They say hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, but I argue that hell hath no fury like a woman being forced to fulfill outdated societal roles. At least, that’s what the latest internet trend is alluding to. Auguste Toulmouche’s 1866 painting “The Hesitant Fiancée” is making the rounds on TikTok FYPs around the globe, inviting women of all ages to not only marvel at and meme-ify the bride’s pissed off scowl, but see themselves in it, too.
Women’s rage, although stifled, has been portrayed in art for centuries. There are classic paintings, such as Elisabetta Sirani’s 1659 depiction of a woman, Timoclea, throwing her rapist down a well and Artemisia Gentileschi’s 17th century painting of Judith beheading Holofernes, and more modern depictions such as Megan Fox devouring men in Jennifer’s Body and Beyoncé smashing a car window in the music video for “Hold Up.” Although anger is often a catalyst to create art, to be a woman — especially to be a woman of color — is to be forced to suppress that anger, to stay quiet and calm in the face of injustice. These works give us permission to acknowledge and express our rage.
But “The Hesitant Fiancée” is a different kind of art with a different kind of message that’s resonating on TikTok. It’s not depicting the revenge for a heinous crime or gruesome violence, but rather the irritation that comes with the expectation of filling these often involuntary roles that women know all too well — the caregiver, the maid, the nurturer, the bride. “She’s theoretically getting something she should want, and yet she’s just looking irritated,” Soraya Chemaly, author of Rage Becomes Her: The Power Of Women’s Anger, tells Refinery29. “She actively looks exasperated with everything around her. I think that resonates with people, especially women, who are so often socialized not to say that feeling … but they feel it in their bones and in their posture and in their expressions.” It’s not a murderous anger, but one where the exasperation cuts so deep all you can really do is, well, give that look. “If the title had been, ‘The Unhappy Dress Buyer,’ I just don’t think it would strike a chord the same way,” says Chemaly.
Women — again, especially women of color — have been forced to carry their anger with grace throughout history, in both personal and public situations. An angry woman is no more than a hysteric, a shrew, a person to be punished. But the reluctant bride does not mask her anger — instead, she sits in it and refuses to put on a happy face just to appease everyone who flocks around her. In recent years, there have been an insurmountable number of circumstances to be angry about, from the 2016 US election to the #MeToo movement to the mishandling of the pandemic. According to the BBC’s analysis of data from …read more