‘We will march side by side and demand a bigger table’: Anger as dignity claim

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Martha Nussbaum’s (2016) account of anger limits its utility in part due to its vengeful and narcissistic aspects; she notes that even when anger rightfully identifies a harm or unjust act, it too frequently represents a desire for retribution or status degradation of the offender. I think this viewpoint is incomplete, because it reduces human relations and status to a zero-sum tussle: I can only gain status if you (at least theoretically) lose it. While Nussbaum does not explore a connection between human dignity and anger, I argue that feminist political uses of anger are often premised on exactly this sort of idea. To be specific, the use of dignity that is present in feminist political anger is not of the zero-sum variety (women gain status through men’s loss of status), but as a claim of worth. Feminist political anger argues that women count too, and women deserve dignity and respect: first, as a kind of personal or bodily dignity, and second as an assertion of political identity or autonomy. It is the absence of their dignity and recognition that is the injury; their rage is an assertion of presence, a demand for dignity and recognition. This demand does not require the lessening of another’s dignity.

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