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It’s Anger Awareness Week, let's stop pretending we don't get angry
It’s Anger Awareness Week, which means lots of people are sharing advice on how to manage anger – how to seem totally chill when something vexes you. This, ironically, is irksome. Let’s all agree to stop pretending we don’t get angry.
From day dot women are encouraged not to be explosive, we’re taught to dial down our anger, check our behaviour and handle situations with calmness. Sure, objectively this sounds like really sensible advice but what if women’s anger is not actually a problem women should be made to feel responsible for solving? What if the issue is actually how society perceives women’s anger?
Generally speaking, people find women’s anger alarming, because even a whiff of it comes loaded with the fabled idea of women’s inherent madness. There’s a chorus of stereotypes muddying how we talk about women and anger: the shrill nag, the bitch, the miserable cow, the scorned lover, the madwoman, the angry feminist.
The thing is, anger isn’t always a wild, irrational thing. We feel anger in the face of injustice, it’s how we communicate the fact we believe we have been wronged. But, when it comes to anger, the standards we hold men and women to are poles apart, and that’s the problem.
An angry woman is a crazy woman: our anger is dismissed whatever its source, however we express it. Our sanity doubted if we become emotional. On the flip side, an angry man is effective.
Expert research backs this up. A recent study conducted by Arizona State University examined the behaviour or jurors during deliberation – they discovered a distinct gender bias when it comes to expressing anger and influencing people. Essentially men use anger to influence (their anger is powerful and persuasive) but women are less influential if they allow anger into an argument.
Researchers at Northwestern University also conducted three separate studies into anger in 2008. The conclusion? People accept and even reward men who get angry but view women who lose their temper as less competent.
The bottom line is that angry women are likely to be discredited, which is depressing. And the natural conclusion is that if women want to be successful we should stifle our emotions.
Sound the alarm bells. Silencing women and conditioning them to hide their emotions is no solution, it just preserves the out-dated thinking that women’s anger is some evil spirit we need to make disappear.
Here’s a new approach: anger is natural human emotion and your feelings are legitimate. Believe that.
Women are raised to be peacemakers, smoothers and soothers. But being disruptive doesn’t always spell disaster. If it’s proportionate to the situation anger can be very constructive.