After the recent surge of "female rage" representation on social media, many people may recognize Florence Pugh's portrayal of anger in Don't Worry Darling screaming, “It was my life! My life! You don't get to take that from me!” or Taraji P. Hanson's furious monologue in the role of Katherine Goble in Hidden Figures shouting, “And I work like a dog! Day and night!” The “female rage” trend is an expression of frustration towards issues that are almost entirely specific to women, with an emphasis on the complications of young adult women finding their place in a patriarchal world. Thus making female rage a direct response to the oppressive impact of patriarchy. It is an outward expression of bottled-up emotions that many women find cathartic to watch unfold on the big screen.
On TikTok especially, predominantly young adult women have expressed a relation to “angry” and “messy” female characters in film. Examples include Fleabag from Fleabag, Cassie Howard from Euphoria, and Susanna Kaysen from Girl, Interrupted. The psychological reasoning behind this is that women are placed on a pedestal where they are expected to constantly be kind and understanding, and, when anybody feels that they may not be able to live up to their idealized reality, a flurry of negative emotions is bound to follow (Tomlinson, 2013). As Gloria Steinem said, “A pedestal is as much a prison as any small, confined space” (Steinem, 1983). It is exhausting to bury feelings of distress, discomfort, fear, and confusion nearly all of the time. For a woman to see someone like herself on the big screen, saying all of the things she wished she could have, it is inspiring. The “female rage trend” on TikTok is not the solution to gender inequality, but it may spark important conversations that get the ball rolling.
The root of gender inequality includes societal attitudes and structural issues that impact how women are viewed. By replacing the idealized woman with a more realistic representation, we are not only observing what a woman is capable of but also who she is.
"Female rage" is a mixture of emotions such as powerlessness, confusion, violation, and fear. These are all emotions that patriarchal values push onto women every day, and the psychology of women is often misunderstood and underrepresented (Heimberger, 2022). For so long, women’s emotions have been downplayed and deemed, “hysteria,” taking away a woman’s ability to be viewed as a complex being. Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis, wrote a book titled, “Dora: An Analysis of a Case of Hysteria,” in which he discusses the symptoms of Ida Bauer. Ida Bauer, or “Dora,” as Freud calls her, is brought in by her parents for treatment after discovering what they believe to be a suicide note in her drawer. Freud believes that she is suffering from “hysteria,” and his grounds for this belief were as follows; “the behavior of this child of fourteen was already entirely and completely hysterical. I should without question consider a person hysterical in whom an occasion for sexual excitement elicited feelings that were preponderantly or exclusively unpleasurable, and I should do so whether or not the person was capable of producing somatic symptoms” (Freud, 1905). Freud believed that sexual repression was the main cause of distress and that any woman uninterested in sex was experiencing hysteria.
Challenging the idea of Freud, a study conducted by Sandra Thomas, Carol Smucker, and Patricia Droppleman sought to understand the complexity of female anger and found that anger in women can be triggered by the overwhelming feeling of unfairness in the face of gender inequality (Thomas, Sandra, 1988). Unlike men, women live in a world that compels them to feel angry simply because the odds are against them all of the time. That is what makes the genre of "female rage" its own. Due to the aforementioned pedestal, when a woman does express unfiltered and genuine rage, she may experience cognitive dissonance, a state where one feels as though their actions do not align with who one thought themselves to be. The participants in the study had to be at least 18 years of age, varying in marital status. Many of the women who took part in the study expressed that they had felt horrified when acting out and that their expression of frustration was "ugly," "mean," and "out of character."
In their daily lives, women receive unsolicited comments from men that are disrespectful passes disguised as genuine compliments. In addition, women commonly feel they must respond to such comments kindly, not because they appreciate them, but because they are afraid to react any other way. For instance, in a TikTok by Monique de Sade, hashtagged with “#FemaleRage,” Monique writes, "When the doctors and nurses kept telling me how grateful I should be that he didn't put me in a coma or unalive [kill] me," expressing her anger alongside Olivia Rodrigo's, "all-American bitch." Monique's experience is a horrifying reality for many women who are instructed to be grateful they weren't killed but rather, badly beaten. The expected response to abuse should be rage and a demand for justice, but even then, women are instructed to be grateful that they at least made it out with their lives.
In a way, the “female rage trend,” proves to be a useful tool for expression. Women online feel more comfortable sharing their experiences and other women can interact with the content and know that they are not alone. This feeling of not being alone in their grief helps many women alleviate the cognitive dissonance they may experience. Anger is a crucial step toward creating a change. It is okay for women to be rightfully angry and stand up for themselves. Stop teaching women to “roll with the punches,” and instead tell men to put their fists down.
Freud, Sigmund, et al. “The Clinical Picture.” Dora: An Analysis of a Case of Hysteria,
Scribner, New York, 2020.
Thomas, Sandra, et al. “It hurts most around the heart: A phenomenological exploration of
women’s anger.” Journal of Advanced Nursing, vol. 28, no. 2, 1998, pp. 311–322,
Heimberger, Tara, "Female Rage, Revenge, and Catharsis: The "Good for Her" Genre Defined
in “Promising Young Woman (2020)" (2022). English MA Theses. 10.
Steinem, Gloria. “The Stage Is Set.” Ms. Magazine, 1983.
Tomlinson, Jennifer M., et al. “The costs of being put on a pedestal.” Journal of Social and
Personal Relationships, vol. 31, no. 3, 2013, pp. 384–409,