This book was recommended in a number of book forums. Having read Women & Power recently, I put the book on hold at the library and read it when it dropped.
This was not the book I was expecting.
This is the book I needed.
This book is all about women and their anger, and how society tells us not to be angry, to suppress that rage, no one will like us, angry women are difficult, etc. etc. etc. Yes, I know you're not supposed to have three etc.'s together, that the etc. means continue this series after I have already given you three examples. ETC.
Okay, let's talk about my crying in the framework of this book. I have always been easy to tears, and not until my early twenties did I recognize that my crying was an expression of frustration of my powerlessness. After reading this book, I think I had it wrong. Yes, crying is an expression of my frustration, but it is also an expression of my anger.
I read this book and sat back and thought about all the times I've been told to shut up and sit down because I was embarrassing him, the number of times I've been told, "Oh, you have enough on your plate, you don't need to deal with this, just accept this current shitty situation *pat* *pat* *pat*," the non-zero times I had to walk away from a situation because someone else was being and ass and my calling him on it was "being difficult."
So, I borrowed this book from the library. I read it. I bought a copy of the book hardback. When it comes out trade, I'm buying a couple dozen copies and throwing them in a bunch of little lending libraries and handing them out like candy. I might mail one to my fucking older brother, too.
Reading this book helps me better understand women older than I am. It helps me better understand women my age. It helps me better understand my experience. It helps me help women younger than I am.
I strongly recommend this book. Let me buy you a copy.
While we experience anger internally, it is mediated culturally and externally by other people’s expectations and social prohibitions. Roles and responsibilities, power and privilege are the framers of our anger.
In the United States, anger in white men is often portrayed as justifiable and patriotic, but in black men, as criminality; and in black women, as threat. In the Western world, which this book focuses on, anger in women has been widely associated with “madness.”
One of the most common feedback loops that women live with involves anger caused by discrimination that, if denied, intensifies, increasing stress and its effects.
Boys learn early on about anger, but far less about other feelings, which handicaps them — and society — in different ways. Socially discouraged from seeming feminine (in other words, being empathetic, vulnerable, and compassionate), their emotional alternatives often come down to withdrawal or aggressive expressions of anger.
Our society is infinitely creative in finding ways to dismiss and pathologize women’s rage.
When a woman shows anger in institutional, political, and professional settings, she automatically violates gender norms. She is met with aversion, perceived as more hostile, irritable, less competent, and unlikeable — the kiss of death for a class of people expected to maintain social connections.
When a man becomes angry in an argument or debate, people are more likely to abandon their own positions and defer to his. But when a woman acts the same way, she’s likely to elicit the opposite response.
This persistent denial of subjectivity, knowledge, and reasonable concerns—commonly known as gaslighting—is deeply harmful and often abusive.
Anger is usually about saying “no” in a world where women are conditioned to say almost anything but “no.”
A cultivated feminine habit of prioritizing the needs of others and putting people at ease frequently puts us at a disadvantage.
We understand that abandoning our anger is a necessary adaptation to a perpetual undercurrent of possible male violence.
Anger is like water. No matter how hard a person tries to dam, divert, or deny it, it will find a way, usually along the path of least resistance.
It took me too long to realize that the people most inclined to say “You sound angry” are the same people who uniformly don’t care to ask “Why?” They’re interested in silence, not dialogue.
Most people, needing help raising their children, don’t want to think of this kind of child care in terms of the commodification of maternal ideals. And yet we as a society often demand that immigrant and impoverished women meet these ideals while simultaneously denying them the ability, by socially maintaining their low status, low wages, and lack of benefits or childcare support, to mother their own children.
In motherhood, we can find joy, love, security, community, and, for many women, life’s greatest purpose. It is not and should not be, however, the inevitable path for all girls and women; the standard against which we are all measured. It is a basic human decency to create a society in which motherhood is not wielded as a weapon against women, in which it is not coerced, forced, punishing, violent, and life threatening.
We care in so many ways, but for motherhood to be truly dignified, compassionate, purposeful, and fulfilling, it must presume a woman’s right to freely choose to be a parent. Unfortunately, this is not the world we live in. Instead, motherhood, the ideal, smothers women’s ability to protest unfairness and injustice.
A world full of women who smile on demand is a world where women’s anger is irrelevant and where the threat of male violence is legitimized.
Sexual harassment and violence are so normalized among girls and women that they don’t often consciously register them as abusive behaviors.
In my experience, most men don’t learn, as boys, to think about how different their experiences are from those of the girls and women around them. Men learn to regard rape as a moment in time; a discreet episode with a beginning, middle, and end. But for women, rape is thousands of moments that we fold into ourselves over a lifetime.
Girls and women adapt to these intrusions, usually by not talking about them, blaming themselves, or doing their best to ignore what is happening around them.
There is deep cultural resistance to taking women’s fears of male violence seriously.
Ask a man what his greatest fear is about serving jail time, and he will almost inevitably say he fears being raped. What can we deduce from the fact that jail is to men what life is to so many women?
Most college students surveyed, for example, believe that up to 50 percent of women lie about being raped. Other studies similarly show that police officers with fewer than eight years of experience also believe roughly that percentage of those alleging rape are lying. As recently as 2003, people jokingly referred to Philadelphia’s sex crimes unit as “the lying bitch unit.” This doubt remains true despite studies, conducted across multiple countries, consistently finding that the incidence of false rape claims ranges from just 2 percent to 8 percent, approximately the same as it is for any other crime.
Teaching girls to “stay safe” early in life, while simultaneously discouraging anger and aggression and cultivating physical fragility, all contribute to the association of weakness and fearfulness with femininity. Anger and aggression do not fit easily with these lessons. If we say we are scared, it is understandable and easy for others who can focus on what we, as individuals, can do to avoid feeling fear instead of what they, communally, can do to stem threats.
When women display anger, men are more likely to respond with anger, but when men show anger, women respond with fear. Women, more fearful, are less likely to respond to anger in situations when men might.
In the face of threat, we often learn that the “normal” physiological response is fight-or-flight. This description reflects men’s experiences, not women’s.
UCLA professor and social psychologist Shelley Taylor and her colleagues showed that when men and women encounter stress and threats, their actual physical reactions differ. Men’s bodies release the chemicals norepinephrine and cortisol, which prompt fight-or-flight behaviors.
Women, too, experience faster pulses and elevated blood pressure, but their bodies, instead, produce two different chemicals: endorphins and oxytocin, which lead to “tend-and-befriend” behaviors. Women become more affiliative and appear to be friendly. “Fight or flight” is the “normal” response... if you are a man, yet it is the standard to which women are held.
We learn as girls to read faces and other body indicators, and we develop tactics for lowering the temperature of encounters, a process known as de-escalation. The ability and inclination to take this approach is supported by socialization and the practical reality that women are often physically smaller than the people threatening them.
Simply “leaving” or “walking away” is often not a rational option. When we feel fear, or anger, or a combination of both, we often freeze, act confused, and stop talking in order to think. We become still and quiet, and we smile. We make our rage small; we acquiesce, deflect, soothe, and shrug. Giggling is sublimation. Laughing is a path to survival. And if smiling and laughter are not options, we cry: a self-silencing deferral that is often misinterpreted as weakness.
Women in heterosexual relationships, more likely to follow traditional gender-role expectations, are more prone to display traditionally feminine traits, like crying, and silence their anger than women in egalitarian relationships are. Feminine anger is particularly difficult in more conventional frameworks because the expression of anger itself is conceived as a failure to be a “good” woman.
In 2014 Turkey’s then deputy prime minister, Bülent Arinç, condemned the act of women smiling in public (in other words, opening their mouths) as a sign of “moral decline of modern society.”
Women are especially not supposed to question or publicly shame men for their behavior. If they use their public voices to address topics that go beyond their gender roles, families, and appearance—particularly if they challenge that limitation—they can count on public hostility, off-and online.
Discomfort with women speaking authoritatively is universal.
Women have to work doubly, triply hard to be considered credible and authoritative.
The notion of older women’s anger is even less appealing than girls’ nascent rage. Older women are supposed to disappear or, if not, at least be quiet and take care of others.
In 2015, writer Nicola Griffith analyzed fifteen years’ worth of top literary awards, demonstrating a systemic preference for male protagonists in books written by men. In the case of the Pulitzer Prize, for example, “women wrote zero out of 15 prize-winning books wholly from the point of view of a woman or girl.”
Some criticisms were constructive, but women were castigated repeatedly for personality and communication skills, such as: “Pay attention to your tone,” “Stop being so judgmental!” “Let others shine,” “Step back,” and “Be a little more patient.”
Hands up if you think women aren’t storing up their anger at being told, in millions of small ways, that they should follow the rules, shut up, and be grateful for what they are given.
In these early lessons and contexts, overt sexism isn’t the problem, benevolence is. It’s hard to be angry at or resent people who love you and are working hard to take care of you. This is a significant part of why sexism is so difficult to call out at its most granular and intimate levels: at home and in settings that often dominate social life.
A benevolent sexist says, “Motherhood is the most important job in the world”—and then proceeds to act on the belief that “girls are worse at math,” to pay mothers less, and to penalize men who want to care for their children. It’s a solid way to make people feel good while they are being materially discriminated against.
Nearly 50 percent of men without high school diplomas and 25 percent of those with college degrees believe that women fall back on using gender discrimination as an excuse for workplace outcomes that they don’t like.
Even when presented with personal experience and irrefutable evidence of bias and sexism, many men refuse to admit what the women around them are experiencing.
People who deny sexism will always be more hostile to your anger than to what is actually causing your anger.
The core issue is that, no matter where you may live in the world, dominant norms of masculinity are actively constructed out of women’s vulnerabilities.
Both men and women respond with anger when another person acts in critical, aggressive, and controlling ways, but many men exhibit those behaviors as a function of being adequately masculine. The behaviors that women say cause them to feel intense anger are often those that men display as aspects of traditional masculinity. In women, on the other hand, the controlling and aggressive behavior that men might find enraging indicates that a woman is not conforming to traditional norms. A similar justifying pattern is evident in how anger can affect relationships between women
It is, of course, not only men who believe in separate spheres, or who deny women’s words and anger. It’s often, sometimes much more often, other women.
For example, studies indicate that women with benevolently sexist beliefs are the most hostile to other women when they demonstrate raw ambition or display political power.
Thinking that the world is just and hoping that it can be more just are very different orientations. Studies show that women will maintain beliefs in separate gender spheres and a just world, supporting patriarchal norms even when it puts them at a clear disadvantage.
Denial and diversion allow people to maintain psychological equilibrium and stave off feelings of powerlessness in the face of emotionally disruptive and anxiety-provoking information.
Denial is rarely based on facts or reasoning. It is a visceral emotional defense that overrides reason, critical thinking, and deliberation.
These two lines explain a lot to me.
Men who believe in separate spheres and adhere to benevolently sexist beliefs don’t “see” women’s anger as legitimate because to see the problems, and risks, that women face as real would require status-threatening change.
As members of juries, for example, women who score high in benevolent sexism and just-world beliefs are the most likely to harshly judge rape victims or women who have been abused by intimate partners. They will overlook the broader meaning and context of male perpetration and its prevalence. None of this is to excuse racism or sexism or other forms of bias and overt prejudice, but, rather, it is to point out why anger, and arguing on the basis of facts, so often fail to change minds.
In this case, yes, there were economic concerns but what this voting bloc did was leverage racial privilege to maintain status, even if their gendered rights were being degraded.
When people encounter overwhelming evidence of social inequality that defies what they believe about their own natures, the world, and their place in it, instead of processing facts and addressing what they mean, they up the ante on gaslighting, victim blaming, exaggerating the benefits of inequitable social systems, and adamantly defending the status quo. They respond in anger and are prone to shut down women’s angry demands.
Crosscultural studies reveal some universal qualities about authoritarian mind-sets: rigid adherence to rules, strict moral codes, strong feelings of contempt and disgust, obedience to social groups, an aversion to introspection, and a propensity and desire to punish others. At the most intimate scales, in families, the same can be said for rigid enforcement of gender norms.
Studies reveal another consistent and related pattern: antifeminism and contempt for women are related directly to authoritarian beliefs.
The most powerful effect is the division of women and men in such a way that it is “natural” for women to not want, seek, or hold power.
Despite claims to the opposite, conservatives simply do not appear to believe women can or should be full participants in society.
Speaking from a position of moral authority and often with righteous anger are vital to having a public voice and holding political power. But when women assert themselves, whether they are openly angry or not, they often encounter social opprobrium, invalidation, backlash, and punishment.
Women being good at resisting male power, which is significantly what we are talking about in terms of anger, politics, and denial, is often a matter of embodiment as resistance.
Friedman quoted Princeton University lecturer Erin K. Vearncombe, an expert on the cultural meaning of appearance, who explained, “absent hair on a woman’s head can be read as disruptive to the politics of the male gaze.”
If you can’t focus on a woman’s hair, it is infinitely more difficult to ignore what comes out of her mouth.
This cracked me up.
If you are inclined to think that raising the issue of race when discussing gender inequality in America is counterproductive, it can mean only that you are not “seeing” your own privileges and are unwilling to sit with discomfort.
It is frequently the case that while we recognize male leaders as representative of “humanity,” we fail to do the same for women leaders.
It might make more sense for those concerned with the relevance or representation of movements like these to focus on the question of why the quiet anger and energy of women voters and politicians are so often ignored in favor of the loudest man in the room.
Studies show that women who display or express anger in deliberative groups, for example, are taken less seriously than the men around them are.
Powerlessness is one of the reasons women cry more. It is less likely to cause an angry response in the person a woman is talking to.
Girls are constantly seeking ways to convince people they know, respect, and love that what they are saying when they describe their experiences or their anger and frustration is true, and that it is serious. Even at just eight to ten years old, young girls have been found in studies to think they will be made fun of or disciplined when they display anger.
We all have the right to believe what we believe and to live life as we see fit. But that doesn’t mean we don’t get to call what is clearly discrimination by its proper name. Benevolent sexism is still sexism. Religious sexism is still sexism.
Anger is an emotion. It is neither good nor bad. While uncomfortable, it’s not inherently undesirable. Most of the anger-related problems we encounter come from its social construction and how our emotions are filtered through our identities and social location relative to others. Anger should not be an entitlement.
When women are asked why they continue to associate being angry with negative outcomes and fear, they say it is because they do not want to “lose control” and act in “inappropriate” ways.
Anger is a moral emotion that hinges on our making judgments about the people and world around us. As women, we are supposed to be one step removed from both moral thinking and the authority that comes with it. Our feelings of anger, deep in our bones, our blood, and our minds, are a refutation of that oppressive standard and the control of women that comes with it.
People who understand how they are feeling are able to be patient and thoughtful in anger.
You might tend toward getting angry quickly, known as trait anger, or you might be a person who is slower to anger even when provoked, known as state anger.
If you find you are crying and silent but seething inside, what circumstances are leading to your feelings of powerlessness?
An adult relationship that can’t withstand your saying you feel angry is probably not a healthy one and, if that pattern is sustained, probably not worth continuing.
I remind myself sometimes that the root of the word aggressive is related closely to the Latin word aggredi, meaning “to go forward.”
Ask yourself, “Does being assertive make me feel anxious?” “Do I repeatedly use minimizing words, such as just when I write emails?” “How frequently do I begin a sentence with Sorry?” Do you give in or backtrack on a demand quickly and easily?
In many environments, all you have to do to be castigated as an angry woman is to say something out loud, so you might as well say exactly what’s bothering you and get on with it.
There is discomfort in understanding. There will always be people who are deeply uncomfortable with your anger. They will attempt to diminish what you say by disparaging your choice of expression. This is a kind of laziness and a sure symptom of dismissal and, sometimes, abuse.
It helps, in these circumstances, to think of the difference between being nice, which girls are taught to do at all costs, and being kind. Nice is something you do to please others, even if you have no interest, desire, or reason to. Kindness, on the other hand, assumes that you are true to yourself first.
Care with purpose. Understand that this includes taking care of your own health and well-being. Learn to say no and to say no unapologetically.
RETHINK FORGIVENESS. It is often the case that our anger comes from feeling betrayed, disappointed, and taken for granted. The feelings we have—hurt, resentment, frustration, and rage—are often portrayed as negative and not worth being taken seriously. We are often encouraged to ignore, forgive, and forget. For women whose lives are informed by faith, forgiveness is frequently prioritized over beneficial resolutions. Being forgiving in self-sacrificial ways is emotional labor par excellence.
The expectation of forgiveness often involves shaming you for not feeling forgiving. This is dismissive in that it ignores feelings of hurt, pain, and trauma and contributes to the sense that you do not deserve to be heard. Forgive nothing until you are good and ready to, especially if there has been no indication that the behavior causing you distress has changed.
If you find yourself easily frustrated, irritable, and stressed, the focus of your anger is almost certainly misplaced. Flying off the handle in unpredictable ways rarely makes change or makes you feel better. Anger like this is usually a symptom of unaddressed emotions and, almost always, a history of having learned that expressing your emotions is not only bad but also makes you a bad person.
In sports, you are able to develop mastery over a honed sense of the potential of aggression, with or without anger, to alter your environment as well as what professor and cultural historian Maud Lavin (the author of Push Comes to Shove: New Images of Aggressive Women) describes as the “sheer physical joy of exerting aggression outward instead of inward.”
When asked, women are consistent about the primary causes of anger in their lives: overwork and stress; feeling as though they are being taken for granted; other people’s irresponsibility or taking credit for what they are doing; and being condescended to, humiliated, or demeaned.
For most of us, anger is related to the desire for greater control in the workplace—of our own careers, our physical safety, our ability to earn a living, our health.