I have always had a difficult relationship with anger. I wasn’t sure whether that was because I knew someone who had anger issues when I was young or if there was just something wrong with me. It turns out it’s because I’m a woman. Women being angry is seen as wrong. I had started to suspect this gendered distinction between how anger is dealt with the more I understood the world.
There are all kinds of excuses for this. Boys have more testosterone so they can’t help it. Of course, in general boys will be boys. Don’t forget girls are annoying so really it’s all our fault. There was something innately masculine about anger that made me feel gross when I experienced it. I was a girl and being angry is not a girly thing to do.
I was used to seeing girls and women being mocked when they were angry. They were seen as overreacting and out of control. On the other hand, guys getting angry was normal and everyone should just stop provoking them. I’ve seen guys tell their girlfriends that they are cute when they are angry. It isn’t romantic. It’s just demeaning and invalidates their feelings. I was surprised when my self-destructive behaviour (mainly self-harm) was linked to anger. I hadn’t seen it that way. But really I was angry and the only way I knew how to deal with it was taking it out on myself.
So these thoughts about gender and anger have been building up for a long time. Then I can across the ideal book to explore it further – Rage Becomes Her: The Power of Women’s Anger by Soraya Chemaly. It is an in-depth discussion about how women are denied from expressing anger while men are given a free pass to express their anger to the detriment of women. This really doesn’t make sense given women have so much to be angry about.
During the month of International Women’s Day, our anger has been sparked by the murder of Sarah Everard and the dangers women face on a day to day basis. There are far too many people who don’t respect this anger and think that women have nothing to be worried about. That is despite research finding 80% of all women have been sexually harassed was released in the same month. Women are judged on their reaction to trauma when they need to be given the space to heal as I discuss in my piece on victim responses.
When it comes down to it, society doesn’t like angry women because it makes them look ugly. It doesn’t fit with feminity, passivity and the role of pleasing men. Men react badly to even slight signs of aggression in women when they would look past it in other men. Such a dominant emotion is not desirable for women even though women are the gender that is allowed to express other emotions more.
I reject that notion entirely. I’ll be angry when my anger is justified. I’ll express it healthily and I’ll use it to challenge these destructive ideas about gender.