On Anger

I’m angry.

And I’m angry that I’m angry. And I’m angry that I’m angry that I’m angry. Why such convoluted phrasing?  Because I’m a woman and I therefore cannot be angry.

If I am, there are articles for the man in my life to “handle it.”  Apparently, according to the editors at Menshealth, I’m supposed to be placated by a massage, him doing housework, or some other inane thing.  And for some anger, that helps.  Elizabeth Stewart writes about this in the Daily Mail, how angry she is that she has to take a disproportionate share of the household chores.

No disrespect to Elizabeth Stewart, but not all anger stems from inequitable distribution of chores. My anger is supposed to be placated by small, trivial things, as if my anger is small and trivial.  It never occurs that I may be legitimately angry, angry at things larger than my nonexistent man for checking out the waitress.  And because society cannot fathom me being legitimately angry, we have no way of dealing with it.

I having internalized these expectations do not know how to be angry.  I don’t think I can even scream.  I’ve tried.  I’ve opened my mouth and no sound comes out.  If someone holds me up at gunpoint or tries to rape me, I don’t think I could even scream for help, for fear of being a disturbance or unladylike.  And that is the most terrifying aspect of all.

Like a good lady, I’ve tried to handle my anger in silent ways.  I’ve written angry letters.  I’ve thrown a tshirt across the room when no-one could see.   As it crumples when it hits the floor, I am ashamed.  I am horrified that I am capable of such nonexistent destruction.  And that sheer anger terrifies me-what’s wrong with me that I throw things?  Good God, I am such a barbarian!

But anger, expressed in private, is a legitimate emotion.  Why is it that as I a woman I can skip in giddiness, jump for joy, cry during that really annoying Sarah McLaughlin commercial with the sad animals, eat chocolate on a broken heart, snap because I am irritated and label it PMS, but I cannot be angry?  I can be irritated, sad, happy, annoyed.  However, I cannot be angry.

Possibly because these words, these emotions are light, insubstantial and temporary.  Anger on the other hand, is a strong word for a strong emotion.  Anger implies permanence.  Anger implies change.  Anger is legitimate. Perhaps that is why the Myth of the Angry Feminist is such a deterrent.

Anger from a non-dominant social group is a threat to the status quo.  Angry women are shamed into keeping sweet, often holding back resentment until it boils over, leaving the ones around them clueless, asking, where did that come from?    Angry black men are the threats to the dominant racial hierarchy.  Angry black women are doubly shamed.

Men get angry too.  Cis-bodied, straight white men can be angry.  But very few articles deal with angry men.  It is seen as an emotion, something they go through when something goes wrong, not a derogatory character trait.

Men are angry when a woman insults them, when their significant other cheats, when they get fired.  If they are angry because of traumatic experiences in their past, we, as a society understand this.   We understand and sympathize with Vietnam Veterans or veterans of old wars when they break out offensive stereotypes and colorful profanity.  “It’s just how he grew up,” we say.  “He doesn’t mean it, but the war changed him,” we say, ignoring the racist comments.

Angry men are angry because something happened to them, and we treat their anger as an emotion, not a defining character trait.  In contrast, angry women are angry because something is wrong with them.  Even if they have been abused, being angry at their abuser is labeled as allowing the abuser to retain too much power over them.  It is not considered healthy.  Angry victims are supposed to forgive and forget, and stop being so loud and so there.  We, as a society, want to go living our lives without the unpleasantness of rape and sexual assault, of child abuse, of discrimination, domestic violence and prejudice.  Anger forces us to acknowledge that these problems occur and that we can’t ignore them away.  No wonder it scares us so much.

But anger is real, and anger is a healthy response to injustice.  If women are people, then we as a society should allow women the same freedom to be angry that we allow men.  Anna Holmes at the Washington Post wrote, [anger] “is regularly used to discredit and dismiss serious and real frustrations by women.”  It is time that we allow women to start screaming out loud, and to acknowledge their anger as a valid emotion, not an undesirable character trait.

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