Barbara Ehrenreich’s piece made me think of all of the ways cancer patients and many people afflicted with health issues are expected to be strong and have a good attitude regardless of what they are going through. Why must we (society) demand that women undergoing chemotherapy, losing their hair and perhaps even their breasts, show signs of resilience, positivity and even gratitude?
Strength and keeping a positive attitude have become the normalized standards the sick and disabled must abide by. I say it must not be so! It is perfectly healthy and normal for a woman to mourn the loss of energy, sense of smell, appetite, hair, breasts, and all of the other elements, that we, the yet to be disabled, cannot begin to imagine. Thus, I do think of anger as a sign of resistance, a resistance against societal expectation that women should not express feelings of rage, as they are un-lady like, they are emotions better left to men.
In the contrary, I believe that anger constitute a terrific way for the sick to get rid of stress (even if momentarily), pour out feelings of discouragement, pain, grief or just old-fashioned frustration. I found it interesting that Ehreinrich’s blog was met with anger … at her anger. She is encouraged to suppress her feelings even though doing so can have short and long term negative effects on her emotional, as well as physical, state. A sunny disposition will not work for everyone. It sure wouldn’t work for me! And besides, men should not have the monopoly over this cathartic emotion.
I wonder if men suffering from prostate cancer or other life threatening illnesses are given greater freedom in expressing their anger. I am sure that there is no much room for them to express sadness, as our society demands that they be stoic at all times, but I suspect that anger is more tolerated when stemming from a male patient.
In the professional world for example, women who express anger are routinely called the b word, witches and are vilified. On the other hand, a man displaying a temper or rage is respected and often regarded as competent. Women are expected to be kinder and more modest than men, and they conjure negative responses from others if they do not conform to society’s normative stereotype. Female professionals who express anger violate this feminine norm and therefore may not experience the same positive reaction that angry men conjure.
But who can blame any of the authors read this week for being furious! All of them have lost a part of their identity. For some this meant the loss of strong shapely legs and arms, for others it’s just the ability to be and feel “normal”; and for DePaul, it was her breasts.
Iris Marion Young and Ehrenreich describe how breasts constitute one of the most important signifiers of womanless. Indeed self-esteem, feelings of self-worth, feminine practices and relationships are directly tied to women’s identities that construct their perception of who and what a real feminine woman is. So for Amy DePaul, reconstruction was meant to counteract a disruption of her identity brought on by the cancer, a way to reaffirm her feminine identity.
All of the articles describe women coming to grips with devastated losses. No one should be told how to grieve, and there is no single normative reaction when you are fighting for your life. Thus I argue as Ehrenreich suggests that courage is overrated and that there is room for the sick, not just men, to be mad as hell. They have earned it.