The Problem with Female Anger

Image : Katie Simpson

The election took me through a range of emotions. I cried multiple times in the days after. Two days after the election, depression made getting out of bed an Olympic feat. These emotions were all easier than the one which has stayed with me: anger. I’m angry at how perfect Hillary Clinton had to be and even then, it wasn’t enough. Trump could say hateful things about everyone except white men and it wasn’t enough to keep him out of the White House. How can I not be infuriated as a Jew and survivor of sexual assault?

You might say anger is a good thing. Anger is a powerful emotion. However, as a woman? It’s a difficult emotion to express and have respected.

Women’s anger a threat to men?

There are multiple tropes that delegitimize female anger. There’s the Angry Black Woman, the Shrew, even the Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. Before the tropes was a proverb, “It is better to dwell in a desert land than with a contentious and fretful woman.” There’s the infamous Katherine from Taming the Shrew whose biggest flaw is her unbridled expression of anger. In both cases, expressing anger is a flaw for women. It’s such a problem that it can make us untenable as romantic partners.

For women of color, anger becomes complicated by racist and sexist tropes. The Angry Black Woman has been a problem since 19th-century minstrel shows, showing strong black women emasculating black men. There’s the Spicy Latina trope that comes out of the old westerns. Confrontational and emotional, while she has sex appeal, she’s portrayed as needing a man who can control her. Rather than women frustrated by legitimate concerns, these women are portrayed as flawed and a threat to men not strong enough to contain them.

Of course, the LGBTQ community has struggled as well with the Straw Feminist. Their anger and rejection of men makes their sexuality into a joke. In Legally Blonde, the Straw Feminist goes around with a petition to change semester to ovester. These tropes blame female anger on personal flaws, never questioning why women could be angry in the first place.

More than tired tropes

Studies show female anger isn’t any easier in the real world. Women who show anger aren’t taken as seriously as their male colleagues. Worse, another study showed that women who expressed anger lost respect. Men, on the other hand, earned more respect. The depressing cherry on top? Both women and men have similar reactions to female anger.

It’s one of the many ways we misconstrue and dismiss female emotion. After all, doctors are less likely to treat female pain as aggressively. Female hysteria used to be a legitimate medical diagnosis in the DSM until 1980. Female emotions from anger to depression aren’t legitimate, just a sign of our own character flaws.

So how do we deal?

Sure, our society makes anger a difficult emotion to deal with. Still, there are ways of coping and helping yourself process through the anger. You may even chip away at some of the stigma around anger for marginalized groups. Here are a few tips to help you stay sane in this insane time.

1. Acknowledge and process your emotions.

Knowing how to deal starts with knowing what you’re dealing with. If you’re feeling symptoms of emotions or overwhelmed by emotion, take a minute. Find a quiet space (even a bathroom stall) and take pause. Ask yourself: what are you feeling right now? What are the sensations? How does it feel in your body?

If you have more time, you can start investigating why you feel that way. Rather than ruminating or allowing it to key you up, this should be about understanding what’s happening and processing. As an introvert, I do my best processing alone whether on a walk or in my journal. Some extroverts need to do this with people. If you do want to talk this out, be sure to find someone who will empathize and actively listen instead of pushing your feelings aside.

2. Channel your anger into action

It’s easy to go from anger to depression. Especially with something as overwhelming and devastating as Trump’s election, it can be tempting to stay in bed and never get out.

As someone with Dysthymia, I knew I had to do something. I began to channel that anger into daily actions. My goal isn’t to save the world, but just do one thing a day against injustice. This has included: buying Plan B, calling the Justice Department to audit the election, donating to ACLU, calling the North Dakota governor over treatment of DAPL protestors, and working harder to share legitimate news.

Instead of feeling helpless, I try to find ways to use my anger to fight for justice. You don’t have to be a superhero to make a difference. Start with the issue that makes you angriest and look to see what small action you could to make a difference today. It won’t make your anger dissipate, but you will feel satisfied that you did something about it.

3. Check to see if you’re invalidating anger

When women are angry both men and women invalidate their feelings. Whether we like it or not, most of us have probably done this to women and marginalized people in our lives. Implicit bias isn’t easy to eradicate. Still, this is an opportunity to see how we play into the system.

You can start by trying to be more aware of your own reactions to someone else’s anger. Instead of jumping to conclusions, we can take a pause before acting on implicit urges. Question your own initial reactions. Is the other person really being illogical? Do they have the right to be angry? This decision won’t change society. However, each time you challenge the narrative, you create another small chink in our social narrative on anger.

This election has been an emotional time for so many. It’s hard to know what will happen and each day brings a new onslaught of things to be angry about. Don’t forget: you have every right to feel what you feel. Begin by acknowledging and processing your own feelings. Then you’ll have the space and strength to join in the long fight ahead.

Katie Simpson Bio
Katie Simpson | Can’t leave her house without a camera, pen, and notebook. Committed journaler, sometimes doodler. Dreams of being a cat lady someday.