What does it mean to be powerful as a woman? Lou Ramsay discusses the emotional and the acceptable power in a brilliant essay to open 2018.
It comes from the small and it comes from the everyday, but mostly, it comes when it’s the beginning of the year and I’m starting to feel reborn.
I have not always believed myself to be powerful. There are days I look at myself and wonder what I’m thinking. Who this girl is staring back at me. I wonder what’s happened to her. Her limp hair, blemished skin, reddened eyes. The clothes she wears makes her small. Vulnerable. She possesses no power. I wonder if she possesses anything at all, anything but this urge to be smaller and quieter. To be less.
I wonder, when it’s quiet and I’m dressed like I want to hide, where it’s all gone. Where I’ve gone. The girl who’s loud and giggly, with an accent so thick it muddles words together when I’m excited, a smash of vowels as stuck together as mushed avocado. I wonder when she stopped singing.
And then. There are other times, I think I’m too powerful.
Times I think ‘you should be quieter’. Times I think ‘you should shut up, they don’t like what you’re saying’.
Times my mouth is running away from me, like a speeding car on ice, twisting and turning out of my control. My tongue shapes itself into a knife, sharp and deadly, twirling words out like a samurai sword, each syllable a blow. My hands move, my arms move, my hair thrashes from one side to the next. It feels as if my body is a boat that is capsizing, under a storm so fierce I know I will drown when it passes. I know I’ll disappear under the quiet, the lull, a small hush before I sink down. It’s then that I’m scared of myself. It’s then I think I’m too powerful. To possess such emotion. To be able to explode like a bomb, no warning quakes or shudders. Just a sudden shriek and my whole body quivers with the force of it all becoming real, out loud, for you to see.
I sometimes wonder if my power is making people stay. Other times, I wonder what would happen if they all stayed. If I didn’t get my way and make them walk out of the door, slamming it and having the walls shake, the way my hands get when the thoughts go around and around and around and around. And around. They never stop, you see. I wish my power was that I could make them stop when it all starts to drop. Down and down, swirling into a mass of hysteria.
But god, if I don’t hate the word hysteria. If I’m a woman, I cannot get mad. I cannot get angry. Violent. Murderous or seething. No. I can only get emotional. I can only cry and cry, because everything else has to be controlled and brought down and managed.
“They never let women be angry, because angry women figure it out. Angry women get things done. Angry women make change happen. Angry women fix things.”
I cannot lose my shit. I can cry about losing it. But I cannot show myself losing it.
I think that is the power I have. The power all women have. Yes, it’s making myself smaller and quieter, but it’s also not throwing things or shaking with anger, it’s just letting my eyes leak. Like a dripping facet. How pathetically subdued. A personification of a drip.
I don’t get to be dramatic, because when I’m dramatic I’m considered hysterical. That’s all I get. That single word. I cannot let myself express my emotions in any way unless it’s crying, because I somehow give up my right of being seen as a woman, as a female, because I decide to do something with anger. As if anger is masculine, rather than human nature, an emotion we all experience. If I’m lucky, I may be angry at a man and react without tears, with shouts, perhaps, and wave my hands, and then will be rewarded with the title psychopath.
It comes out of their mouths so easily, said with the same casualness as waving to the bartender or rolling their eyes at their mother. The title that should be reserved with people whose mental capabilities fit the criteria of a psychopath and not a woman who is angry. Because I am angry, not a mental condition which needs to be tamed and brought down to ‘normality’. Being angry from time to time, that’s normal. Raising my voice when I’m passionate, that’s normal. And arguing with in bars with guys who attempt to put their hands on me, that’s my damn right as a human being to do so. It’s normal – their behaviour is not.
The power we can think about could mean so many things; to strength, to humility, to kindness, to resilience. But there’s a power we forget we have as women, because we are told to cry and cry. And that power is in anger. And in determination. And in strength that comes after losing your goddamn shit.
Emotionality is power. It helps us go through the process, work out what’s going on in our heads and figure out why we feel so many things. Our brains can make it feel like a tornado, swirling around in a never ending streaming of thoughts, good and bad, but always constant. But the tornado has to die off and disappear – so where does all the emotional stuff go? In a box? I don’t think so.
There’s a power in being emotional. There’s power, more than there is in shutting down and staying quiet and not sending the text of ‘hey, you’re a real asshole, you know that?’
The power is of standing up, of being loud, of taking up room and being angry.
They never let women be angry, because angry women figure it out. Angry women get things done. Angry women make change happen. Angry women fix things.
Our power is in our words and our hand gestures and making out voices louder. It’s being human; with anger, mistakes and not feeling the pressure of having it all together or managing ourselves. Our power is fighting against that. Of deciding to let go. Of being what a woman is and not what she is ‘supposed’ to be.
That’s our power.
This piece originally was published in Dear Damsels.