Modeling Wise Angers Online: Generation Z Activists and Their Digital Rhetorics of Feminist Rage

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“Modeling Wise Angers Online: Generation Z Activists and Their Digital Rhetorics of Feminist Rage” works at the nexus of feminist theory, digital media studies, and rhetoric to investigate how teen and young adult activists use 21st century social media technologies to challenge the sexist, racist, ageist, and ableist anger norms that disenfranchise young women in the public sphere. Each chapter theorizes what I call a “wise anger” strategy that its principal subject deploys to generate rhetorical agency for angry girl activists and change oppressive anger norms. The activists I examine are Greta Thunberg, Thandiwe Abdullah, and Shina Novalinga. While their causes range from the climate crisis to racial justice and Indigenous rights, and their primary platforms in my case studies are Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok, respectively, they all make innovative, strategic use of digital affordances to reframe young women’s anger in public discourse. Examining datasets I compiled from the activists’ social media posts between 2018-2022, I use grounded theory and rhetorical analysis to identify patterns in the anger expressions in the multimodal, multilayered posts. I read the patterns through feminist and Black feminist theories of oppressive anger norms (Jaggar, Ahmed, Traister, Chemaly, Lorde, Cooper, Judd, Collins), cultural rhetorical frameworks (Powell et al.; Karetak, Tester, and Tagalik) and youth activist rhetorical frameworks (Applegarth, Hesford, Taft, Dingo). This dissertation is premised on the understanding that emotions have a biological basis, but are constructed socially, rhetorically, and culturally and thus tend to be scripted in ways that reproduce asymmetrical relations of power (Aristotle, Dixon, Fine, Gross, Harrington, Koerber). Ultimately, I develop a theory of wise anger as an angry response to injustice that is intelligent, informed, constructive, justice-oriented, hope-driven, rational, reasonable, and moral. The wise anger these youth activists model through their digital rhetorics on social media is part of a genealogy of feminist rage that envisions and enacts a more inclusive, more livable world.