking females only to overthrow the government, eliminate the money system, institute complete automation and destroy the male sex.”

The notion of a feminist manifesto was born from angry women, tired of their issues being dismissed in a male-dominated society. If a woman cannot be heard in her own language, who is to stop her from adopting that of another? Why not overhaul a concept that was created by men to serve the exact opposite cause? Perhaps men will listen if women speak their language. 

Solanas’s language in “SCUM” is sharp and witty, aggressive and unapologetic, as is the case with many other feminist manifestos. Solanas was regarded as a radical feminist — and known for attempting to murder Andy Warhol in 1968 when she thought Warhol was trying to steal her manifesto. Many women identified with the issues presented in her writing. 

Manifestos are meant to be performative, both serious and ridiculous. They run with paradoxes and hyperboles, and when many women have grown up in a society that has forced an inequitable gender binary onto them, it seems reasonable that beneath a woman’s kind eyes and fake smile, untapped anger is boiling. 

Solanas’s manifesto was neither the first, the last, nor the best one written by a woman; in SCUM’s company sit the “Redstockings Manifesto,” the “Combahee River Collective Statement,” the “Black Women’s Manifesto,” and many others written in the height of second-wave feminism.

This tactic of capturing and imitating a tool historically used to further angry men’s agendas to instead advocate for women’s liberation is a bold one. It speaks to both the ingenuity of women and the tone-deafness of American society; that one must speak the language of the dominant majority to be heard.

Today, feminists have more technology at their fingertips than their second and third wave predecessors ever did, and manifestos have had a technological rebirth. They have expanded into the arts and social media, announcing feminist goals louder than ever. Women’s voices can now be shared through Instagram stories and artwork. Even a Dior fashion show in 2019 was regarded as a “feminist manifesto.” 

Every woman should sit down with their anger and confront it — ask it how its day went, what triggered it in the last week, really get to know it on a first-name basis. Let anger know that it has nothing to be ashamed of and that it is valid. If you’ve got a pen and paper handy, write these thoughts down and how it could be used to make a change in women’s lives.

This is how all manifestos begin: getting to know our own anger. 

Women’s rage is louder than it has ever been, and while I adore the progress, I may have to get a new coffee table to withstand the growing weight of the movement. 

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