On Anger and Gender
October 17th, 2009 by Sonja

I’m sitting in the rink on an early, early Saturday morning once again, having driven here with a quiet but not sullen pre-teen next to me.  He was eating a bagel.  The pouring rain and inky, black pre-dawn required most of my concentration, but in the quiet times I’ve had recently I’ve been thinking about anger.  More specifically, how we treat anger and gender.  I had a couple of instances recently that brought it to my attention, one is personal and the other happened to a friend.

First, the friend:  Makeesha writes about her anger here – “I have never felt this much anger – ever – and I don’t know what to do with it. I know anger is a secondary emotion and I can identify the primary emotions but I still feel angry and I still don’t know how to stop feeling angry.”  Go read her whole post so you know what’s driving her anger … I’ve only copied the part that’s pertinent to what I’m writing about here.

I had a recent incident with LightGirl’s hockey team in which I had an inappropriate outburst at her new (male) teammates for treating her poorly.  She has a couple of guys on the team who are making life miserable for a lot of kids, but they are using her gender to make life miserable for her and that is steaming me up.  I lost my temper after a recent practice and … well … let’s just leave the details out of it, but the boys in question just laughed.  And, to be fair, I bet I was pretty funny looking.  We talked it through with her coach and it’s being worked out.  But that’s not the point of all this.

I began to specifically think about women and anger.  I don’t think women are supposed to be angry in our culture.  We’re considered either funny or unacceptable in some way when we get angry.  When men get angry, they are frightening and taken seriously. Women are … something else.

The other thing that I’ve been tossing around both in my mind and in conversation (with LightGirl) is the idea that we should “stop feeling” anger (as Mak puts it).  That anger is an emotion to get rid of.  What if it’s an emotion that is to signal that something is wrong (which it is) and it is to give us energy to change that wrong or walk through the wrong (if we can’t change it)?  I wonder a lot about our culture’s desire to ameliorate negative emotions so that we don’t feel sadness or anger or pain for too long.

Which brings me to a quote I heard on a new drama on NBC called “Mercy.”  The main character is being convinced against her will to get marital and PTSD counseling by some friends.  They are giving her all the standard advice about why she should talk about her feelings and her response?  “I like my feelings all pushed down and compressed.  That way they pop out at random and inappropriate moments.”   This is not the way we should live, but it’s the way most of us do live despite all that we know about how to be emotionally healthy individuals or communities.  No one likes to see a sad face or someone with angry eyebrows, so we put on masks for the outside world.  Women in particular are very good at this … and we’re expected to be.  We’re expected to smooth the waters for the family, for any given mixed gender group we are a part of, and when we do not the labels that are attached to us are not complimentary.  To say the least.

So I have not come to any conclusions; I still have questions and wonderings about what role anger should play in our lives.  Should we embrace it?  Sit with it longer and see what it will tell us about ourselves and what we need to do?  Without allowing it to control us (that is).  Do you see things differently than I?  Are women treated the same as men in anger?  Or are they treated differently?  What are your thoughts about all of this?  I’d love to hear them …

8 Responses  
  • Becky F. writes:
    October 17th, 200910:19 amat

    Hey Sonja,
    I agree with you about not being treated the same. I have had anger issues as a recent problem, and in high school, I was expected to hide everything. When I went to my counselour about my issues, I was, in short, dismissed over it. I had to hide it all to try and stay active in school. It did not work very well. I had one guy freind, though, that understood; he was going through some of the same things as me. I believe he had a lot of anger, even though he never really showed it. I think I would have been better off knowing that my anger was accepted (which it was not, for me) and being able to talk to someone about it before things got worse. Now I have people that I can talk to about it, that let me get things out. But I still feel if I want to scream at someone, people would just laugh. I do not like having to suppress emotions, and I know all this does is get the better of us. You are right, this is not fair.

  • Jamie Arpin-Ricci writes:
    October 17th, 200910:19 amat

    It is such a tough question. You are right that women are treated by an entirely different standard in respect to anger that is not right. At the same time, that men are more often feared in their anger reflects the belief that men are allowed to be violent, an equally disturbing trend. Thanks for these questions. Much to consider.


  • K.W. Leslie writes:
    October 17th, 20091:37 pmat

    Where aren’t there double standards when it comes to women, men, and emotion? Men are expected to embrace their “feminine side” when it comes to positive, empathetic emotions; the statement implies these emotions are not part of the “masculine side,” whatever that is. Women are discouraged from embracing that masculine side when it comes to negative, relationship-blocking emotions, and there are a whole host of pejorative words for women who do.

    My advice about any emotions, positive or negative, is don’t trust them, but pay attention to them. We are all so easily manipulated by emotion, and some people know how to push us around by playing with our infatuation, anger, envy, and so forth. (Interesting how it’s a lot harder to manipulate people by the fruit of the Spirit.) If you’re angry, of course deal with it. Understand it. But don’t let it control you, and don’t let others control you by it.

  • Alaina writes:
    October 17th, 20091:38 pmat

    Sonja, I think this is right on. I work in a job with all males, and when I am frustrated or angry about something happening in the workplace I am labeled ‘an emotional woman’. But when they are angry, they are allowed to vent and I am supposed to take them seriously. I am so tired of the masks…especially since I am working in a ‘Christian’ ministry. It is enough to make me more angry!

    I think anger is healthy, as even Christ himself got angry at ridiculous people…


  • Patrick O writes:
    October 19th, 20094:24 pmat

    Anger is something I’ve had to deal with through my life too. Either directly as anger, which is outward focused, or as its pernicious inward focused cousin, depression.

    You ask if we should “stop feeling anger” or if we should see anger as a cue and energy for change. I think it’s both. When anger takes over us we become victims to it, and become victims of other people. We become slaves, even. Slaves to whoever or whatever will set us off, violating our will. If we don’t channel it right, anger renders us ineffective and drowns out whatever balanced perspective we might learn from.

    We should be aware of injustice and fight against that. But in a way that brings change, not just announcing our disapproval. When anger takes over, we lose sight of Christ,of his call, of his purposes not just for our roles in this world, but our place with him, in faith, in love, in hope. The key is not to suppress our anger but to become the kinds of people who are not overcome with anger. I think that if we can take the energy that righteous response against injustice brings while retaining full composure in who we are and in trust with what God is doing we will maintain a peace and wholeness without becoming passive or deadened.

    It’s a tremendously hard balance to make though. I’m still very much working on it and continuing to stumble.

  • Liz writes:
    October 27th, 20093:41 pmat

    Telling someone to stop feeling angry doesn’t make them stop feeling angry – it may teach them to hide their anger or not confront their anger which typically means that it manifests in some other way. I think we need to help people understand that it is not wrong to feel angry and that there are good, healthy ways to deal with that feeling which does not mean sweeping it under the carpet.

  • Peggy writes:
    October 30th, 20094:49 pmat

    Abi has been processing (and did some blogging) anger for much of this past year. When Jesus said to be angry but not sin, I think that forms the basis of the challenge. I was helped a great deal by Gary Chapman’s book on anger ( http://www.amazon.com/Anger-Handling-Powerful-Emotion-Healthy/dp/1881273881 ), especially when he talks about which kinds of anger are valid and which kind are not. Really good things to ponder….

  • Emerging Women » Blog Archive » On Anger and Gender writes:
    November 2nd, 20097:20 amat

    […] This post first appeared at Sonja’s blog Calacirian. […]

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