The Rage Project

Abigail Nelson

2018 - Ongoing

New York City, New York, United States; Charlotte, North Carolina, United States

"There are many kinds of power, used and unused, acknowledged or otherwise. The erotic is a resource within each of us that lies in a deeply female and spiritual plane, firmly rooted in the power of our unexpressed or unrecognized feeling." - Audre Lorde, The Uses of the Erotic

The relationship between women and anger is a historically contentious one. See a truly angry woman and you see the sweeping of a thousand moments of repressed anger onto one face. See this and society responds with fear. Too often we are taught to sweep the mess under the rug and, rather than learning to tap into our fury, we instead learn to keep our cool. In 2016, a study* showed that it took people longer to correctly identify the gender of a female face with an expression of anger, and when correctly identified, the expression was read as more hostile than in our male counterparts. Anger, for women, carries the weight of thousands of years of misrepresentation--images of the witch, the bitch, the angry black woman, the "hell hath no fury like a woman scorned."

When I approach women with this project I often encounter a tentative curiosity, quickly followed by a disclaimer: I'm not good at expressing anger. I ask every woman I shoot to consider what is making them angry, how they usually express their anger, and what they feel the implications of expressing this anger are. Each photograph gives space for female embodiment of rage--for women to listen to, express, acknowledge and accept their rage--to understand that it is not destructive but productive. To capture and catalogue female rage in its many forms, in its strength, is to show that there is beauty in the mess.

In an article for the New York Times, Leslie Jamison poignantly writes, "no woman's anger is an island." The Rage Project is evidence of a collective experience of repressed anger as women. The Rage Project is an experiment of catharsis, of long overdue conversations about anger, of my own relationship with anger. Until female rage is no longer revolutionary, whether expressed in the private or public sphere, The Rage Project will continue to be necessary.

*1990 Ulf Dimberg and L.O. Lundquist psychological study

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  • IUD pain

  • The burden of birth control

  • "I've noticed that when I'm really angry, I like to make myself bigger. I need to be higher up, to increase my height even if that means standing on my bed or on steps or something. I think it's about dominance or power, I'm not sure, but it only happens when I'm really mad." Shelley

  • "Swallowed down feelings of unfairness, the bottle gets fuller with poison until the last suppressed drop triggers explosion." Maria

  • Catharsis I

  • Devi II

  • “In my own family I’ve been baited into anger, as if it is a character flaw, a sign of weakness, where instead I need to be either cheerful or composed. Embracing my anger is a journey into my past and present, reliving brushed off traumas and dealing with the world we’re living it. I express anger through my hands, through tension and gesticulations, and I never realized it.” Gabriella

  • “This is me releasing the stresses of the past few months and the lack of understanding I received. My 8 months of thesis research, 80 pages, a month long research trip was reduced to “that’s not even a page a day.” My triumphs and exhaustion simple and easy in the eyes of people who have never done that themselves. So this is me exhausted and broken and pissed off, my hands strangling and ripping at nothing.” Gabriella

  • "Growing up, displaying anger was discouraged. It was 'ugly' and 'unladylike' and 'immature.' Learning not to show it felt, at times, constricting."

  • "As a mother I didn't want to 'squash' my own daughter's emotions, but over time I came to realize that learning to control your emotions is crucial because without control we can't communicate and without communication we cannot be understood." Mother and Daughter

  • Catharsis II