- Mature Content
I was still a girl—awkward and prickly, but not exactly angry—when Angry Women came out in 1991. I only learned of its existence a couple years later, from reverential allusions in Riot Grrrl fanzines and the bookshelves of older, cooler friends, and even then I never owned it. One time I remember paging through it in the aisle of a bookstore on South Street in Philadelphia, crouched on the floor. It looked something like the kinds of fanzines I made and read: a compilation of interviews, photos, and hand-drawn borders, dense with exclamation points and italics. But its explicit, enthusiastic, copiously illustrated discussions of women’s pleasure and pain, rendered in tabloid size and with alarmingly high production values, jolted me in ways I did not recognize. I was riveted but ready to thrust it back on the shelf if anyone approached. Why did I never buy it? Was I afraid my parents would catch sight of the photos of dildos; bodies covered in mud, blood, and glitter; Carolee Schneemann pulling a scroll from her vagina? Or was I more afraid of giving it a place in my own life?
Angry Women collected interviews with sixteen women: poets, performance artists, visual artists, sex writers, academics, musicians, and filmmakers. All were activists; many also had experience in sex work. It put bell hooks next to lesbian performance artist Holly Hughes, avant-garde novelist Kathy Acker next to a pre-Push Sapphire, seething composer (and, as one learned from the interview, casual racist) Diamanda Galás next to the upbeat “post-porn modernist” Annie Sprinkle. This capaciousness makes Angry Women something of an anomaly in RE/Search’s publishing history. While RE/Search identified itself closely with underground cultures, many of the women the volume profiled had the imprimatur of academic or state institutions (although in the case of Hughes and Karen Finley, that approval—funding from the National Endowment for the Arts—was later unceremoniously revoked). It was also broader in subject matter than other titles. While RE/Search’s best known books tended to focus on arcane art objects (Incredibly Strange Music, Incredibly Strange Films, Zines), or people conceived as art objects (the body modifiers of Modern Primitives or the spectacularized subjects of Freaks, whom the cover referred to as “a fantastic gallery”), the category of “angry [End Page 221] women” was far more open-ended, presumably comprising a large swath of humankind. The book was forthright about its range: although it profiled a group of artists it considered “most in tune with the times,” it argued that all women should be angry women.1 Moreover, “our inherited patriarchal, hierarchical system” has wreaked such destruction that, as the book’s first line put it, “Angry Women is not just about women, but about the future survival of the planet.”2
The tensions of this statement—between the claims of women and the planet, between ferocity and sustenance, between the demands of the present and the future—turn out to be the most interesting and sometimes frustrating aspect of the book. In many ways, it did not soft-pedal its anger. Each page was framed by a border of poisonous flowers; an index in the back helpfully listed the toxic part of each one and its telltale symptoms. Its cover featured a painting of Medusa, her mane of snakes chewing—or maybe brandishing—remote controls, light bulbs, cigarettes, and rockets. (One of the volume’s more compelling features was that, citing Donna Haraway, it embraced technology on feminist grounds.) “Medusa expresses anger,” Juno and Vale wrote in their introduction, and her place on the cover was “a minor antidote to the loss of rich and meaningful feminine mythology in our lives.”3 (One of the volume’s less compelling features was this prominent strain of second-wave goddess discourse.) The title Angry Women was at once ironic and declarative. It ventriloquized dismissive responses to feminism, which equate “rebelliously critiquing society” with being a “prime bitch,” as Juno and Vale put it.4 But it also owned this conversion of women’s political critique into emotion by insisting that “anger can be a...