On Wednesday, feminist writer Lindy West penned a truly absurd op-ed for The New York Times. The premise: that Americans don’t want women to demonstrate their anger, even in cases of sexual harassment and assault. The column is a masterpiece of outrageous, wrongful attribution of motives to those who disagree with West’s political platform — if you disagree with her, you must want to silence her because she is A Woman, and you are A Sexist.
She leads off by telling us how angry she is:
We are seething at how long we have been ignored, seething for the ones who were long ago punished for telling the truth, seething for being told all of our lives that we have no right to seethe. [Uma] Thurman’s rage is palpable yet contained, conveying not just the tempestuous depths of #MeToo but a profound understanding of the ways that female anger is received and weaponized against women.
I’d imagine you’d be seething if you were sexually assaulted and harassed, which is why it’s important to let the world know about those incidents so we can fight them together. Very few Americans believe that women don’t have justifiable rationale for rage if they’ve been mistreated. But according to West, evil Sexist Men have been telling her to shut up and calm down. She can’t name them, but they exist somewhere. SOMEWHERE, DO YOU HEAR HER?
But she can't exactly describe where. Here is her list of examples of women being silenced for their anger:
In the past few months alone we’ve seen Carmen Yulín Cruz, mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico, pilloried by the far right for criticizing Donald Trump’s anemic response to Hurricane Maria (“We are dying here,” Cruz told the news media, “I am mad as hell.”) and the Florida congresswoman Frederica Wilson deluged with abuse after she characterized Trump’s call to the military widow Myeshia Johnson as “insensitive” and “an insult.” Both Cruz and Wilson were directly targeted by the president on Twitter, then incessantly memed and regurgitated and redigested and rememed by his obedient online horde. Just this week, Juli Briskman, a government contractor, lost her job after a photo of her flipping off the presidential motorcade went viral. Solange, Britney Spears, Sinead O’Connor, the Dixie Chicks, Rosie O’Donnell — I struggle to think of women who lost their tempers in public and didn’t face ridicule, temporary ruin, or both. And we don’t even have to be angry to be called angry. Accusations of being an “angry black woman” chased Michelle Obama throughout her tenure at the White House, despite eight years of unflappable poise (black women suffer disproportionately under this paradigm). The decades-long smearing of Hillary Clinton as an unhinged shrew culminated one year ago today when, despite maintaining a preternatural calm throughout the most brutal campaign in living memory, she lost the election to masculinity’s apoplectic id.
Every single one of these examples has nothing to do with sexual assault or harassment, or even with mistreatment for being A Woman. Cruz was criticized for grandstanding — she had T-shirts made so she could appear on television and berate Trump. Wilson was criticized for grandstanding — she broke confidence and went public with subjective accusations that Trump had mistreated a Gold Star widow. Briskman wasn’t fired for flipping off Trump, but for using that photo as her profile photo on Facebook and Twitter; her employer is a government contractor. Solange was ridiculed for getting into a fight with Jay-Z on an elevator; Britney Spears attacked paparazzi with an umbrella; Sinead O’Connor sent an angry Facebook note; the Dixie Chicks called President Bush a traitor; Rosie O’Donnell has a long history of politically outrageous statements. Michelle Obama said she wasn’t proud of her country until her husband’s nomination. Hillary Clinton has repeatedly attacked political opponents in the most vitriolic ways.
None of this has to do with sexism. And none of it has to do with sexual harassment or assault.
But Lindy West isn’t actually writing about sexual harassment and assault. She’s angry because Sexist Men won’t agree with her on politics, and then say she’s angry. “Like every other feminist with a public platform, I am perpetually cast as a disapproving scold. But what’s the alternative? To approve? I do not approve.”
Okay, so you’re a disapproving scold. Can we move on yet?
Apparently not. Next, West conflates disagreement with her political opinions with greenlighting domestic violence and rape:
Not only are women expected to weather sexual violence, intimate partner violence, workplace discrimination, institutional subordination, the expectation of free domestic labor, the blame for our own victimization, and all the subtler, invisible cuts that undermine us daily, we are not even allowed to be angry about it. Close your eyes and think of America.
That’s absolutely insane. She can’t name the men who say women should bear rape or domestic violence or workplace discrimination. But they exist. She knows they exist, because many men oppose abortion:
We are expected to keep quiet about the men who prey upon us, as though their predation was our choice, not theirs. We are expected to sit quietly as men debate whether or not the state should be allowed to forcibly use our bodies as incubators. We are expected to not complain as we are diminished, degraded and discredited.
Nobody expects West not to complain. She seems to be making quite a living out of it. And it seems counterproductive to expect that which will never occur. But her anger isn’t justifiable. We have political debates in America all the time. And yes, men are allowed to have opinions on whether life in the womb is worthy of preservation, and we regularly do so without diminishing, degrading or discrediting female value. But not according to West. Mess with West’s agenda, and you must hate people with vaginas.
Most hilariously, West issues a bitter call for a female president. You see, if she didn’t get Hillary and she wanted Hillary and you didn’t, you’re a Sexist — and if you point out that it’s rather sexist to prefer a candidate simply based on sex, you’re even more of a Sexist:
We are expected to agree (and we comply!) with the paternal admonition that it is irresponsible and hyperemotional to request one female president after 241 years of male ones — because that would be tokenism, anti-democratic and dangerous — as though generations of white male politicians haven’t proven themselves utterly disinterested in caring for the needs of communities to which they do not belong. As though white men’s monopolistic death-grip on power in America doesn’t belie precisely the kind of “identity politics” they claim to abhor. As though competent, qualified women are so thin on the ground that even a concerted, sincere, large-scale search for one would be a long shot, and any resulting candidate a compromise. Meanwhile, as a reminder of the bar for male competence, Donald Trump is the president.
Now this is Trump Derangement Syndrome.
She concludes by stating that if you’re a woman who isn’t angry, you’re selling out to The Man. Or at least, the Men:
I did not call myself a feminist until I was nearly 20 years old. My world had taught me that feminists were ugly and ridiculous, and I did not want to be ugly and ridiculous. I wanted to be cool and desired by men, because even as a teenager I knew implicitly that pandering for male approval was a woman’s most effective currency. It was my best shot at success, or at least safety, and I wasn’t sophisticated enough to see that success and safety, bestowed conditionally, aren’t success and safety at all. They are domestication and implied violence. To put it another way, it took me two decades to become brave enough to be angry. Feminism is the collective manifestation of female anger. They suppress our anger for a reason. Let’s prove them right.
Well, as long as her anger makes her happy, she’s welcome to it (although it doesn't seem to be making her very happy). But it’s not sexist to say that it’s a rather ugly perspective on the world to attribute your unjustified anger to wrongs never done to you, or to conflate political disagreements with some form of nefarious discrimination. Perhaps people of both sexes ought to reconsider their anger — whether it’s justified and appropriate, and whether it’s effective. Then we might be able to have some rational conversations, instead of screaming into the wind while patting ourselves on the back.