‘You’ve always been an angry young woman’ a friend of my Dad’s recently said to me on finding out that I was writing a book about the injustices of Britain’s housing crisis. I think it was meant kindly, as a compliment but it belied a sneer.
The implication was that I should stick to thudding around my bedroom in a teenage rage with Meredith Brooks’ Bitch blaring in private and get excited about acceptable stuff like interiors and holidays in public.
But, do you know what? I am angry. I am very angry - angry that our society is so unequal, angry that I was sexually assaulted when I was younger, angry that I was once sexually harassed so badly at work that I left a job, angry that I was made to feel small, angry that other women have experienced similar things and worse, angry that they still experience them.
However, anger only gets you so far.
The Young Women’s Trust (YWT) – a charity which supports young women on low or now pay – has just released a new report – ‘It’s still a rich man’s world’ - which finds that almost one year on from the start of the #MeToo movement, 32 per cent of young women don’t know how to report sexual harassment at work while 24 per cent say that they would be reluctant to do so for fear of losing their job. And, despite the introduction of gender pay gap reporting, 18 per cent say they are illegally paid less than their male colleagues for doing the same work.
The YWT’s report also found that young women are more likely to be on low pay – their job security has decreased, and debt levels have gone up – 58 per cent of young women aged 25 to 30 said it is a ‘real struggle’ to make their cash last to the end of the month. And, more than a quarter said that their financial situation has got worse in the last year and, as a result, 44 per cent said they were worried about their mental health.
The report shows that young women are experiencing a crisis in mental health and lists work as one of the main causes. 53 per cent of young women said they were worried about the future and 52 per cent said that their work has had a negative impact on their mental health.
I recently interviewed a 24-year-old single mum. She works part-time in a household name supermarket chain and was sexually harassed by one of her male managers who has made lewd comments and tried to touch her without consent. Because she is on a zero-hours contract she fears saying something because she thinks it’s very likely that she would be told not to bother coming back. ‘My mental health isn’t great to be honest’ she told me ‘I had post-natal depression which was hard…I got over that and went back to work and then this’.
She is angry, but mostly she’s anxious and I can tell you for a fact that she hasn’t shared her experience on Twitter. She doesn’t have time and worries she wouldn’t be taken seriously anyway and hasn’t told anyone at work about her mental health struggles or the fact that someone in a position of power has been behaving inappropriately and making her uncomfortable.
‘Because I have anxiety anyway, I struggle,’ she explained ‘especially being around men because of stuff that happened when I was younger so it’s really hard…every female in my life I just say to them “be careful”.’
The reality is that #MeToo hasn’t changed the day to day realities of being a woman for most of us. Young women are also more likely to be on zero-hours contracts, this means they have less power when it comes to raising a complaint because their employment isn’t stable.
Despite #MeToo, despite tough talk from the government on gender pay gaps and despite bold gestures from women in public life like the BBC’s Carrie Gracie – change is painfully slow and anger, however righteous it is, does not automatically convert into progress.
Women’s anger is not the same as men’s anger. When a woman is angry she has ‘let herself down’ and is judged harshly for doing so, as Serena Williams has been. When a woman is angry, she is irrational, she wants too much, expects too much or complains too much. When a man is angry, he is just, strong and powerful.
Women’s anger can be felt everywhere you go right now. I keep seeing books about it – Rebecca Traister’s Good and Mad or Soraya Chemaly’s Rage Becomes Her. Tarana Burke’s #MeToo movement went more than viral because of it, now it exists as much as much offline as it does online with women all over the world coming together to share their stories and their dissatisfaction on Twitter, IRL and in group WhatsApp chats. It has fuelled debate about the gender pay gap, provoking the BBC’s Carrie Gracie to forcefully refuse the status quo of being paid less than her male colleagues.
It’s all connected, but Carrie Gracie is an exception, not the rule.
Using a hashtag to share our struggles might be a release but, by its nature, because it involves social media it is fleeting. Online we share our anger, pain, sadness and trauma – people are kind for a moment – and, then, things move on. Within a few hours (days if you’re lucky) the conversation is back to Brexit, Donald Trump, Russian spies and what on earth is going on in The Bodyguard, but the problem you shared is far from solved – that takes time and demands serious support.
The YWT’s report comes at a crucial point in a year that has been celebrated as a ‘turning point’ for women who are universally ‘good and mad’. The report is here to remind us that not everyone can afford to be angry – anger doesn’t pay the bills, it doesn’t help you keep a job, it doesn’t negotiate your pay rise and it doesn’t help you heal from harassment.
Anger is an emotion. It is also a reaction. When humans are angry we are responding to a threat to our physical or emotional safety. Women’s anger is so often dismissed as irrational, but the truth is that it is one of the most rational responses you can have to something or someone that threatens your wellbeing. Anger is the emotional energy your body generates to help you fight that threat.
But, anger is not a permanent state of being. At some point, anger has to be converted into action. The fact that young women still don’t feel that they can report sexual harassment at work makes it clear that there isn’t enough support. Twitter is not the world’s human resources department.
There is no doubt that #MeToo has helped women’s anger become a public conversation. The question is whether it can become a true catalyst for political change. For that to happen, we need simple stuff like job security, better maternity packages and support for women who face discrimination to reinforce the conversation.