“Stay angry, little Meg,” Mrs. Whatsit whispered. “You will need all your anger now.”
A male politician or sportsman is applauded for being angry, for it means he is paying attention, he is powerful and human. A female politician or sportswoman gets angry and she makes headlines. The articles that follow are far from favourable. The point to be noted is that women don’t just feel angry when we, as politicians and sportswomen, are told to ‘calm down’, we feel it at home, in public transport, at work, at parties, at the doctor’s, in the queue to a restroom, you name it. Female anger greets us everyday, but it still remains foreign and unfamiliar.
A study of 15 girls and women found that there are three primary causes of anger in females: feelings of powerlessness, injustice, and other people’s responsibility.
Soraya Chemaly, bestseller author of Rage Becomes Her, further elaborates that because women are encouraged to swallow their anger, it degrades their health. This degradation shows itself through eating disorders, autoimmune disorders, and anxiety, which are present in women at far higher rates than they are in men.
Principled rage emancipates men and pathologises women. Female anger as an emotional response has rarely been acknowledged, let alone praised – as it is for men. We are made to accommodate it, to build around it, never upon it or from it. Burdening stereotypes like the “nurturing woman” only further prevent women from letting themselves experience anger. A woman who expresses anger is one who simultaneously violates gender norms.
Kate Manne offers the concept of “himpathy”. The concept originally deals with the sympathy showered on male wrongdoers as opposed to their female victims. It can, however, be extended to emphasizing and understanding their anger as opposed to brushing off the uncalled for female anger. Since male anger is also brushed off, here it is imperative to note that female anger being ‘brushed off’ is different from male anger being ‘brushed off’. Male anger is brushed off because it is normalized and female anger is brushed off because it is to be suppressed.
Female anger is met with aversion and dismissal, as opposed to understanding and acceptance. Sadness is more feminine, as opposed to anger which often implies aggression. And aggression and women has always been an unpleasant association. While we are presented with more “feminine” alternatives to anger – sadness, anxiety, envy, guilt – they are inherently silencing measures. While angry women make people uneasy, their sad counterpart garners understanding.
Social regulations of emotions are an indirect, nonetheless a hostile, way to enforce inequality. Anger’s entanglement with masculinity is an entitlement that is denied to the counterparts. With one’s anger being met with public acceptance and the other’s being met with belittlement and ridicule, gender frameworks are enforced related to an emotion innate to all species.
So much of female anger is undocumented and hidden. Female anger shouldn’t be lauded only when it is biting its tongue. Women have been angrier for longer, we have resented for longer but we have also suppressed it for longer. This is not a win.
Women, if you have been feeling angry, hold on to it. Don’t forget how it feels. It is yours to hold, don’t recoil against yourself.