25 Famous Women on Anger

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Technically, anger is the third stage of grief, but when you’re facing down a world in which Donald Trump could (God forbid) be reelected, it might be your first reaction. Women are often told that anger is “unbecoming” or “unfeminine,” but here are 25 famous women who wield it as a tool. Below, channel your rage with quotes from Serena Williams, Jia Tolentino, Gloria Steinem, and more.

1. Rebecca Traister
My book [Good and Mad] is less about urging women to express themselves differently and more about urging women to listen to the women around them. There are punishments out there for expressing anger, and I can’t pretend that that’s not true, so I don’t want to offer any advice on how women should express their anger. I can’t pretend that we live in a world that welcomes the expression of women’s anger, and I think we need to change the system before we dole out advice on how individual women express their anger. This book is meant to be descriptive, not prescriptive. If there is anything prescriptive here, it’s about urging women to be more curious and take the anger of people around them more seriously, to listen to the people that society would tell us to write off [as] threatening or belligerent or crazy and instead say ‘Wait, what is she angry about?’ and to treat the anger of other women as instructive, as perhaps pointing us towards things that are worth being angry about and are in need of fixing.” — Lithub, December 2018

2. Margaret Cho
“Anger has been a tremendously healing tool for me. Obviously, there’s a lot of language around not being angry and accepting and forgiving your abuser, but — I don’t want to forgive. [Laughs.] I don’t care! I’m not taking the high road. I’m not here to be the better person. That, to me, is another way to excuse rape. Why are you trying to forgive your abuser? You need to forgive yourself … My rage is really keeping me alive, my rage is my art. We’re always told by therapists and clergy and mentors that you need to forgive and heal, and I’m not there, and I don’t plan on going there.” — Washington Post, November 2015

3. Stephanie Danler
“There’s also a pull to write about my own parents. I was raised by two very charismatic addicts. Their charisma and addictions cover an emotional black hole they both carry inside them. Their stories are sad, and they haunt my work. I have an aversion to dealing with them directly that I’m working through. It seems too easy to blame one’s parents, catalogue their mistakes. As I’ve aged, my anger towards them has turned to pity and recently became tinged with compassion. That’s one thing about becoming a parent, even for four weeks (my son — who is currently sleeping on me — is exactly that today), it revises all your stories about your own parents.” — The Sewanee Review, January 2019

4. Naomi Campbell
“I’m not angry. And I don’t like the thing of the ‘angry Black woman’ either. That’s not what this is about. We feel passionate. Feeling passionate about something doesn’t mean you have to be angry.” — Channel 4 News, September 2013

5. Zadie Smith
“I felt like a hand was at my throat when I first started writing. That if I was going to be a proper writer, I’d better be as polite as possible and as calm as possible and as un-angry as possible — and recently I’ve been thinking, you know, fuck that, basically.” — The Atlantic, October 2005

6. Sofia Vergara
“Oh yes, things get me mad. But the thing is, I get mad, and then I turn around and I forget. When I have a new person working with me or a new boyfriend, they have to adjust in the beginning. I can scream and I get really angry, and then I’ll turn around and go to the bathroom, wash my hands and then come out and go, ‘OK, we’re going to lunch?’ I get mad in the moment, but I don’t hold a grudge.” — The Hollywood Reporter, August 2012

7. Joan Rivers
“The minute you’re not angry about things, the minute you’re not upset about things, what are you talking about? … I’m furious about everything. Good things don’t always happen to good people. And I’m very angry about it. But if I didn’t have the anger about it, I wouldn’t be a comedian. Anger fuels the comedy.” — Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work, 2010

8. Stevie Nicks
“If I’ve learned nothing else it’s that time passes and anger doesn’t do you much good. Something that seems really bad today is going to be better next week. And things you think are never going to go away soften with time. When things happen that upset me, I try to do something that makes me happy … Right now I put on Lady Gaga’s ‘Applause’ and dance around the house.” — New York Times, February 2014

9. Jia Tolentino
“I am always angry in the abstract, I think, but I am not often angry in a way that feels personal. There has to be a difference, neurotransmitter-wise, between anger that comes from caring about something and anger that comes from the swampier motivations, spite or hatred — the former feels necessary and livable to me and the latter feels really bad.” — Interview, July 2020

10. Arundhati Roy
“I refuse to accept that there’s a sort of duality between fact and emotion. If we were to lose the ability to be emotional, if we were to lose the ability to be angry, to be outraged, we would be robots. And I refuse that. And partly, the reason that they say the arguments are emotional is because they don’t want to face the facts.” — PBS The Damned, September 2003

11. Serena Williams
“I’ve seen other men call other umpires several things, and I’m here fighting for women’s rights and for women’s equality. For me to say ‘thief’ and for him to take a game? … it was a sexist remark. He’s never took a game from a man because they said thief. For me, it blows my mind. But I’m going to continue to fight for women, I just feel like the fact that I have to go through this is just an example for the next person that has emotions and that wants to express themselves. They want to be a strong woman and they’re going to be allowed to do that because of today. Maybe it didn’t work out for me, but it’s gonna work out for the next person.” — In a press conference, September 2018

12. SZA
“You know what I started doing? Hitting up the same people who were yelling at me and asking them, like, ‘What was wrong?’ I’m just like, ‘I don’t argue with kids, but if there’s something that’s making you feel this bitter on Christmas Eve, I just want you to know you can talk to me and, like, I’m not gon’ judge you. My DMs are open … I think certain things are outlets for people to lash out and be angry or whatever, so they don’t go in and cut bitches at work tomorrow. And, honestly, if I’m that catalyst, go ‘head sis. Like, get your shit off. I don’t know. Don’t hurt nobody.” — The FADER, February 2018

13. Leslie Jamison
“For years, I described myself as someone who wasn’t prone to anger. ‘I don’t get angry,’ I said. ‘I get sad.’ … Sadness seemed more refined and also more selfless — as if you were holding the pain inside yourself, rather than making someone else deal with its blunt-force trauma. But a few years ago, I started to get a knot in my gut at the canned cadences of my own refrain: I don’t get angry. I get sad. At the shrillest moments of our own self-declarations — I am X, I am not Y — we often hear in that tinny register another truth, lurking expectantly, and begin to realize there are things about ourselves we don’t yet know. By which I mean that at a certain point, I started to suspect I was angrier than I thought.” — The New York Times Magazine, January 2018

14. Indra Nooyi
“When you assume negative intent, you’re angry. If you take away that anger and assume positive intent, you will be amazed. Your emotional quotient goes up because you are no longer almost random in your response. You don’t get defensive. You don’t scream. You are trying to understand and listen because at your basic core you are saying, ‘Maybe they are saying something to me that I’m not hearing.’” — Fortune, 2008

15. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
“We spend too much time teaching girls to worry about what boys think of them. But the reverse is not the case. We don’t teach boys to care about being likable. We spend too much time telling girls that they cannot be angry or aggressive or tough, which is bad enough, but then we turn around and either praise or excuse men for the same reasons. All over the world, there are so many magazine articles and books telling women what to do, how to be and not to be, in order to attract or please men. There are far fewer guides for men about pleasing women.” — We Should All Be Feminists, July 2014

16. Fiona Apple
“The assault when I was 12 made me think about innocence and guilt and forgiveness. It made me think about a lot of big things. Because the first thing I did after it happened was pray for him … Last year is the first time I felt anger towards that guy … I wouldn’t allow myself to be angry at him because of shit I assumed had been done to him. I think women do that a lot. We’ll be like, ‘Oh, but he was hurt when he was a kid. That’s why he did that to me.’ Fuck you, I was hurt when I was a kid. I didn’t do it to him. You know? We’re very understanding, women. We want to take care of people. We want to protect people. But, please, not at the expense of ourselves anymore.” — Vulture, April 2020

17. Jessica Williams
“There’s this idea of the ‘Angry Black Woman,’ and I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately, because I often feel like I’m put in that category. A lot of women of color are put in that category, when I think our anger is justified. I actually think that female anger isn’t that different from male anger. Boxing and football are, like, national fucking pastimes. And yet, when a woman expresses that she is unhappy with the way in which our society exists, that’s a big fucking problem. That’s crazy to me.” — Bust, February/March print issue

18. Toni Morrison
[Q: Do you ever write out of anger or any other emotion?] “No. Anger is a very intense but tiny emotion, you know. It doesn’t last. It doesn’t produce anything. It’s not creative … at least not for me. I mean these books take at least three years! … I don’t trust that stuff anyway. I don’t like those little quick emotions, like, I’m lonely, ohhh, God … I don’t like those emotions as fuel. I mean, I have them, but … if it’s not your brain thinking cold, cold thoughts, which you can dress in any kind of mood, then it’s nothing. It has to be a cold, cold thought. I mean cold, or cool at least. Your brain. That’s all there is.” — The Paris Review

19. Mindy Kaling
“One of the things I wanted was for her [a Netflix tv character she was writing] to be a hothead because it is so unacceptable in society to be an angry Asian woman. You’re supposed to be demure and agreeable. I always had so much impatience and ambition — these things that if you had them, you were supposed to have them secretly.” — The New York Times Magazine, June 2019

20. Aparna Nancherla
“I do think I am resentful sometimes that everyone thinks I’m this nice, sweet cherub baby tomato. I am frequently enraged by people but I just am not great at expressing my anger, so most of it turns into a lot of stern walking around the city blasting rap into my brain. I am getting a little bit better at expressing it, but sometimes I’ll feel as though I figuratively threw a vase at someone and they’ll be like ‘Oh, were you upset? I wasn’t exactly sure.’ So it’s a process.” — Vice, October 2015

21. Maya Angelou
“You should be angry. You must not be bitter. Bitterness is like cancer. It eats upon the host. It doesn’t do anything to the object of its displeasure. So use that anger. You write it. You paint it. You dance it. You march it. You vote it. You do everything about it. You talk it. Never stop talking it.” — Iconoclasts, 2006

22. Shonda Rhimes
On being called an “angry black woman” in a New York Times column: “Wait. I’m ‘angry’ AND a ROMANCE WRITER?!! I’m going to need to put down the internet and go dance this one out. Because ish is getting real.” — Twitter, September 2014

23. Gloria Steinem
“I’m on campuses a lot, very different kinds of schools. I still get asked, ‘How can I [the student] combine motherhood and career?’ and I tell them, ‘Until men are asking that same question, you can’t.’ I say, ‘By now we all know that women can do what men can do, but it’s not the other way around. No, you can’t do it all — so get mad.’ Why are we the only modern country without proper child care or health care? They aren’t angry enough.” — Stanford Report, January 2012

24. Marcia Clark
“Back then I was portrayed by the press as this cartoon storming into court with steam coming out of my ears. If I raised my voice, they would say I was being shrill and hysterical. It’s a courtroom. It’s war. What was I supposed to do, whisper and curtsy?” — Los Angeles Times, July 2016

25. Fran Lebowitz
“I’m pretty angry, but the problem with me is that I’m always in an extreme state of rage. I have all this other rage in me from 1950.” — The Huffington Post, October 2012

25 Famous Women on Anger