Tonight I Saw She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry and It Made Me Cry

by E.B. Bartels

Post originally appeared on Wellesley Underground on March 12, 2015.

I used to take pride in the fact that I’m not a big crier.

That I consider suppressing emotions a sign of strength is a problem, one that I am––don’t worry––currently working to resolve with my therapist. This problem of stifling emotions is actually a lot bigger than my own psyche; it’s a problem a lot of women have, and a direct product of the oppressive patriarchy. Women are taught from a young age that they are, supposedly, more emotional than men, and, therefore, to be emotional (or “hysterical,” to use that notorious word) is a woman’s quality. Young women, looking around, quickly assess that the world is (still) dominated by men, and to get ahead, clearly being a woman and acting like a woman isn’t going to get them anywhere any time soon, so having any traditionally female qualities––like being emotional––is a bad thing. Someone once called me an Ice Queen, and I took it as a compliment. I used to brag that while my ex-boyfriend cried as we watched the end of The Notebook, I stayed dry-eyed. Push those feelings down. This is how you will excel.

Supposedly.

In reality, this technique isn’t working at all. If it did work, we would have lots of women presidents by now, right? Instead, acknowledging that you have any feelings at all causes women to feel crazy, volatile, and full of hate for themselves. Not to mention that this patriarchal construction is damaging to men too––remember, guys, it’s all right to cry. Having a full range of emotions is part of the human experience.

That’s why I was happy that I cried tonight while watching She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry at the Coolidge Corner Theatre.

The film is a documentary, directed by Mary Dore, about the beginning of the modern women’s liberation movement from 1966 to 1971. The documentary does an incredible job of showing the many elements of the movement, the different organizations, the range of issues, and clashing of ideologies, but how, if we are going to make a change in the world, we need to be in this together. There is no one universal female experience, and so, to be a true feminist, you need to fight not only sexism, but also racism, classism, homophobia, and transphobia. My friend Ali Barthwell said it well on Facebook: “[She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry] does a great job of showing intersectionality and diversity within the women’s lib movement and a great history of the ordinary women who rose to the task of fighting for our freedom. It’s powerful and fun and accessible and shocking. If you’re a man who considers himself a feminist, you have to see this movie to know what women went through and are still going through.”

She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry gave me chills and lit a fire in my chest. I realized, watching the film, just how much about the women’s liberation movement I did not know, and how much I still have to learn. All the books that I took for granted––eh, I don’t have to read The Feminist Mystique, we’re past that wave of feminism, right?––and all the women’s studies classes at Wellesley I never took because I thought, being at Wellesley is enough of a women’s studies class in itself, right? No. To be a feminist, an activist, is to learn and work, and to never stop. Because, as they say in the film, lose vigilance for one minute, and they’ll pull the carpet out from under you. Seeing all the things that the women of the late 1960s fought for, and how horribly we have regressed as a nation––the fact that, very quickly, abortion could again become illegal, over forty years after Roe vs. Wade––has energized me.

Ellen Willis’s daughter, Nona Willis-Aronowitz, says towards the end of the film, “Though my mother was an early pro-sex feminist, I didn’t really know what feminism meant to me, to our generation.” I’ve known I was a feminist for a long time, but it took me until fairly recently to realize what that really meant, and for all that the women before me had fought, and all the things for which we have to keep fighting. I feel a warm energy under my collarbone.

I walked out of the Coolidge Corner Theatre and into the Brookline Booksmith to buy a copy of The Feminine Mystique. So often in my life I have hidden behind sarcasm and humor. They work as a protective barrier from letting out real feelings, because, for such a long time, I knew that to be genuine is not to be cool. To be sincere, to be painfully earnest and heartfelt, is dorky, pathetic, lame. To be emotionally open, to wear your heart on your sleeve, is dangerous. You don’t want to get too invested in anything, because that will make you vulnerable. But She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry inspired me to be a better feminist, a better activist, and a better human being. I am writing this sincerely, with my heart open and ready. Feminists of the world unite. Let’s take on the universe.

So this is what my review comes down to––five words:

GO SEE IT RIGHT NOW.

I am listening to Bikini Kill on full volume while writing this.

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