ARC Review: Burn It Down Edited by Lilly Dancyger

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Women are angry, and from the #MeToo movement to the record number of women running for political office, they’re finally expressing it. But all rage isn’t created equal. Who gets to be angry? (If there’s now space for cis white women’s anger, what about black women? Trans women?) How do women express their anger? And what will they do with it-individually and collectively?
In Burn It Down, a diverse group of women authors explore their rage-from the personal to the systemic, the unacknowledged to the public. One woman describes her rage at her own body when she becomes ill with no explanation. Another writes of the anger she inherits from her father. One Pakistani American writes, “To openly express my anger would be too American,” and explains why. Broad-ranging and cathartic, Burn It Down is essential reading for any woman who has burned with rage but questioned if she is entitled to express it.

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When I first found out about this book, it was almost a visceral reaction that I HAD to read it. And I was very happy when I got the ARC.

Anger is something that I was proud of not feeling in my younger days, even more so because I was appreciated for being a well behaved girl. But later on in my life, when I started to show my anger in explosive ways especially during some particular depressive episodes, it was always accompanied by a feeling of shame that I had allowed myself to feel that anger. Even now, it’s not an easy emotion for me to reconcile with but I also don’t know what to do with all the rage I sometimes feel.

Hence, this book is something that I really needed to read. These 22 women share their devastating and profound and diverse and real stories of feeling angry, suppressing it, suffering because of it and finally reclaiming it so that they could decide how they wanted to express their rage. It’s an extremely powerful collection of essays and I was amazed by how much of myself I saw in these very personal stories – it helped me feel a little less alone and maybe the next time I feel angry, I might decide to react differently.

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I usually write reviews and rate each story in an anthology but that would be very unfair here, so below you can find what I understood and felt while reading the stories of these amazing and strong women. If you find that it’s all very long to read, just know that I believe every woman should read this book because I promise you, this is important and you will find some part of yourself in these pages. Highly recommend!!!

CW: Sexual assault, drug abuse, self harm, gaslighting, deadnaming and misgendering of trans women, physical and emotional abuse

Lungs Full of Burning by Leslie Jamison

This essay about the author’s personal experience with anger, always insisting that she felt sadness rather than anger felt very relatable to me because I think I’ve done the same myself. And her insistence that both these emotions aren’t mutually exclusive, that we should be able to express and hone our anger and let it help us fuel our fight for our rights is really invigorating and motivational. She also points out rightly that for some women, it’s a privilege to be able to be restrained in their anger and be lauded for it, while Black Women are unfairly deemed angry and hysterical just for being themselves.

The One Emotion Black Women are Free to Explore by Monet Patrice Thomas

This was such a powerful but painful read, about how the author always had to put fear above her anger because expressing her true emotions as a Black woman would always end up in her losing something or becoming unsafe. These anecdotes of her life show how her being angry while being Black would always be considered more violent and full of attitude rather than a righteous expression of her feelings, and sometimes stopping herself from expressing it is her only choice.

My Body is a Sickness called Anger by Lisa Marie Basile

We often read about how women in pain are considered as liars or being hysterical, instead of diagnosing what’s causing the pain. This is the author’s own story of struggling to make sure her voice is heard and demand a diagnosis while living with debilitating chronic pain of almost her whole body and finally waiting years to get her condition diagnosed. And the author rightly points out that every time we aren’t heard and dismissed, it only fuels our anger which leads to stress ultimately leading to more sickness and this is a cycle that keeps going on. It’s a very harrowing but eye opening read about the need to advocate for ourselves even when the whole world refuses to believe us.

Guilty by Erin Khar

This is the author’s story of how being sexually assaulted in her childhood and never having a way to channel her rage translated into years of feeling guilty and extreme anxiety (for being angry) and suppressing it all under the haze of drugs. And it’s also about her fight to get back up and find better ways to understand her anger and cope with it.

Why We Cry When We Are Angry by Marissa Korbel

I related to this essay so hard because I have encountered the same thing too many times – when I’m angry, it manifests as tears. While we particularly try to suppress them in professional settings because we are automatically assumed to be weak if we let the tears flow, the authors calls for us to stop pushing them down and letting our rage show, either through writing (like her) or even through the tears themselves.

On Transfeminine Anger by Samantha Reidel

This was such an insightful and profoundly personal piece by the author, telling us how she used anger and aggression as a defense mechanism because she didn’t feel comfortable in her own body and just wanted to not feel hurt. But post transition life and being able to live it authentically has definitely helped her, but she also explores how her lessons about anger from pre-transition living as a boy might inform her attitudes towards it in the present. She also calls for solidarity between cis and trans women, rightly pointing out that we can all help each other by understanding different perspectives.

Unbought and Unbossed by Evette Dionne

The author brings great insights into how much intersectionality affects how she has always been perceived by others – being a fat Black woman means that she’ll always be considered the aggressor despite no fault of her own. I totally felt her words when she mentions trying to make herself small and not taking up space so that she isn’t misjudged – it hit me hard because I won’t deny that I have done the same a lot of times. I laud the author’s call to reclaim our anger and use it to fuel our fight against systemic injustices and transgressions, and not feel guilty about taking up space that we deserve.

Rebel Girl by Melissa Febos

As a young politically aware lesbian feminist, the author finds that she is unable to express herself openly and being the victim of bullying and slut shaming further forces her to turn her anger inward. But her story of finding solidarity and meeting like minded teenagers at camp is really amazing and I liked getting to know how it helped her channel her anger into her writing, and not feel hesitant about feeling it.

Hangry Women by Rowan Hisayo Buchanan

I’m amazed by how every essay is hitting some part of me hard, and this one is no different. This is about the author’s struggle with feeling hungry but starving herself because thin bodies are propagated to have more value in our media. And how we are sometimes made to feel ashamed just for wanting to eat more or more frequently. As someone who has starved myself many a times in my life for achieving that thin body, but also feeling ashamed whenever I couldn’t control myself, I totally understand the author’s rage at the horrifying statistics of women dying everyday due to some form of eating disorder.

Enojada by Rios de la Luz

The author tells her story of childhood abuse and how the rage of not being believed by her own mother translated to her anxiety and panic attacks and eroding her trust. And finally she tells the importance of reclaiming her anger and using it to write her own story because it is her right, whether anyone believes her or not.

A Girl, Dancing by Nina St. Pierre

This was another painful but relatable story about how young girls are always expected to take up much more and be mature and understand a lot more than they actually should or are capable, putting an undue burden on them. And when they are unable to live up to these unfair expectations and act out, it’s considered a moral failing and they are punished, rather than trying to understand what’s behind their anger. I totally second the author’s point that young women should be allowed to be themselves rather than try to box them into roles they can’t play.

My Name and My Voice by Reema Zaman

The story of a Bangladeshi immigrant, I connected a lot to this. The author’s explanation of how women’s anger usually borne out of injustice is more noble than a man’s anger born usually out of personal insult and ego hurt really resonated with me. And every instance of when she is asked to be quiet about abuse, when she is told that boys will be boys, and when she makes herself small because we are taught that love is compromise and she has to make everything better for her husband – it all felt too realistic for me to handle and I really wanted to know how she came out of it all.

Inherited Anger by Marisa Siegel

As someone who suffered a lot of emotional abuse at the hands of her drug addict father, the author explains how her anger helped her cut herself off from him and channel it into her writing. But she also explores the idea of how much influence her own anger has on the way she is bringing up her son, wanting him to be secure and never have to suffer like her, but also be able to express freely whatever emotion he feels. This is the first story till now that deals with how the anger might affect across generations and I found her perspective very illuminating.

On the Back Burner by Dani Boss

Wow, every single author’s personal story seems directly like a page from my own life and I truly don’t understand how to process it all. In this the author talks about how we women are more prone to be silent when something wrong has been done to us, but only rage about it later in our head (or in private) or to our trusted female friends. And this is so me because I always vent my anger in a group chat which has all my close girl friends, but never at the actual subject of my anger. And the author’s issues are compounded because of being in peri menopause and she is unsure how to express all her frustrations without badly affecting her children. Definitely a lot to think about.

Basic Math by Meredith Talusan

It is actually surprising how a trans woman who grew up as a boy also internalizes the same sexist norms that all of us girls are conditioned with since childhood. The idea of how we women are asked to minimize our intellect to keep the peace, always try to pose any of our criticisms to a man as a question rather than an assertion even if we know we are right, and how we are considered disruptive if we refuse to accept the sexist status quo – it felt very personal to me because it’s another thing which I have learned over the years (to silence myself, not the other way around) so that I can have some peace of mind in my life. And reading the author’s powerful words makes me question if the peace of my mind is worth all the ways I make myself small.

The Color of Being Muslim by Shaheen Pasha

When the author tells how as a Pakistani-American Muslim woman if she expresses her anger fervently, she would be considered a terrorist in waiting but if she remained passive, she would be considered as an oppressed Muslim, I realized how much tougher it is for her to find an outlet for all her rage, which is compounded by the Islamophobes on one hand, and her own community members on the other hand who shame her for not conforming to their restricted beliefs. I’m glad she found her own path where she could practice her faith while also being an very vocal opponent of everyone who tries to silence her. And it was heartening to see that her daughter is able to live a life with a little less anger despite the kind of world she is living in.

Homegrown Anger by Lisa Factora-Borchers

As a Filipino-American living in small town Ohio, the author’s anger manifests in her writing because it’s not always easy to confront the bullies, misogynists, nationalists. And when she escapes the town which she thought was the reason for all her problems, she realizes that all the racism and white supremacy is prevalent even in bigger cities, it just has different forms. I liked the author’s advise to hone our anger because only anger which is sustained for long periods of time can lead to resistance and growth, and how we can teach the same to our next generations.

Crimes Against the Soul by Sheryl Ring

This was a devastating read. The author might be a practicing lawyer but being trans and lesbian means that everyone else assumes they have the right to misgender her and refuse to even work together in certain instances. Her anger is definitely righteous indignation because when lawyers and judges who are supposed to uphold the constitution and do good for people behave this violently towards their colleague, it’s so hard for her to ever find the proper outlet for it. The term she uses is crushing her soul because they all really are doing that by trying to prove that they get to decide her identity and sexuality, not her.

For Women Who Grew Up on Eggshells by Minda Honey

The author’s story of having to live quietly around a father who was prone to tempers and rages and gaslighting, and years later trying to figure out how to express her anger without hurting him the way he hurt her is very profound and left me with a lot to think about.

No Room for Fear by Megan Stielstra

The author’s story is the nightmare scenario many parents are kids are living in these days – afraid of the next school shooting. The author’s personal experiences with it are harrowing to read about and I was really tensed until she got to the end. And one thing I’m sure, she has every right to be furious about the situation – in fact, we should all be.

Going to War with Myself by Keah Brown

As a disabled Black woman, the author faces a lot of discrimination and mocking throughout her life but channels the anger that she feels towards herself, as if her disability is her fault and it was so full of pain. Her journey to realize that she is a beautiful Black woman like any other and it’s the others who should be ashamed because of their prejudices felt so important to read about, and her assertion that marginalized people should use their anger to change the world for the better instead of waiting for others is excellently put.

So Now What? By Anna Fitzpatrick

There is so much to unpack here – from the author’s rape by someone she trusted to her feeling responsible for defending him because he was usually a nice guy to feeling angry about being unable to find the right vocabulary to describe all her conflicting emotions – it’s a lot to take in. I think she raises the right point when she says that we should concentrate less on trying to rehabilitate the careers and lives of sexual abusers and channel our anger to figure out what the victims and survivors need to move on.

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PS: Thank you to Seal Press and Netgalley for providing me with this advance copy. All opinions expressed here are unbiased and solely mine.

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