Fly on the Wall—International Women’s Day & Emma Goldman

An Inquiry into Ineffectual Venting: What Could Go Wrong?

Fly on the Wall—International Women’s Day & Emma Goldman

On International Women’s Day, March 8th, we might note one of the most vehement voices of early 20th century North American radical politics: Emma Goldman.  Her anarchist philosophies envisioned a world that embraced socioeconomic equality without either the heavy hands of industrial corporations or government bureaucracy.  For Goldman, taking a strong position with one’s feelings combined with the adoption of a strong position in one’s mind.  Her alchemy of passion and intellect led to “fiery protest.”  This makes her a strong woman to be admired (Goldman, 392).  As students we can never underestimate the force of our passions to inflame our learning minds.

Goldman believed that the human spirit was essentially one of mutual cooperation.  Embodying enlightenment ideals of education and liberty, she was certain that, when set free to discover its natural course, our species would evolve a society that functioned as would a loving family.  When our personal lives and morals extend to the public realm good things happen; by contrast, “once you have donned the garb of ‘obedience’, the ‘voluntary’ soldier becomes as much a part of the slaughter machine as his brother who was forced into military service” (397).  Impersonal and coercive public institutions here seem as a detriment to progress; we at AU might note our freedom compared to our brick and mortar peers who are inundated with entrenched cultural forces that seek to mould their minds.  To be our best requires us to maintain our independent inquiring spirit, presumably.  Goldman expressed a political hope that when we retain our nurturing tendencies we will become as midwives to the emergence of a kinder, gentler, world where free thought takes precedence over free markets.

Many of us at AU have women in our lives and pasts who’ve pointed the way to a happier and saner personal and political future; International Women’s Day is all about appreciating women in all their roles, including wisdom dispenser and political commentator (few are the mothers who don’t have a take on the current events they’ve lived through!).  And meanwhile the personal is invariably political; often our being born means our mother was starting a different life path than if we’d never occurred.  To this end we want to make the most of our academic opportunities.  Our studies embody a possibility to imagine a better academic future for ourselves as well as to see the world in new ways.  In a sense we’re all activists for our own better future.

Goldman, like us, lived through times where war was foisted upon the world in remarkably similar ways.  World War I, in brief, was a small conflict that became unimaginably devastating (and most of all, devastating to the hopeful spirit for a modern future of peace and prosperity) as leaders accepted alliances that drove them to participate in the carnage.  This devastated families as love took a back seat to violence.  With clairvoyance and passion, she noted that people “could not help witnessing the spread of insane, motiveless hatred among the peoples of Europe” (393).  Her conclusion was as natural as it was shrill: “the workers must learn that they have nothing to expect from their masters.  The latter, in America as well as in Europe, hesitate not a moment to send hundreds of thousands of the people to their death if their interests demand it.” (396).  Stark realities to assess and her conclusion was clear: opposing war in one’s heart while participating with one’s actions was unacceptable: “The determined antimilitarist is the only pacifist.  The ordinary pacifist merely moralizes; the antimilitarist acts, he (sic) refuses to be ordered to kill his brothers” (396).  Sometimes the rubber of words hits the road of behavioural change.

From strong sentiments expressed out of righteous rage we find ourselves today in similar times: how can we pay homage to strong women in history in ways that do more than merely mouth their sentiments and platitudes?  Mere venting only goes so far, presumably to release pent up anger.  And it turns out that venting itself is inherently unhelpful as a discursive tool.  Here’s a sample of conclusions from studies on the subject:

“Disclosure of emotional facts and feelings to the social surrounding was generally considered as a simple process of emotional release.  The empirical data reviewed in this article invalidate this simplistic view” (Rime, et al, online).

“Results consistently find that those who vent do not show lower subsequent levels of aggression; in fact, their scores for anger and aggression end up slightly higher after venting.”

“Scores on anxiety questionnaires showed that those who vented their anxiety felt anxious two months after the attacks and this anxiety was around 50 percent more intense at the four-month mark.”

“Researchers found that most people who read and write rants online experience a negative shift in mood afterward.” (qts in Cornwall & Fraga, online).

This research suggests that Goffman was right in that thoughtful action must follow impassioned word.  As students, no matter our discipline, discourse and assignments unite fact with feeling and emotion with intellect.  Swimming, as we do, in a stew of toxic news and nefarious geopolitical ambitions, it behooves us to show that we’ve learned from brave women in history how to do more than vent.  At the least we can utilize our scholastic skills to express an understanding of the world and society in a way that provokes thought.  Really pausing to see all sides of a concept is what critical thinking is all about: it’s a skill we gain and hone as we mow down those AU courses.  We can be grateful to women who’ve influenced and motivated us by their minds and their leadership.

Cornwall, G.  & Fraga, A.  (2022).  ‘Stop Venting! It doesn’t Work: As One Researcher Put It, Venting Anger is Like Using Gasoline to Put Out a Fire.’  Retrieved from
Goffman, E.  (1917).  ‘The Promoters of the War Mania: March 1917’.  Anarchy! An Anthology of Emma Goldman’s Mother Earth.  Washington D.C.: Counterpoint.
Rime et al.  (2020).  ‘Intrapersonal, Interpersonal, and Social Outcomes of the Social Sharing of Emotion’.  Retrieved from


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