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Female Rage: Too normal to be so rare

Iona Blair discusses 'female rage' in film, and the importance of its depiction.

A quick glance at the TikTok search results for ‘female rage’ tells a very interesting story – women, shouting and expressing their anger without shame, presented as though this is something shocking. But is female rage really so different to men’s anger, or do we just see it less on screen?

When I see the words ‘female rage,’ I think of two scenes. Mia Goth in Pearl, screaming, ‘Please, I’m a star!’ and Toni Collette in Hereditary – ‘Don’t you ever raise your voice at me! I am your mother!’ Both of these moments are emotional climaxes of films full of bubbling anger, which the characters have pushed down until it explodes. They lead to violence, chaos, and disaster. And they are directed at men.

But what makes these scenes so special, other than the fact of women, rather than men, being loud and angry? Women’s place in society – expectations of docility, homemaking, and submission – make these moments more shocking, and of course Collette and Goth are both incredible actresses, but scenes like this are a dime a dozen in movies starring men. Just look at cult classics like Fight Club and A Clockwork Orange. These are films full of violence and rage, enacted by men, and yet the phrase ‘male rage’ is rarely, if ever, used to describe them.

When people we relate to lash out at the world around us, the fictional world they inhabit lets us forgive them, even if they are violent and hateful. Is Pearl’s murder spree justified? Of course not. Is Annie’s outburst at her son okay? It’s not so bad as murder, but still hardly the best example of good parenting. Yet we look at these characters as examples of the power women can hold – this violence is symbolic, encouraging not real-life murder but emotional release.

The same goes for many films with rageful men. The Narrator in Fight Club is, in my opinion, one of the great protagonists of our time – emotionally complex and compelling. Of course, he is violent, but from the very first scene of the film we understand why; he is a victim of a world that encourages male aggression, discourages healthy coping mechanisms, and stops him from getting the healthcare he needs. His actions wouldn’t be justifiable in the real world, but on film, his rage is satisfying. Like Pearl and Annie, he isn’t a role model, but a symbol.

Why is it, then, that ‘female rage’ is such a topic of conversation and ‘male rage’ isn’t? As far as I can tell, it is for two reasons: first, women are presented as angry in media so much less often, and second, women’s role in society more generally as peacemakers and caregivers means we don’t associate femininity with anger. Films that allow women to be full of rage and violence inherently go against our expectations – they shock us, and can even inspire us, not to violence but to expression.

For men, perhaps ‘male fragility’ is an equivalent term; the right to cry on screen, to be vulnerable in public. Look at Brendan Fraser in The Whale. He won Best Actor at the Oscars for this performance, full of fragility. His character is often pitiable and emotionally weak – everything that men are told they should not be – and so to see him celebrated like this is brilliant. It’s satisfying in the same way that women’s anger is. It lets us see the true range of human emotion, beyond what society expects of men and women.

Female rage might be an overused term, but it speaks to something I’m sure many women understand: the desire to be listened to, and treated as deserving of attention and even fear. It’s not the rage that is shocking, but the brashness of its presentation. It is something true, something honest, and something we all relate to.

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