Girls Own the Void, and What Lies Beyond

Written by Kylie Warkentin

I read Lynn Steger Strong’s piece, “Why I Wanted to Write About Anger,” on my phone in the small, suffocating apartment my grandmother owns. It feels less like a piece about anger, and more like what would result from a swell of resentment bitten off at the start once you’ve reminded yourself of glasses half full and your best friend’s good morning text. Strong describes her intent as “want[ing] to figure out what’s inside of all that anger” and “want[ing] to write about space and time and feeling like somehow, we’ve always had less of it than our male counterparts.” And I got it—I thought of Audrey Wollen’s Instagram post furiously and in all caps reminding male artists that “NOTHING DOES NOT BELONG TO YOU” and “GIRLS OWN THE VOID”; I thought of a statistic I had once read reporting that 58% of US women cried from feeling helpless as opposed to 23% of men; I thought of how I angrily purse my lips when I hear a whistle and how I clutch at the fabric of my pants when I hear tapping and I turn and inevitably it is a man; and I got it. As I clutched my obnoxiously large phone held in my clammy palm, I got it.

a PSA brought to u by ur local chapter of Female Nothingness

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But as I read along in her piece, I found myself defensively wanting to find the holes and fallacies in her essay. I scrutinized her definition of resilience (“Every night my father sat on the couch and called to [my mother] from the other room to bring him a glass of water and dessert once dinner was over. My mother loves this about herself. She is powerful. She is resilient.”) and monstrousness (“…an older female writer and I admitted to one another the ways in which we’re monsters…we admitted all the ways we’d let other parts of our life suffer, made other parts of our lives give way to our work…”) and the complicity I felt was hidden in them. I bristled at the perceived acceptance I found in her statement that an exploration of how women have “found other ways to make the space we need” in a world where “our voices are silenced” and “no one believes or values what we say” might “instead…be worth considering” in place of an essay about those injustices. While these flaws I found weren’t without merit—I do find that there are hints of complacency in Strong’s language, as if women have to accept and adapt to a hostile world instead of making that world benign—the fervor in which I hunted for them baffled me once I took a moment to myself. I agreed with Strong; why then was I looking for flaws with such hostility?

The crux of my inarticulate feelings (resentment? irritation? internalized misogyny?) occurs during Strong’s last two lines: “Every time my friend tells me that I’m strong, I don’t know how to tell her that I’m only strong because [my friends have] been here through the mess of all this anger. Because of the space we’ve made together, all these years.” These two lines function as the conclusion to Strong’s piece, but they leave me feeling confused. I liked what Strong had to sayI agree, I am furious that I live in a world that treats women this waybut the response she ends with feels wrong. Strong posits that her relationships with her friends are a space she has carved for herself as a result of the anger she feels at an unjust world, and while I am genuinely happy that she has found a balm to this anger in something so positive, it’s simply not enough for me. I find it absurd to equate relationships with physical space when the tangible is made so very important in this world, one which seems to try at every turn to whittle and constrain the female body. It’s not Strong’s fault, but I’m tired of hearing Margaret Atwood chanting, “Male fantasies, male fantasies” in my head every time I look in the mirror. Settling for making space for yourself via relationships feels like settling, and I think we’ve had enough of that to try and make a solution of it now.

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