Warning: Major spoilers of The Handmaid’s Tale, Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies ahead. Proceed only if you have finished all their seasons.
TV and movies have been getting their audiences used to see men represented as a variety of angry, revenge-seeking psychos, just because. Often, these characters are portrayed by typecasted angry men.
We will always have the Bryan Millses (Liam Neeson in Taken) willing to bring the world down in order to find whichever loved one they’re missing, and the Robert McCalls (Denzel Washington in The Equalizer) willing to go to the last consequences to make the world know they’re angry at it. Hell hath no fury when angry men are in the loose.
We get it, men are supposed to be angry, violent and enraged. It’s not like this special set of features has been shoehorned onto men for centuries as a recognizable trait of masculinity, or anything; or that the perpetuation of these very ideas has been more harmful than ever as the time goes by, and certainly it’s not as these type of stereotypes and high expectations bestowed upon them haven’t increased the percentage of suicides on men each year.
These traits, shouldn’t necessarily be linked to men and masculinity, rage is not a feature that should be bestowed upon men, but—as with any other gender stereotype out there—TV and movies have been very good at keeping this trope alive and well. Nevertheless, they have tried to separate them —especially TV shows—from their masculine characters.
Lately, several networks have been making big efforts to balance their series by producing and airing female-led projects based on female-centric experiences of mostly female authors, that have been focusing its perspective on female rage.
One of them is HBO, this enormous powerhouse has single-handedly achieved to release one season of Gillian Flynn’s adaptation of the intriguing thriller Sharp Objects, lead by Amy Adams and Patricia Clarkson, and one season of Liane Moriarty’s enthralling portrayal of her sexual abuse novel Big Little Lies, lead by Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon and Shailene Woodley,
Hulu and Netflix have also their very own female-centric series on the air, as the former has released two seasons of Margaret Atwood’s adaptation of the feminist thrilling dystopia The Handmaid’s Tale, lead by Elisabeth Moss, and the latter has aired two seasons too of Marvel’s noir series Jessica Jones, lead by Krysten Ritter, all of them with one theme in common: stories that stem and develop from female rage.
Most of the times on these shows, the rage will come from of a place of retaliation, specially against the male dominance that is creeping around them, trying to control their bodies and the decisions women try to make for themselves.
The Handmaid’s Tale is plagued with enraged women that have been stripped of their agency, their capacity to decide over their bodies and their ability to fulfil their basic human needs. The series begins right when its women have reached their boiling point, women that are fed up with being objectified and are starting to act on it.
Women like Emily (Alexis Bledel), who was separated from her wife and kid by Gilead’s Republic—a men-lead new society—in order to become a handmaid at service of the family that owns her, and who, by the back half of the season, starts to kill soldiers, generals and anyone who have been complicit with the system, as a way to take her agency back from their captors.
Or like June (Elisabeth Moss), who was also separated from her family, and has been acting like a human vessel whose only function is to deliver babies for other families, and has started to fight back at the general and his wife that own her, her body and her baby.
Rage is the perfect embodiment of agency for these women because it’s the only thing that makes sense to them, and is capable of making them feel like they matter, like their life is theirs to use and their decisions are theirs to make, and even though they know there’s almost nothing they can do unless Gilead is over, they will try to take back what is theirs by being enraged.
In Big Little Lies, rage appears as a consequence of a threat and also as an embodiment of empowerment. When Perry Wright (Alexander Skarsgard) starts hitting his wife, Celeste (Nicole Kidman), in front of her friends, they attempt lots of things to try to defend her but is not until Bonnie (Zoe Kravitz) pushes him down the stairs on a rage attack that they fully understand the power of the bond they all share. Women will do anything to help their friends, even if it means killing someone in self-defense.
In other cases, female rage will make an appearance not as a response but rather as a result of one of the characters’ upbringing, as a unique trait that will shape their personality entirely. Something so inherently personal that it would be difficult to separate from its owner. Something that it may come from the same place but translate differently between each person.
Camille (Amy Adams) and Amma (Eliza Scanlen), from Sharp Objects, are affected sisters who only know how to act through their rage, the only difference they have is the way they inflict it. Camile does it to herself and her body, Amma, to their friends.
Both are young troubled women whose mother, Adora (Patricia Clarkson), belittled and smothered, always trying to make them feel bad for everything they did and every decision they made. So, evidently, rage will be the only way they know how to cope.
Whilst Camille decides to canalize her rage at hurting her body with every dark thought she has, Amma acts on it by injuring others. Rage is shown as a weakness in Camille’s head, but it means power on Amma’s. These are two women raised in the same context but with different perspectives of how rage works on them and what can they do with it. In their minds, rage is a power of destruction.
Something similar happens to Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter) on Netflix’s Jessica Jones, where its protagonist’s rage stems from a violent upbringing and a series of situations she’s gone through in her life. In Jessica’s case, her special abilities are the living embodiment of her rage, the motor that sustains them and the only way she knows how to face a threat.
Unlike Camille and Amma, Jessica tries to canalize her rage by using her powers to make a difference, to change the reality she’s put herself into and the ones who love her. Instead of being a power of destruction, rage becomes the vehicle from which Jessica tries to rebuild her life.
As we can see, female rage can mean a lot of things. It could very much be a form of retaliation, but also an embodiment of empowerment as a mean to take back one’s agency. It can also be a power of destruction, or a beacon of hope to make great things with one’s life.
What these shows have shown us is that rage is not and should not be a stereotype linked only with men, not only because is harmful but because it’s also a sexist idea. Women can also be angry and do great and bad things whilst being enraged, that’s why we need to be certain about one thing: both men and women can be enraged at the world, we only need to separate it from masculinity and redirect it towards more fruitful things.