Girl, Uninterrupted, Unhinged, and Unapologetic
I’m fifteen, sitting in my room, watching Gone Girl—a movie that advertised itself as a revolutionary murder mystery. I love murder mysteries. And, soon, I would come to love the film’s protagonist, Amy Dunne, because that’s when I hear it:
“Cool girl. Men always use that, don’t they? As their defining compliment: ‘She’s a cool girl.’ Cool girl is hot. Cool girl is game. Cool girl is fun. Cool girl never gets angry at her man. She only smiles in a chagrined, loving manner.”
I listen, transfixed, as Amy preaches the absolutely revolutionary monologue. As a dramatic teenage girl who was going through typical teenage relationship issues—my boyfriend forgot my birthday—I had never felt so vindicated by a monologue.
That day, I was bluntly awakened to the power of deciding you’re not going to nod in quiet acceptance and instead to just straight up lose your sh*t. Amy Dunne is the blueprint for female rage and unhinged women—I mean, the lady faked her own death to get back at her deadbeat husband.
And you know what? I am an Amy Dunne apologist. In fact, I think she was justified. Because at its core, female rage is not just a superficial way for women to act out, it’s a powerful vehicle for change and critique, and I defend my girls.
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‘Girl’ has slowly become a prefix these days—dinner, economy, math—everything seems to be girl. Women are entering their ‘bitch era.’ Female rage is all the rage. The trope of the ‘unhinged woman’ is steadily rising in popularity, and illustrates shifting attitudes towards gender expression.
Popularizing terms such as ‘female rage’ and ‘unhinged women’ is not about excusing messy or toxic behaviour—it’s about creating spaces of acceptance for women to just be.
It’s no secret that women have long been confined to docile roles in which they are expected to be submissive, gentle, and nurturing. This rigid definition of womanhood does not encapsulate the lived experiences of women and has caused a lot of anger for those who don’t fit this mould.
When you see an unhinged man in a book it’s Patrick Bateman from American Psycho or the narrator from Fight Club, and everyone talks about their resistance but never qualifies their rage as male. Maybe this says something about how displays of rage are normalized for men. However, a woman raging isn’t automatically expressing female rage. Female rage needs that qualifier—female—to distinguish it as its own concept.
Female rage is deeply responsive and deeply felt. It’s a rage which has been building up for months if not years. It’s a force rarely seen, but when it comes around, it’s powerful.
It’s the rage felt from being human, and the rage we feel for not being able to express our humanity.
Seeing depictions of female rage and unhinged women is awe-inspiring. It’s girlbosses doing girlboss things, acting in ways people respect because they’re standing up for themselves. Who doesn’t love to see a woman completely lose it?
I think that’s why the trope rose to popularity so quickly—why it’s so fundamentally powerful and creates such compelling characters.
Here are my favourite literary depictions of female rage and the unhinged woman
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The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
“The floor seemed wonderfully solid. It was comforting to know I had fallen and could fall no farther.”
Plath’s magnum opus conjures a superbly mystical yet achingly human narrative. Set against the backdrop of the 1960s, the bildungsroman offers a harrowing examination of the human psyche.
Aspiring poet Esther Greenwood isn’t quite sure how she fits into this world. As she deals with the typical struggle of a teen-turning adult, Esther navigates who she wants to become in a world defined by rigid norms and conformity.
Plath’s narrative is ironic and acerbic, tackling deep emotional concepts with a sharp wit. Throughout the novel, Esther deals with numerous mental health crises which read like an allegorical representation of Plath’s own very real struggles.
The Bell Jar is more than witty yet delicate prose—it’s a profound exploration into the human psyche. And a quintessential depiction of an unhinged woman.
The Bell Jar is a genre-establishing work, one which tackles the struggles of the female condition in a way which inspires me, and other readers, to be liberal in expressing our brand of femininity. It’s Plath’s self-referential novel which depicts her struggles with conformity and compliance.
Esther doesn’t care about marrying or following a traditional route of life, instead finding herself paralyzed by the vast options out there.
Plath’s adept use of metaphor in the novel’s namesake represents the fragility of her own mental state. “Because wherever I sat—on the deck of a ship or at a street café in Paris or Bangkok—” Plath writes, “I would be sitting under the same glass bell jar, stewing in my own sour air.”
Esther is unstoppable: she doesn’t care about being likeable, she doesn’t cater to men, and she exhibits behaviours that are morally questionable yet completely justifiable.
2005 COVER OF THE BELLl JAR (1963).
Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen
“Was sanity just a matter of dropping the act?”
Susanna Kaysen’s memoir details her 18-month stay at McClean Hospital upon her diagnosis of borderline personality disorder (BPD). Kaysen’s meditations on life capture such a candid picture of the human experience that fiction alone—unpopular opinion—can’t seem to.
Girl, Interrupted questions our notions on how we approach sanity and what it means to be the unhinged woman. After spending 15 minutes with her, Kaysen’s psychiatrist diagnosed her and sent her to an asylum. This was back in the ‘60s when patients were often diagnosed with BPD simply because other treatments didn’t work. Our current most effective treatment method is dialectic behaviour therapy, which wasn’t developed until the late ‘70s.
Throughout the memoir, which reads as a sort of manifesto to assert Kaysen’s sanity, she accesses the female rage—rage over the constant undermining of her emotions, rage over being girl, interrupted.
“This time I read the title of the painting: Girl Interrupted at Her Music. Interrupted at her music: as my life had been, interrupted in the music of being seventeen.”
Kaysen’s poignant portrayal of exasperation and despair resonates with a wide audience of readers.
COVER OF GIRL, INTERRUPTED (1993).
In this memoir, I found a powerful reminder that there are limits to how much you can suppress your voice. The repeated calls for compliance can be immensely frustrating, and while Kaysen was able to pen her memoir, many women are forced to endure the silence.
Most importantly, Kaysen encourages readers to challenge social norms.
“One of my teachers told me I was a nihilist,” she writes. “He meant it as an insult but I took it as a compliment.”
The New Me by Halle Butler
“People took comfort, unknowingly, in the anger that filled them, the anger that took them out of themselves and into another dimension—a hallucination of the perfect future.”
Butler’s The New Me is a dark comedy of female rage. The novel’s misanthropic antiheroine, Mille, embodies all that the unhinged female is: distinctly dislikable and morally grey. Millie has superficial, unfulfilling relationships with friends whom she secretly hates and fantasizes about telling her boss off in her spare time.
Stuck oscillating between various soul-sucking temp jobs, Millie has millennial burnout syndrome. She works halfheartedly, despising her role as a cog in the capitalist machine.
Butler’s protagonist has every right to be angry, especially as she inevitably gets fired from her job and is at ground zero.
The New Me is distinctly nihilistic as Millie endures her Sisyphean struggle, but in this void that Millie is up against, there’s also freedom:
“She was no longer at a part of her life where things changed. Her actions from here on out would carry more permanence, could no longer be swapped out for something new. Realizing this, she felt panic, deep and wide and boundless, and then she felt release.”
While Butler doesn’t reinvent the wheel, her dry humour and blunt descriptions capture something real. The New Me doesn’t try to hide the banality of the characters’ reality behind flowery descriptions and metaphors. Instead, Butler tells it like it is.
And sometimes the ‘it’ in question just straight-up sucks.
COVER OF THE NEW ME (2019).
What ties these books together is the harrowing exploration of identity and the process of letting go of social norms and saying “f*ck anyone who stands in my way.” The freedom associated with that level of self-expression is revolutionary, and all these strong women create the blueprint for other girls to go wild once in a while.
Whether it’s Esther saying she won’t be who everyone wants her to be, or Susanna questioning the treatment of women’s psyche, or Millie just generally saying screw everything, these women spit out their anger instead of swallowing it down.
The expression of female rage is liberating. It has the voice of every woman who cannot speak out behind it. It’s the expression of what Plath meant when she said “I took a deep breath and listened to the old brag of my heart; I am, I am, I am.”
And even if it is simply women being messy and toxic, fine. Women deserve spaces to go wild.
I’ve spent my life being a very emotional and highly sensitive person. As I grew up, I always heard that I should swallow my anger and walk away. That I should be the bigger person and not react. That I should be untouched by emotion.
After a while, you get tired of holding back your anger. You can’t bear to be unemotional, unaffected, unbothered. You just want to feel.
Sometimes, you just want to be a girl unhinged, uninterrupted, and unapologetic.
Ella—short for Ellisif—is a passionate English and Liberal Studies student in her second year. She enjoys fashion and Lana Del Rey, and she spends her free time reading, writing, and thrifting.