The Righteous Anger of Girls

Daniel Handler,  the best-selling author of the Lemony Snicket series, writes about why girls are so furious so often—and where that rage goes when they grow up—for More Magazine:

The world is pretty hard on girls. It’s one reason I put so many of them in books. The narrative is more interesting if there are more obstacles. A man walking alone down a road at night may or may not be a good story; turn him into a 12-year-old girl, and it’s already gripping. The vulnerability and the danger—the wrongness of a young girl wandering about—are a shortcut to creating a good read.

Still, what’s exciting on the page is dismaying in real life. If we put aside the mountain of statistics on gender inequality—and it’s Himalayan—it’s immediately clear that the world demands more of girls. I’ve noticed it all my life. A good girlfriend should do the laundry and maybe plan a dinner party when her guy’s parents come to town. A good boyfriend just has to not make passes at her friends. A good husband should have a job and not get violent; a good wife runs the whole damn show.

As a children’s author, I meet a lot of young people, all of them crackling with possibility. But with the girls, it’s more likely that they’re also hemmed in by a wariness—am I good enough? pretty enough? polite enough?—that I see far less of in boys. It’s enough to make you get angry, except if you’re female, that’s another thing you’re not really supposed to do.

In writing my latest novel, I got to explore where anger goes sometimes and where it should go. In men I see the horrific results when it explodes out into the world, but more often I see the anger tamed, over time, into ambition and competition, two forces that usually get them ahead. In women it’s more complicated. We look at women who’ve channeled that energy similarly, who seem overly competitive or ambitious, and decide that somewhere there must be something wrong. Are they bad mothers? Bad wives? So girls’ anger too often goes elsewhere.

Where does the anger go? I ask my sister. “As it turns out,” she says wryly, “sitting in a place of anger, or resentment, or self-pity, just isn’t effective. It can feel really good for a while, like trying on an old sweater. Cozy and familiar, but then all of a sudden you’re like, Eww, this sweater smells bad—get it off me!”


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