- Angry, Then & Now
If you were blind and there was no braille There are no boundaries on what I can feel.— Bikini Kill
It all started with Angry Women.
Until asked to reflect on the 25th anniversary of Angry Women, I didn’t realize / had forgotten how much of my personal, artistic, political, and scholarly life owes to this volume. Punk bands in college and grad school, a recent book On Anger, another co-edited book about how empathy can be dangerous, a perverse interest in decolonizing narratology, a life in ethnic studies: my life that has made me very happy has been, in many ways, about embracing and understanding the nuances and valences of anger, of which Angry Women first made me aware. Aware, that is, of understanding the reasons for anger and how it works (for better or for worse); aware of understanding the importance of expressions of anger; aware of understanding the limits of anger.
I can’t remember how I got my hands on this volume, sometime in the mid-1990s, on the campus of Dartmouth College. I imagine it had something to do with the great Professor Brenda Silver, my mentor and thesis advisor. She also has had some things to say about anger.1 The collection made an immediate impression on me; my personal favorites were bell hooks, Annie Sprinkle, Diamanda Galás (whom PJ Harvey always reminds me of), and Kathy Acker. I’ve now taught Blood and Guts in High School several times; judging from my students’ reactions, it still has the power to shock and awe.
Angry Women provided the theories and language for understanding what I had been experiencing my entire life. And incidentally, it did so in some fun and creative ways. Nowadays, thinking back on my adolescence makes me more sad than mad. It was miserable for no real reason other than sheer ideology: I wasn’t hungry, homeless, or unloved—I just lived in patriarchal, racist, heteronormative, and capitalist systems that taught me that my only worth came through fulfilling certain prescribed roles (which were totally wrong for me).
I wrote an article about my experience with eating disorders and depression cycles for the campus feminist newspaper before I had read Kathy Acker’s words in Angry Women, but they rang true with me: “Well, we [women] [End Page 216] were taught to channel anger, rage, feelings of insecurity—to channel what would-be ‘negative’ energy masochistically. We were taught not to do it directly—not to go out and hit someone, for example—but to do it so we’d hurt ourselves. And that’s a typical feminine ploy to deal with power . . . in a way it’s because you don’t have power, but you’re looking for power.”2
But Angry Women wasn’t just about understanding the world and one’s experiences in it and writing about it; in Marx’s words, the point is to change it. Before I read it in Marx, I heard it from bell hooks: “Resisting oppression means more than just reacting against one’s oppressors—it means envisioning new habits of being, different ways to live in the world. And I believe true resistance begins with people confronting their pain—whether it’s theirs or somebody else’s—and wanting to do something to change it.”3
So, inspired by Angry Women and foremothers like Patti Smith, Blondie, X-Ray Spex, Exene Cervenka, I started a punk band with some girlfriends. None of us knew how to play our instruments, but in true punk fashion, that didn’t stop us. The flyer for what I believe was our very first show featured a picture of Kathy Acker (see Figure 1). In good Acker fashion, we quoted from our sources freely.
Our band had the distinct and dubious honor of having played Bikini Kill covers in Alpha Delta, the college fraternity made famous by the film Animal House. I don’t remember now how exactly that show came about, but I remember savoring the irony. (We were upstairs and no one but our friends watched us actually play. A few frat boys walked by...