It begins as part of our childhood and it continues throughout our adult life. It is woven into almost every thread of every society. It is something we are asked to curb, cover up and feel ashamed of. Women are not allowed to be angry.
There is a very distinct visual that we have been taught to associate with the words “angry woman”. A contorted face. Wild hair. Uncontrolled temper.
Angry women are hysterical. Angry women are over emotional. Angry women can’t control their hormones.
Yet, when men express anger, they are more likely to be taken seriously. They tend to be praised rather than discredited. We also use a whole other language to describe the same behavior from a different gender. Assertive. Confident. Self assured.
I recently had an experience with a male client who was trying to push me on pricing. He wanted me to lower my rate, and I wouldn’t. His tone felt intimidating but instead of acquiescing, I pushed back. The result? He didn’t like it, not one bit. And my overwhelming intuition afterwards was that his choice to not hire me wasn’t actually anything to do with my pricing. It was everything to do with the fact that I’d said no.
I didn’t shout. I didn’t get “angry”. I simply explained my pricing structure.
In short, I didn’t behave like the meek and mild female that he wanted me to be, and his disapproval was clear.
Even when women are calmly, but firmly, stating our case and defending our corner, we are deemed to be a threat. This is exponentially worse for women of color and non-cisgender people.
A woman using exactly the same spirited words, in exactly the same tone, with exactly the same body language as a man, is much more likely to be described as aggressive.
A man who curses is being expressive. How wonderful. A woman who curses is lacking in the intelligence to choose a more articulate vocabulary. How interesting.
Female activists are often considered to be trouble makers and avoided at all costs. That is, at least until they’ve been dead for a number of years and then we use the history books to finally celebrate the very passion they were once ostracized for (note: this belated reverence does not apply to women of color who are still denied access to many of the history books, lest the world should actually learn of their strength and resilience. They are also not permitted to be angry about their erasure from the history books, or to be angry about anything at all, ever.)
It isn’t our anger that’s the problem; it’s the fact that we are not allowed to acknowledge it or express it. The fact that we are (still) not believed to be capable of channeling our anger as a catalyst to inspire progress and change.
The truth is that within a system which is designed to center and celebrate the voices of men, whilst making little or no room for the voices of women, our anger is inconvenient.
Our young women are still being taught to be nice. To play nice. To look pretty. To smile through the sexism and not object to the slender spaces they are permitted to quietly and obediently occupy. (And just in case there was any doubt about how slender those spaces actually are, Weight Watchers recently unveiled a plan to target thirteen year olds by offering them free membership.)
In the pre-election debates, Hillary Rodham Clinton was not permitted to be anything other than demure and softly spoken. No matter that her opponent’s behavior was aggressive, belittling and entirely devoid of restraint when it came to issuing personal insults.
Some may say that her refusal to retaliate was a demonstration of her self respect and dignity. Yet, it is also true that had she responded with even a hint of fury, the world would not have held space for it.
And because our anger is deemed to be inconvenient (and, of course, unattractive) we do what so many of our ancestors have done for centuries. We swallow the ire down and we keep it safely inside.
Except it’s not actually safe inside. Not for long. It festers and flames and, eventually, it erupts. Cue criticism and jeers from the patriarchal audience.
Conversely, women are graciously permitted to express emotions that aren’t a threat to the status quo. We are allowed to embrace joy and excitement. This, too, is by design. A celebratory woman is surely a more compliant one?
We deny our anger because we believe we have to. And the reason we hold this belief is because it is a truth that is reinforced to us time and time again.
We are told that our anger is toxic. We are told that our anger is negative. We are told that our anger will create cancer in our bodies.
I believe something different.
I believe that angry women accomplish things.
I believe that angry women are change makers.
I believe that angry women are driven by a sheer force of love which steers communities into becoming safer spaces for everyone.
And if these statements still have you conjuring up a contorted face visual, then you’re part of the very pervasive problem. We are wholly capable of separating anger from hysteria. Emma Gonzalez clearly demonstrates that.
As for the other silencing tactics; talk to me about toxicity and I’ll talk to you about the rise in miscarriages suffered by the women in Flint. Talk to me about negativity and I’ll talk to you about violent crime against transgender women. Talk to me about cancer and I’ll talk to you about the corrupt systems that enable the Brock Turner’s of this world to spread their remorseless malignancy.
Millions of women have come forward to say #MeToo (thank you, Tarana Burke) and yet we are now being told that this movement has gone “too far”. Apparently our united outrage is distasteful at best and damaging at worst, as if asking us to live under the constant weight of oppression and the daily threat of assault isn’t either of those things and more.
Women are made of multitudes. We have the capacity to bear and bring so much truth and goodness to this world. And still, we are diminished. Still we are sidelined. Still we are undermined. Still we are harassed. Still we are objectified. Still we are slut shamed. Still we are not paid the same wages for the same work. Still we are asked to give our domestic labour for free.
Our anger is not only justifiable, it is useful. It is our anger that is poured into the pressure we put on our elected officials to create and keep fair policies. It is our anger that ensures we keep fighting back against the healthcare and reproductive rights that we are under threat of losing. It is our anger that we use to write the words and make the art and ask that the world be a safe place for us, too.
The world has long since disregarded our humanity and demanded our silence. Now, it is time for the world to hear our voices and take accountability for the roots of our righteous rage. We are not stopping now. Our anger is our hope.
I am a writer who helps women find their courage through creativity. I am driven by a deep desire to see women claim and keep spaces which support and sustain their entire body and their whole being. To support my work, please visit my Patreon page.
Photo by lucia