The image of the angry woman is vivid: ferocious eyebrows, a scathing tongue, and eyes ablaze with fire as she vets out whoever has wronged her. Perhaps she’s discovered her husband with a mistress, laying waste to the homewrecker in her bed. That is the familiar woman in local and international media alike.
However, this age-old archetype of female anger is but a shallow one that has already run its course. Women do scream, cry, slap, and pull hair, but their rage, in actuality, is oftentimes much more deeply rooted and can take on multiple forms other than melodramatic outbursts in pivotal scenes. “This (portrayal) only perpetuates the prevalence of machismo in our media and our culture at large. Women are reduced to being seen as weaker, over-dramatic with no real grit to show,” film director Gabriela Serrano opines.
A new era of women in media has begun, one that divulges how complex the anger of a woman can actually be. It may be startling to those accustomed to the soap opera mistress catfight, but as the saying goes, when it rains, it pours. When a woman is truly enraged, it’s a torrential flow bursting from extended pressure.
Tied in a box
Women have always been stereotyped as overly sentimental individuals whose emotions tend to overpower them, leading to theatrical outbursts—that are often amplified by the media, especially when portraying female rage. In the words of filmmaker and drama student Denli Chavez, the media tends to soften female rage in a way that makes people think that a woman’s anger is purely caused by her emotional nature.
Alongside society’s preconceived stereotypes of women, the usual depiction of female rage derives from the systems that bleed through a patriarchal society. Chavez suggests that this caters to those who subscribe to patriarchal concepts feeding on the vulnerability of women and the fragility of their emotions.
On the other hand, Serrano believes that it goes all the way back to the Philippines’ storied pre-colonial past. “There’s been a culture of antagonizing women that goes far back in our folklore [such as the manananggal] that manifests itself in media by depicting angry women in a dramatic and frightening light,” she states. She also suspects that it is to assert male dominance, believing that “so much of Filipino women’s feelings and decisions drive our daily life and social structure…in the Philippines as a largely matriarchal society.”
With the constant reuse of the same female rage formula, there leaves a lot of room for exploration, especially in Philippine media. For Serrano, there are yet to be films that realistically delve into the female psyche. “[Local female rage media lacks] the woman’s inner world and internal dialogue and all the intense emotions that come with it, as a major driving force in the plots we see,” she muses.
In all its manifestations
Although there is still a long way to go about dismantling the media’s notion of female rage, there have been efforts to showcase the true multidimensional nature of a woman, her anger, and her capability beyond vulnerability—made possible by the women who braved the male-dominated media industry. “There has been a bigger focus on how [female] rage builds up rather than just showing gratuitous outbursts and their aftermath. We are finally starting to see why women are angry,” Serrano declares.
Take the film Promising Young Woman, which Chavez reveals as a female rage portrayal she particularly liked. “[The character is] not screaming…but she’s taking her revenge in a more calculated way, which [is] another form of rage.” This type of anger is not uncommon as well, and may even appeal better to the audience, as it shows a different dimension to a woman’s wrath—expressed in the most subtle and cunning ways. Local media isn’t a stranger to this either, with the likes of Maja Salvador’s captivating performance as a vengeful heiress in Wildflower.
Less is indeed more, however. Sometimes the best way to approach female rage is to actually let it be—where the rage is not cutthroat but is rather silent and waiting—like a slowly tensing rubber band.
Serrano believes that this is why the film Moral, directed by Marilou Diaz-Abaya, stands out so uniquely; it focuses instead on how the frustration builds up within women’s everyday lives. “I feel like this ‘mundane rage’ did more to change their individual trajectories and in fact help them understand themselves better as women,” she shares. “This rage is healthy and should be felt, no matter how small or big.”
To tread deep waters
Beyond accurately depicting the layered composition of female rage, the roots of superficial portrayal are rotten to the core; there must be a foundational restructuring of how women are portrayed in media, to show female characters as multidimensional and that they can—and should—take up more space in film and television.
Currently, there is more of an effort to open doors to female filmmakers and writers alike in the field of film and media. Chavez relays that although in her own circles, she sees a keen understanding of the importance of proper female depiction, she knows that isn’t the popular case back home. “Sadly, I feel like the Philippines is a long way from those conversations. But I know and I’m hopeful that it will catch up,” she affirms.
If women are to be included in any form of media, Serrano stresses that “directors, writers, and actors—female or male—have a responsibility to truly understand female characters.” Moreover, the presence of women creatives behind the scenes is extremely crucial to build accurate storytelling—especially those of women. She adds, “They should spend enough time and research with the women and communities they seek to depict, and most importantly, involve as many women as possible in their creative teams and productions.”
Women and their emotions are more than just plot devices or signs of a pivotal moment in a man’s story. They can and deserve to be told independently, in entirety, and to fill screens with their intensity. Although the media industry needs the constant reminder that women are powerful, their stories are strong enough to reform the foundations of society and brilliant enough to light the path for generations to come.