It’s been a long time since anyone asked if I was PMS when I’ve shown anger. When I was younger, people occasionally had the nerve.
Thankfully, as I get older, I’ve never had anyone suggest that my anger is the result of menopause. Then again, I’m pretty sure that’s due to the “not so secret” link between the question, “Are you menopausal” and acts of homicide. I doubt that being older has somehow afforded me the right to display a normal range of human emotions.
It has, however, given me the confidence to do so.
In fact, the other day I was on the phone with a doctor who had left my mother in a hospital bed with no instructions to the nurses regarding her care, meds or next steps. Though my tone was even and measured, I was angry.
“I understand your frustration”, said the doctor. I corrected him and said I’m not frustrated, I’m angry. The conversation progressed and again he said, “I understand your frustration”. Again, I corrected him and said, “I’m not frustrated, I’m angry”.
On yet another occasion, he said “I get that you’re frustrated”. “Angry”, I said, “What I am is angry”.
He laughed uncomfortably. It was his most honest reaction.
I believe men are uncomfortable with women’s anger. They try to temper it with words that package it up more manageably, like “I get your frustration”. They also try to understand it by linking it to hormones – a sound medical cause for what they deem is irrational behaviour.
More significantly, I think women are uncomfortable with women’s anger. We too assign it to hormones. We too diminish it, even deny it, with words like “frustrated” , “upset” and “bothered”.
Uh…okay this is beginning to bother me.
Interesting note: I searched for “women and anger”. Google autofilled my query with “women’s hormones and anger”.
Another interesting note: According to a study by Arizona State University on jury deliberation, men can successfully use anger to influence others, but women lose influence when they allow anger into an argument. I’m not suggesting that this one study and its methods are irrefutable. Still, it’s intriguing.
I watched Alanis Morisette at this year’s AMA’s and was reminded of her rise to fame after Jagged Little Pill. There were so many jabs and jokes about her anger at that time. I made some myself.
I also recall being at a sound studio to produce a radio spot I had written when the engineer stopped everything to play me a funny spoof ad about angry women. It was sung to the tune of “You Oughta Know”.
That song was even labelled as a revenge number yet none of the lyrics speak to that. Rather, they’re angry – pure, pained anger at being dumped and quickly replaced. It was unapologetic and honest. It was healthy and normal. Who hasn’t felt that betrayal and hurt? Yet, I remember the backlash, one to which even I added, and for which I’m sorry.
No. Thank you Alanis for your honesty.
I’ve changed my tune since then. Just a decade or so later, I find myself far less apologetic for my anger, unless of course it – or its manifestation – has been inappropriate.
I think women have a lot of work to do when it comes to evaluating whether or not their anger is fair. I believe (this is an opinion-based blog) that we doubt and undermine our right to this emotion too often. I know I have in the past. I also know a lot of other women with the same conflict.
I have a friend who’s younger than me. This friend is, and always has been, one of the nicest people you could ever meet. We used to work together in a highly political and stressful environment. She rarely lost her temper. When she did, it was usually justified.
In addition, she never raised her voice or displayed the emotion in an unprofessional way.
Yet, on those rare occasions of anger, she’d feel so insecure and guilty, that she’d have pull me aside to talk it out. Even when I identified very rational points on which she could appreciate just how righteous her emotions were, it would still take an inordinate amount of convincing.
The older she gets, the more comfortable she is with her right to get angry. She even gets mad at me now. She called me a cow a few years ago and still refuses to take it back (soooo off my Christmas card list!).
Personally, I felt very empowered when speaking to that doctor. I knew my tone was strong, but rational. I knew my anger evident, but justified. I felt good when I didn’t allow him to tone it down for his own comfort. I honored my feelings and my right to them.
I can honestly say that I’m not angrier as I grow older. I just show it more. For that reason, I’m actually less angry and have stronger, more genuine relationships with others as a result – including the all-important relationship with myself.
Why temper anger?
Over the years, I’ve learned that appropriate, proportionate anger has purpose. It rights wrongs. It defines boundaries. It establishes confidence, even dominance when necessary. It creates positive change. In short, it can be constructive.
So why temper it?
From now on, I’m making a commitment to myself and other women to evaluate anger fairly. I’ll not get “turned off” when a woman forms a strong opinion, gets outraged, or raises her voice when appropriate. I won’t undercut myself or others when it comes to this constructive and important emotion.
What about you? How’s your relationship with anger? Does it inspire self-doubt and guilt? When you see anger in other women, does it turn you off even when it’s appropriate?
Feel free to express your thoughts. I’m hoping we can create a community of women who share their opinions, advice and information that can help us be truer to ourselves and our gender.
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