I am Mad and I Do Not Feel Bad (About Expressing it in Healthy and Productive Ways, That Is)
A Reflection on the Differences in Perception of Women and Men’s Anger Expression
When I was young, I used to have rage blackouts so severe I would literally see red, which would then turn to black.
After that, it’s almost impossible to remember anything.
Usually I would act out, do or say things I completely regretted once I was my normal self again.
A rage blackout is like a panic attack, without any of the fear, anxiety or self doubt. Instead of paralyzing, it empowers you (for all the wrong reasons).
I could FEEL hot, irritated adrenaline pumping through my veins. When you picture the person writing this, are you seeing a man or a woman?
It feels like, in 2018 that there are more and more reasons to be angry. The political climate feels increasingly divided. The actual climate is essentially a burning trash can.
Am I imagining it, or are there more cars honking on streets? But that’s not exactly the point of this article.
The point of this article is to examine the differences in men and women’s anger. But there aren’t really any major differences, except for the way it’s perceived, by both men and women.
Women’s anger is often perceived as more unwieldy and out of place, in contrast to men’s which is often perceived as righteous and normal. It’s way more common for men, rather than women to get into fistfights, and be allowed to physically express how ANGRY they are.
There are a stupidly large amount of instances where I have spun myself in circles questioning whether or not my gender had something to do with how my anger about a situation was perceived by others. I am not even sure which one to offer up as an example for you to analyze. Was I being unreasonable? Am I diva? Was I even aggressive enough? Was I too aggressive? Did I cross boundaries? Do men wonder about this as much as I do?
I don’t enjoy conflict but I’m also not afraid of confrontation, a trait that women are not socialized to have.
I think sometimes I am perceived as this hyper aggressive person looking for a fight, when actually my attitude is a product of my life experiences and teachings from people I respect deeply.
My father is the one who taught me to stand up for myself and others if I thought something was wack. I remember being very small and having him tell me that because I was a girl, I would have to speak louder to make myself heard. That stuck with me. I remember him also stressing the point that if I was truly, truly upset about something bad happening to me or others, I should be able to speak up and say something, that talk without action was useless. That also stuck with me.
While my mother taught me the importance of rising above and forgiving certain situations, she like many women, is not super comfortable with confrontation. (She is also a WOC. Intersectionality says, “Hiiiiiiiii, hello, are you in the know?”)
But speaking of WOC and anger, I am reminded of the media frenzy over Serena Williams’s alleged “meltdown,” because the whole mess of the French Open and their sexist rules.
Intersectionality and the differences in anger are a whole article in themselves. But it seems noteworthy that a Black women was criticized and mocked in the media for what I would personally say is was a very fair expression of frustration, from someone who has worked extremely hard to get where she is now.
Studying anger, or any other human emotion is imperfect. However, there is supporting data on the idea that women are often perceived in a negative light for the exact same expression of aggression as men are.
A 2018 study found that male and female attorneys were perceived differently when expressing anger in the courtroom.
Expressions of anger were seen in a positive light (demonstrating conviction and power) when displayed by male attorneys. This was contrasted by the perceived negative expression of angry qualities such as being shrill and obnoxious when demonstrated by the female attorneys. This led to a justification for why the negative expressions of anger theoretically led to female attorneys not wanting to be hired by the study’s participants.
It seems kinda worth noting that being in a courtroom as a lawyer is an appropriate place for one to express anger compared to the experience of a nurse in a hospital or a kindergarten teacher. Those are professions where expressions of anger would be more likely seen as out of place if displayed by anyone of any gender.
Yet this research reveals that women are punished for expressing a professionally appropriate emotion whereas men are rewarded for the exact same behaviour. I honestly find it weird. Do you not want a lawyer to be angry and heated on your behalf? Is it that anytime a women expresses heated emotion the automated response is to be like ‘’woah calm down miss period, can I get you a tampon for all of those feelings?’’
A study explored the differences in how teenage males and females express anger. It found that teen boys were more comfortable expressing anger (because it is considered more socially acceptable for them to do so) and that teen girls expressed more anger in general (sexism and having sex with teenage boys are probably equal factors in my opinion!).
Why is this the case? As that old saying goes, “Men are from Mars and women are from Venus.”
In Roman mythology, Venus is the goddess of love and beauty (just be quiet but also charming and throw some glitter on your face like a good girl!) Whereas Mars is the god of war and anger (grrrrr, being angry is manly! Join the military!)
Myth shapes culture. Steve Jobs was congratulated for a detached leadership style whereas Marissa Mayer was criticized for a similar attitude.
And whether or not you agree with her politics or not, don’t even get me started on the hoops Hillary Clinton has had to go through for the public expression of any emotion.
Justin Trudeau cries in public a lot. Some perceive him as a highly evolved 21st century Superman for that. If Clinton broke down crying, I really do not think it would be widely seen as an expression of her empathy or humanity.
Why? Because girls are supposed to be made of, “sugar and spice and everything nice,” according to another nursery rhyme.
Boys, in contrast are composed of, “snips and snails, and puppy dogs tails.” Again, myth shapes culture. These are not the only commonly repeated songs or poems or whatever that reinforced this gendered binary. They didn’t just arrive fully formed. A person created them, based on previous opinion or life experience. Others repeated them, presumably because they agreed. So then, these little rhymes that might seem silly, but are repeated to children, do have a concrete effect. It’s not helpful to either gender, or the people that exist in between.
We’re all allowed to be angry. It’s 2018 and a racist, sexist, orange Oompa Loompa is president of one of the most influential countries in the world.
So please just let me be pissed and shake my fist at the sky when I feel like it.