Anne Summers says Hannah Gadsby showed us that anger, put to good use, is a powerful weapon. (Getty: Gregg DeGuire)
Hannah Gadsby makes it clear in Nanette that she doesn’t want her story to be defined by anger, and the show includes so many shades of emotion that, arguably, she ensures it’s not.
But the comedian does reveal something important about the emotion Shakespeare’s Virgilia called “my meat”.
“I think what Hannah Gadsby demonstrated in that performance is that anger can be a very, very effective weapon,” says feminist and author Anne Summers AO.
Anger, Dr Summers says, “prompts you to action”. It’s energising.
Public health researcher Chelsea Bond agrees.
“When I get angry, I pick up a pen. I write. I do stuff. It is fuel for me,” she says.
Both women recommend using anger to create change — and doing so unapologetically.
“I don’t care what people think about it; if I’m angry I’m going to be bloody angry and I’m going to act accordingly,” Dr Summers says.
Dr Bond’s advice? “If you’re angry, be angry, and do something with it.”
‘A very pure emotion’
Dr Summers writes about the value of anger in her new memoir, Unfettered and Alive.
“It’s a very pure emotion. It’s not artificial. It’s not confected,” she says.
“Anger tells you to take action; it tells you to do something.”
Dr Summers says the recent decriminalisation of abortion in Queensland is an example of the power of anger — specifically women’s anger — to achieve change.
“The women’s movement has tried for 40 years to get this changed and it’s finally happened,” she says.
“I think it’s fantastic, but it wouldn’t have happened without the organising of women.”
A lot of those women, she says, were driven by a sense of outrage and injustice.
“I would define that fundamentally as anger at a situation that punished women for wanting to control their fertility,” she says.
‘Irrational’ to not be angry
Dr Bond agrees that harnessing anger is key to creating change.
“Anger’s the fuel that enables me to get up and fight,” Dr Bond says.
“If we aren’t angry about the stuff that affects us, then we don’t feel compelled to change anything.”
Chelsea Bond says black women’s anger is dismissed more readily than white women’s anger. (Supplied)
Dr Bond, who is an Aboriginal (Munanjahli) and South Sea Islander Australian, says black women have a “fair few things to be wild about”.
“What’s happening to Aboriginal women in this country is particularly violent,” she says.
“It would be irrational if I was not angry.”
But Dr Bond argues that not all anger is equal.
“Sometimes women can presume that some of the issues around gender and power are the same for black women as they are for white women,” she says.
“They’re not the same, and I think that’s an important demarcation.
“When a white woman is angry, she has far more power than a black woman, and we can’t underestimate that.”
Dr Bond says when white people complain, “they get a response and things happen”, but when black people get angry they’re cast as radicals, and their opinions are dismissed.
She points to the response of The Daily Show host Trevor Noah after an outcry from Aboriginal women over his racist and derogatory comments about their appearance.
US comedian Trevor Noah faced criticism over his derogatory comments about Aboriginal women. (Getty: Jeff Schear)
“He was indifferent: ‘Oh, these women are just angry; there’s not actually some substance behind what they’re saying’,” Dr Bond says.
“We’re relegated to the role of being the angry black women, which means we can’t be the intelligent black women.”
Rather than feel helplessness, Dr Bond is incensed.
“If we’re only ever going to be framed as the angry black woman, take it. Run with it and do something with it,” she says.
Don’t be nice — get angry
Dr Summers has a similar message for women, advising them that anger is a weapon they should wield, just as Gadsby has.
She’s not put off by expectations that might be placed on women to disguise their anger and be nice.
“I don’t care,” she says.
“It doesn’t matter what we’ve been taught.
“I mean, we’re all taught to be docile little feminine princesses … I speak for myself and my generation.
“I’m urging all other women of all generations to leave that behind them and act according to how they feel.”