It is often said that women become angry when men do not listen. Most of us who have first-hand experience of being women would acknowledge the truth of that statement: we do become angry with people who choose to patronize rather than listen to us - because we are women.
Still more annoying to women is the awareness that society - still - frowns on women's anger. Despite all that is said about equality, society continues to have an issue with strong women - let alone women who are robustly voicing their opinion and their dissent from the status quo.
Anger is seen as shrill, distasteful, or hysterical. It is deemed to undermine our femininity.
What does it mean to be "a bloody difficult woman"?
When Tory Grandee and former Cabinet Minister Ken Clarke referred to Teresa May, as a "bloody difficult woman" just before she was elected Prime Minister of the UK, he was not trying to be offensive. Rather, Mr. Clarke could be the poster boy for the acceptable, patrician face of sexism. He may well give offence - as he did with his controversial comments about date rape in 2011. However, he does not seek to give offence. He simply states his beliefs, in his fundamentally good-natured way, without thought as to how they might be received by people less secure in their social primacy than he is.
For men like Mr. Clarke, Teresa May is a "bloody difficult woman" because she has her own beliefs, opinions, and values, and she is prepared to uphold them, even at the cost of encountering hostility and conflict. Sexism starts from the premise that women are naturally less entitled than men to voice their beliefs, values, and opinions - especially in mixed company.
A woman who responds to opposition or difficulties, by becoming upset and dissolving in tears is seen as pathetic and child-like. (Tears are not all bad - from a sexist man's point of view - because they point to a woman's emotional inferiority.) On the other hand, a woman who becomes angry is an angry bitch and a ball-biter. Anger and tears may also be explained away - by men - as menstrual issues.
Masculine rationality is widely seen, by the masculine world, as preferable to feminine emotionality. Anger is - allegedly - indicative of a woman's misguided attempt to demand equal rights, equal respect, and equal airtime.
Your right to be loved
The bottom line is that we are culturally trained to think that anger makes us less lovable.
Parents, lovers and the media teach women that in order to be lovable they have to complete a complex and demanding obstacle course. Women have to be consistently well dressed, well groomed, well-mannered, and nice. They have to work their socks off to get as near perfection as they possibly can in every area of their lives before they can rightly lay claim to lovability.
Anger as a tool
Marianne Williamson said; "It is the attack, not the anger itself, that is destructive." Her words encapsulate the problem a lot of women, and men, have with women's anger in particular. Anger is actually a useful tool, just as a knife is a useful tool, provided we use it in a safe and productive way.
Most commonly, we experience anger when we feel that an injustice of some kind has occurred. That injustice could be societal, or personal. We experience anger when we experience disrespect of something we hold dear, or else a violation of boundaries. Anger is the warning light that tells us something needs to change. What needs to change may be a situation, a relationship we have with another person, or even the way we respond in a given situation.
Anger is always an indication that we need to review the situation, and work out the true dynamic between ourselves and the object, or trigger, of our anger. Once we have done that, we can then work out how to respond productively.
Avoid anger attacks
In interpersonal relationships, attack is never the most productive response to a situation - unless you are a bully who believes in oppressing other people. Anger is an emotion that urges you to ask yourself, "Who, or what needs to change here?" Aggression and attack are substitutes for thinking the problem through, and looking for a fair solution.
Anger gets a bad rap because it is associated with contempt, violence, and intimidation. In reality, contempt, violence, and intimidation belong to the realm of attack. Too often people use anger to justify attack. They say - in one form of words or another - "Because you have annoyed me, I don't have to be responsible for my bad behaviour. What has angered me gives me the right to behave as badly as I please". Since we do not tolerate that kind of rationale in small children, why on earth should we tolerate it in adults?
We need to change our relationship with anger
The time has come when we all - and women, especially - need to radically rethink anger. Anger is an emotion that carries a tremendous charge of energy. If we choose to separate out attack from anger, we can harness the energy of anger constructively.
It is not good enough to fight shy of anger. People, who do not acknowledge their anger, turn that anger inward. As the - stereotypically - softer and sweeter sex, women are more often guilty of this than men. People who turn anger inward are people who confuse anger with attack and are terrified of the damage that their anger could do to others. So, they turn that anger on themselves instead. Anger turned in can manifest in many ways, including the corrosive internal dialogue of so many women that goes:
"I really don't look good: this part of my body is too big/too small/too unattractive; I'm not good enough/as good as person X, Y, or Z; I'm stupid, and unlovable".
We live in a society that is increasingly obsessed with healthy living and healthy eating. We are advised, in the interests of our health, to cut down on salt, sugar, alcohol, nicotine, and any number of other substances that can damage our bodies. Yet we stifle our anger. We keep it bubbling away inside us. Sooner or later, we inevitably attack. Another symptom of our unhealthy relationship with anger is that we tolerate attacks from others, in the vain hope that doing so will make us more lovable.
Anger teaches you your values and what you stand for
Anger is that voice inside ourselves that urges us to find a better way than merely to settle for the tolerance of injustice. Anger is the voice that we need to notice. That may well require us to review the "models" of anger management (and mismanagement) that we have experienced, especially as children.
An honest review of our "models" - and notions - of anger management may require us to think more deeply than we habitually do about ourselves, and what really matters to us.
When we dissociate anger from attack, we become more able to connect - safely - with our darker emotions. This is vital not just because anger is a rich source of energy that we can channel into motivation. When we suppress our anger, we become fearful of our feelings, particularly our spontaneous feelings. We end up denying our spontaneous feelings in our desire to keep our darker side well hidden.
Numbing our emotions is, ironically, a strategy that consumes a lot of emotional energy. Inevitably it erodes the connection that human beings most desire, and it reduces our quality of life, turning the whole world monochrome.
The time has come for women to make friends with their anger, and to defeat sexism. Women who respond to the assaults of sexism with the passion of anger - but without attack - raise the level of debate for both sexes. This is the 21st century. The time has come for women to voice their anger, and for everyone to listen.
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