I rarely get angry. Let me rephrase: I rarely get angry with people who aren’t myself. I get frustrated, I get annoyed, I get upset, I get hurt…but rarely do I get that special hot sensation that tells you someone has gone too far. Rarely do I feel like screaming or hitting something or storming off. And yet there have absolutely been times when it was appropriate and perhaps even necessary for me to feel anger. There are people who have treated me poorly, people who have insulted me, people who have seriously hurt me and breached my boundaries. And yet I cannot bring myself to feel anger.
When I do get the first glimmers of anger, I feel intense amounts of guilt. My first instinct is to then turn the anger in on myself: I should be angry at myself for being so horrible as to be angry with another person. Why is it that I feel anger is an inappropriate, dangerous, and harmful emotion?
Feeling anger while female, particularly while white and female, is a difficult task in America. While we are not necessarily trained in gender roles as actively as we might have been in the past, women who express anger are quickly branded as harpies, bitches, shrews, or just crazy. When we see our mothers get angry, the reactions from those around them illustrate that female anger is dangerous, out of control, unacceptable. When I see a woman who is angry, my first instinct is that she is hurting someone. I know that this is inappropriate and patently false, but I cannot help myself from feeling that first flash of hurt.
Anger is often viewed as the domain of men. Anger is associated with strength and with power. We view anger as something that acts upon the world, rather than a passive emotion that reacts (like sadness or fear). We still associate masculine things with action. Because of this association, women are rarely viewed as angry, and when women clearly try to act angrily they are seen as acting inappropriately in some fashion because they are acting contrary to the gender role we expect to see them in. Interestingly, all emotions are actually reactions to our interpretations of situations, and all emotions can lead to actions, however anger is associated with activity far more than most other emotions. Keeping women on the passive side of the gender dichotomy not only leaves them oppressed by society, but it leaves them oppressed by their own emotions.
In many cases, women change their anger into another emotion: fear, shame, guilt, or self-hatred. These emotions are incredibly difficult to then deal with because they are not truly linked to any event in the external world: they’re simply reactions to an internal emotion. When an emotion is logically linked to an external situation or event, there are ways to change, leave, or accept that situation. When an emotion is a tenuous secondary reaction to any situation that might make you feel angry, it’s much harder to resolve.
Cutting off an entire realm of emotions is never particularly good for any human mind. Our emotions are incredibly helpful: each one of them is designed to tell us something about a situation. Anger in a healthy and appropriate form will tell you that someone has crossed a boundary, that you or someone you care about is being hurt, or that a goal is being blocked. This is important and useful information for you to have. Anger also motivates us to action. If we refuse to get angry when things we care about truly are being taken from us, we’re telling ourselves that we don’t deserve those things, or that we don’t actually care about those things. It may even illustrate a lack of self-respect to not feel any anger in an appropriate situation. When we don’t have anger, we aren’t highly motivated to rectify the problem: if someone punches us and we simply don’t care, we aren’t likely to pursue legal action, tell them to stop, or get the hell out of there. Our very emotions aid in our oppression.
Lately, I’ve been practicing letting myself feel angry. When something happens that I don’t like, I let myself entertain feelings of anger, of wanting to explode. I even go so far as to tell people that I don’t accept the kind of behavior they just acted out. My anger helps me to recognize that I deserve things. Ladies…let’s feel angry?