Originally, I’d planned to write a post about Wanda Maximof today (the Scarlet Witch), since she is going to be a major character in Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness and because I think she’s pretty cool as well as being a good example of how to write a character that rides the line between villainy and heroism. However, events this week got me thinking in another direction, specifically about anger and how it is portrayed with female characters.
When we’re first being introduced to stories, most of the heroines are gentle, kind, and compassionate toward others. Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and Snow White are all paragons of demure virtue. They are wonderful characters whom I love but they also enforce a very rigid idea of femininity. One where good girls don’t cause trouble.
Meg Murray was the first angry heroine that I recall. Reading A Wrinkle In Time felt like an eye-opening experience for me. She was awkward and keenly aware of the injustices around her. I read the book fully expecting that the moral of the story would be her learning to be kind and gracious and therefore winning the day and earning her place by changing who she was.
Only she didn’t.
“Hold tight to your anger, little Meg.” That was the advice given to Meg before the final confrontation. Her anger was a vital part of saving those she cared about. (Side note: this is also my major frustration with the Disney movie of A Wrinkle In Time because they had Meg save the world by “being less negative” which completely undercut the crucial message of the original story.)
It was the first time I could recall ever seeing feminine anger portrayed as valuable. Heroes could get wrathful or howl against the world, but heroines sang their songs and persuaded others to take up their cause.
And the thing is: anger is valuable. It’s one of the major universal emotions (happiness, anger, sadness, surprise, fear, disgust, and contempt). As a society, we’re wary of anger but it’s often conflated with disgust and/or contempt. And we shouldn’t dismiss such concern entirely because when anger is paired with disgust/contempt, then the likelihood of violence increases since the target of the anger is then viewed as subhuman and unworthy of existence. However, on it’s own, anger is our natural reaction to something being wrong, to our expectations being broken. It energizes us to take action to correct the issue. As Wolverine put it “Grief pulls you down. Anger gets you moving.”
In The Wheel of Time series, Nynaeve is one of the most powerful wielders of Power to ever live. But she can only access her magical gift when she is angry. Her anger lets her overcome her own fears and socialized limits and she can then accomplish literal miracles. When she confronted about it and told that she must remain serene at all times, she challenges it. There are situations where being calm would be inappropriate. In her opinion, if we see an injustice, we should be angry and that anger should prompt us to take action.
Anger lets us know when something is wrong. When angry, we need to be careful that our anger isn’t being manipulated or that we’ve been aimed at an inappropriate target or goal. But being angry isn’t a character flaw for women. And, in my opinion, we should be reflecting that more in our fictional counterparts.
Jessica Jones is an angry superhero. So is Jennifer Walters, aka She-Hulk. Jessica broods and sulks like any of the classic male antiheroes. Jennifer is a lawyer who transforms into a big green rage machine when she gets angry. Neither of them apologize for being angry and they use their anger to stop villains from hurting others.
And most importantly, their anger doesn’t make them unlikeable. Just like Meg and Nynaeve, they can be powerful voices for those who find they can’t always be serene in the face of the bad things in the world. We aren’t wrong just because we dropped a curse word or used a harsh tone.
Being angry doesn’t mean being unworthy of an HEA.