Joyce Carol Oates, and myself as avenging angel

Warning: The following views are representative only of how I feel very occasionally. You should not, and I cannot emphasize this enough, not take this as any kind of representation of how I usually feel or what normally governs my actions.

I am reading a novel right now about a girl who is raped by a fellow student on the night of their senior prom. A “good girl,” she doesn’t have the experience — or the psychological armor — to forestall what’s to come while it’s happening, and afterward she cannot bring herself to speak of it. The incident destroys her formerly happy, close-knit family, and the girl herself is sent away from their small town to live with an unmarried aunt.

When I read stories like this – another one I remember affecting me this strongly was Angela’s Ashes — I feel myself consumed with anger against all men, an unmovable blinding rage. As a matter of habit and nature I try to be fair, to see things from others’ perspective, to give everyone a chance. But stories like these break past my natural tolerance. Without exaggeration: when I read these stories, I want to tear out the hearts of all men. I want to rip apart the ones who commit these crimes against women, the ones who egg them on, the ones who stand by and say nothing. But my rage extends also to the ones who would never do such a thing, and even to the ones who would rise up and speak out against such deeds. My fury is for all men, because they are men, because they do not realize the privilege that is theirs just because they were born male. They don’t know what it is to walk through life as they do. They don’t know what they have, and because of this, they don’t realize the damage they can do. The injustice has existed since humanity began; they are all damned by history’s testimony. When I feel like this I hate them all.

I am not the only one to feel this way. Other women must, surely, but it’s not just women. Anyone who has ever felt the crushing unfairness – and the accompanying infuriating impotence – of being on the wrong side of power in a society must feel the same. The anger is at the imbalance of power, but it is also directed at the complete ignorance of those people who are so privileged as to be in power without even realizing it. Now and throughout history, people of color have felt this way about whites, the poor and the workers have felt this way about those born to wealth or education, the weak and the plain have resented the strong and the beautiful. It’s not just that they hold the power, it is that they do not even know that they do. Absolutely, there must be people who feel this way about me, for am I not healthy and talented and educated and well-to-do, and to top it all off, happy and loved? And, come to think of it, American? How easy it is not to realize our power and privilege.

But it’s the gender privilege that strikes me most at the moment. All I can think about while I read this book, besides how foul men are, is how I must never, never allow this to happen to the children I may one day have. If I have daughters, I must teach them to take a stand and always watch out for themselves, the way my mother raised us to be strong. But even more important – almost — is what I must teach my sons, if ever I have sons, about this terrible privilege society gives them. I could never live with myself, or them, if I failed to do this. The way I feel at this moment, were I ever to produce children who grew up to commit such awful deeds, I would almost rather kill them myself than let them be like that.

This is one of the most strongly worded things I’ve ever written. I’m sorry if it alarmed anyone, but it doesn’t change the fact that I do sometimes feel this angry about this particular injustice. I do and I don’t blame men for their privilege, just as I am and I am not thinking of individual men when I rail against men as a group. I don’t think my moments of anger or resentment make me into some kind of desperately vindictive man-hater, much less an actual murderer, because I would never act on the violence of these emotions (except to stop a rapist, etc!). I hope that those who know me well will realize that this entry represents just one small facet of who I am. And I do realize that male and female readers are likely to respond differently to what I’ve said. Erik, for one, was so disturbed by my vehemence in this entry that we just spent more than an hour talking it over.

Feel free to leave your comments as well.

[This post was imported on 4/10/14 from my old blog at]