Last year I had the privilege of performing at a women’s event in New Mexico where I met Elizabeth Smart. We talked briefly, and as we walked the halls down to the stage to get ready for our individual appearances — me singing, her speaking — I was struck with how calm and collected she was. Nothing about her demeanor seemed aggressive, resentful or angry, although she certainly had every excuse to be that way.
I knew her story well. I had cried and prayed with the rest of the nation as news broke of her kidnapping back in 2002. At only 14 years old, Smart was taken from her home, raped and abused daily by her captors, and lived a homeless life for nine months in hellish conditions until her rescue in March 2003. Her eyes said she knew tragedy, the deepest, most horrific kind. But there was something else there, too. It was a resolute strength, a burning indignation that wasn’t so much fiery as it was focused and fierce.
As Smart delivered her address, she never — not once — raised her voice in rage. She didn’t swear. She didn’t pound her fists on the podium. She explained what happened to her in a direct, informative way. She shared her feelings of terror and agony, wondering if she would ever see her family again. She didn’t weep. She didn’t scream. She stood strong and immovable. This woman was the definition of resilient.
Right now, rage is all the rage when it comes to women expressing themselves and standing up for our rights. There is no question we have much to be angry about in this unjust world. We have fought for and continue to fight for equality and progress in pay, political position, social status, religious recognition and the opportunity to have the same privileges those of the opposite sex enjoy. The #MeToo movement has ignited an attitude of “enough is enough” and encouraged women to open up and speak out against sexual abuse.
But I’m worried. I’m worried that the justifiable frustration and fight we’ve had boiling in our bellies might overtake us. I’m worried that if not kept in check, this applause of anger can drown out our strongest quality: the ability to affect true change through love.
I truly believe there is nothing greater than goodness. Please hear me — being opposed to evil is absolutely appropriate and necessary and fighting against the darkness that is ever-encroaching is crucial. I do not think we need to be quiet or passive when it comes to women’s rights. But there is certainly a difference between fighting for a righteous cause and letting anger consume us like wildfire until we have burned ourselves out.
In her book “Rage Becomes Her: The Power of Women's Anger,” author Soraya Chemaly argues that, “By effectively severing anger from ‘good womanhood,’ we choose to sever girls and women from the emotion that best protects us against danger and injustice.” Chemaly goes on to say, “Anger isn’t what gets in our way — it is our way.”
I’m not sure I agree.
In a recent interview with Gayle King for CBS, Smart expressed concern and frustration about her former captor Wanda Barzee’s release from prison. Was Smart mad that Barzee was out? Absolutely. Did she use rage to get her point across? Not even close.
“If you’re too angry, then people don’t pay attention to you,” she told King. Rage is defined as “violent, uncontrolled” anger. If this is how we are choosing to fight, we will not be successful. We will not truly be heard.
What can we do as women that will show the world what our strengths really are, and how can we use the most powerful tool of all — love — to combat the opposition around us?8 comments on this story
In her October 2000 general conference address to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints titled "The Joy of Womanhood," Sister Margaret D. Nadauld, then Young Women general president, said:
“The world has enough women who are tough; we need women who are tender. There are enough women who are coarse; we need women who are kind. There are enough women who are rude; we need women who are refined.”
Resilient. Not rageful.
Like Elizabeth Smart, this is how we overcome.
This is how we fight like girls. This is how we win.