The Privilege Of Anger: Can’t Women Be Angry Too?

Words: Susanne Norris
FEature Image: Jessica Felicio

We are no strangers to the word ‘privilege’. We have all come face to face with it in some way, be that through real life experiences or witnessing examples of it in literature or film. More so now than ever, exposure and understanding of different types of privilege are growing. The idea of ‘white male privilege’ is expanding to make people question all the different forms privilege can manifest into. A great example would be the debate about Tess Holliday on the cover of Cosmopolitan UK, which made people question whether there is such thing as fat privilege.

So, with that in mind, what is anger privilege? For lack of an official definition it can be perfectly summed up by the reaction to Serena Williams at the US Open Final. An argument with the umpire saw Williams criticised, scrutinised and – in some cases – outright bullied by press worldwide. It seemed a woman, in particular a black woman, expressing her anger in the form of an argument was unacceptable. But why? Some tried to say it was because Williams is a role model (while she undeniably is) so behaviour like this gave the wrong impression to young people. But, more sinisterly, this appeared to be an excuse for the fundamental problem here: anger privilege. Had Williams been a man, the likelihood is she would have got away with an argument. After all, the tennis world has seen worse from the likes of Andy Murray and Juan Martin, who practically stared a fight whilst playing. Yet, it would appear that due to them being male, they got away with it. ‘Boys will be boys’, as the saying goes.

So, why the outcry at Williams. The answer is simple and sad. There is still an expectation thrust upon women to not be reactionary. Women are expected to be composed at all times, not to raise their voices at sporting events in front of thousands. It is these expectations that form anger privilege. A woman supposedly shouldn’t, and more often than not won’t, show her anger for fear of societal repercussions. Williams was ridiculed over the world as being childish and unladylike in articles and cartoons, including ones alluding to her race too. This strong, inspirational woman was bullied to the ugliest extremes of misogyny and racism, all because she argued with an umpire. Even if you strip back all the other problematic coverage Williams received after this event, it all boils down to the fact the world is angry at her for having the strength to show her emotions and anger. The irony of this is too great to comprehend, and only further highlights how women are still expected to conform to outdated societal ideals.