Is It Better for Girls to be Angrier?

Do "both sides" in the Kavanaugh debate want girls to be angrier?

Posted Oct 13, 2018

In the public's reaction to the Kavanaugh nomination, you can see some shared questions from those on either side. "Why wouldn't she report an assault right away?" is something defenders of Kavanaugh have asked. But those feeling bereft by how little our legal system does for victims of sexual assault are also wondering what the role of increased anger might do to protect the unprotected. 

NBC.com has just published Mona Eltahawy on "What the world would look like if we taught girls to rage." Eltahawy wants us to begin to raise our girls differently, to "imagine a curriculum that includes lessons on the importance of rage, the various ways to express it and lessons on how to use it." 

Eltawhy puts it this way, "I want to bottle-feed rage to every baby girl so that it fortifies her bones and muscles. I want her to flex, and feel the power growing inside her as she herself grows from a child into a young woman."

On the surface anyway, this proposal would seem to satisfy those who have had such harsh criticism (including the President) for Dr. Ford, Brett Kavanaugh's first accuser. If a 15-year-old victim of an attack were "fortified" with anger, when assaulted, surely she would go right to her parents and the police (and then some)? If so, I am assuming more contemporaneous anger is what Dr. Ford's critics would have wanted from her. 

Philosopher Martha Nussbaum has recently written “Anger and Forgiveness: Resentment, Generosity, and Justice”. She is cautious about merely recommending "anger," and points out that "anger" is certainly not one thing or type. With great care, she makes a case for a specific sort of anger and a particular kind of expressed outrage. But, in the process, building on the old Aristotelian account, she helps us to see five ways in which "anger" over one's assault might do exactly what critics of Kavanaugh's accuser were hoping for. 

  • 1) Anger helps you identify that something done to you is seriously wrong. 
  • 2) Anger encourages you to identify and seek out the wrongdoer for punishment
  • 3) Anger is a signal to others that you are not willing to accept mistreatment.
  • 4) Anger can motivate you to take action. 
  • 5) Anger can scare others, working as a deterrent. 

Is the agreement I am seeing merely superficial? Are critics of Dr. Ford's reaction as a teen thinking through the implications of their complaint? Or has Eltawhy identified something that "each side" of the Kavanaugh debate should commit to: we need angrier girls?

Nussbaum's book is the perfect guide to considering the issue in depth. In making her argument, she includes (and details) what we so often leave out: the costs to an agent of (even) justified anger. A fuller description of her work is here.