The Inequality of Anger
Dispelling the myth that women must be docile, quiet, and content -- especially in a society that permits, encourages, validates, and excuses violence against us.
“Maybe if you weren’t so angry, people would listen more.”
I am sometimes told to tone down my anger. But why would I tone down my valid emotion in order to become more palatable to a society that is to blame for the violence that has been done to me?
I have a right to my anger. I’ve been raped, assaulted, harassed, I’ve been beaten down, I’ve had my body taken from me, my rights are constantly under threat, I watch rapists rise to the White House, I watch society continuously exonerate powerful men. I’m fucking ANGRY.
There is a pretty obvious gender bias when it comes to emotion. Just like certain behaviors have been deemed acceptable based on gender, emotions are also only valid when they’re exuded by a particular body.
Our society not only creates and provides space for white male anger, it also provides affirmation, justification, and exoneration for white male anger, and subsequent actions stemming from that anger.
Note: In this piece, when I refer to it as “male anger,” note that it is typically white male anger that our society gives space to. The intersection of gender and race is crucial to this discussion. Women and minorities are told their rage isn’t acceptable. This piece focuses on the gender bias in particular.
TW: This piece discusses violence, white supremacy, rape, and mass shootings.
My anger makes society uncomfortable because anger as an emotion is associated with male behavior. Think about the stereotypical traits women are supposed to be: delicate, quiet, smiling, palatable, graceful, polite, soft. From childhood socialization, anger becomes associated with manliness. Girls are taught to put “negative” emotions away because they’re deemed unfeminine and therefore unattractive for females. We are told to use our “nice” voices and to be polite. Women, how many times have you been told to smile more? Men, have you ever, literally ever, been told to just smile?
Good anger is most commonly associated with men in power. Anger in men confirms gender role beliefs and expectations. Angry men are seen to be leaders. Angry women are crazy, hysterical, aggressive, rude, unladylike, confrontational, difficult bitches.
According to a study on anger and influence, women who show anger are perceived as less trustworthy. Men? More trustworthy. Women are seen to have less influence over people if they exude anger, and men are seen to have more influence. Men who display anger at work gain influence, whereas women lose influence. Another study found that white men are much freer to express anger at work than any other group, and they felt they would not be penalized for anger or aggression.
Studies have also proven that men and women experience the same amount of anger, both in frequency and intensity. Many assume that because men are more outwardly aggressive than women, they experience more anger. This is simply incorrect. The difference? Men are taught that it’s okay to be aggressive and angry, and women are taught they should not. Men do not experience more anger, they're allowed to express it more, and therefore male anger is more frequently seen. It is all about our societal conditioning.
Anger regulations enforce inequality. Those at the top -- white men -- are told that they are seen as more powerful when they express anger. But when women or minorities express anger, especially anger at the status quo of inequality, we are shunned and stigmatized, which therefore keeps us down in power once again. Men can continue to hang onto their power by forcing women to simply swallow their anger, because it means no one is challenging the status quo.
The gender bias on emotion is not only misogynistic and hypocritical, it is also dangerous. The riot and failed coup exemplifies the danger of validating only certain types of anger, and telling those individuals that they get a free pass to their anger, no matter the cause.
Some anger is valid and some frankly is not, and ironically it’s pretty much the opposite of what our society has taught us to inherently accept. The anger seen in the Black Lives Matter movement last year was valid. It was in response to being fucking murdered, to having rights taken away, to rallying against a racist state and racist society. It was not the same as the rage displayed in D.C. Yet after the Capitol attack, excusers were quick to conflate their invalid, petulant, entitled anger with expressions of valid anger.
You know what’s not valid anger? White supremacist anger. It’s founded in the idea that lives do not deserve equality; it’s founded on literally keeping people down. You wouldn’t meet a Nazi and think “oh yeah that dude’s anger seems super valid.” You’d be like “you’re a nazi and you’re an asshole.” At least, I fucking hope you would.
When the white supremacists descended on Washington to overthrow an election and support Trump, they felt entitlement to their rage. As the oppressor, they feel their anger is always valid, and therefore they should not have to pay any consequences to actions stemming from that anger.
Their anger should not be validated by our society. We should be holding them accountable for their actions, and for their invalid anger.
But our society teaches men that whatever their anger is about, no matter what it’s based in, it’s masculine and hot and good and okay. The danger in this is that when we create space for male anger and say that it is unconditionally valid, it also teaches men that subsequent actions stemming from that anger is valid. Our society is quick to justify and exonerate men’s anger and actions, including actively shifting blame away from men for their behavior. This cycle of approval, absolution and justification teaches men that they can act with impunity.
Examples of this can be found in rape allegations. Our society quickly looks to exonerate the rapist. We shift blame off of the perpetrator and onto the shoulders of victims, or onto the shoulders of others in general. "He did what he did because of something else." Women are blamed for not only their own actions, but also actions done unto them. "That happened to her because of her." Blame is shifted away from the man, and onto the victim. Examples include questions such as “what was she wearing?” “was she drinking?” “what did she do to lead him on?” and dismissals such as “I’m sure he got the wrong message” “he must not have realized what he was doing.” Our society looks for reasons to justify the action, and validates the action by doing so.
Brett Kavanaugh’s entitled anger was the perfect example to how our society validates white male anger. Women who react too much in rape cases -- especially with anger -- are judged for their emotion. Meanwhile, Kavanaugh was free to express his sheer indignation at having to even answer to the allegations against him. He exuded anger. His supporters understood his anger and viewed it as righteous. How dare this woman try to ruin his career, they sneered.
Mass shootings are another example. Exoneration looks like “he was bullied” or “he had a bad home life” or “he was rejected by his peers”. Reasoning for domestic terrorist attacks in America is quickly found when the violence is committed by white men. Society says that something else pushed them to commit the crime, and suddenly this shifting of behavioral responsibility is complete.
Not all unjustified anger leads to violence. But by blindly approving all anger and actions by a certain group, our society is teaching that group that even if their anger does lead to violence, they will be exonerated for their actions, and can therefore emote and act with immunity.
Not all anger is created equal. The suppressed have a right to anger. When you have had violence committed to you, by others, stemming from societal injustices and societal issues, you deserve to be angry. When you are the oppressor, your temper tantrum is not the same thing as deep traumatic wounds. As Audre Lorde said: “Anger is loaded with information and energy.”
We need to take it upon ourselves individually and collectively to unlearn the internalized misogyny that comes with emotion, and we must learn to embrace and use our anger to overthrow a violent oppressive system. We should be angry at a society that permits, encourages, validates, and excuses violence against us.
In Rage Becomes Her, Soraya Chemaly writes: “It is hard to overstate how problematic the transfer of anger, as a resource, from girls to boys and women to men is—not only to us as individuals but also to our society. This transfer is critical to maintaining white supremacy and patriarchy. Anger remains the emotion that is least acceptable for girls and women because it is the first line of defense against injustice.”
I get asked quite frequently how I manage my anger, which probably shows that it’s an emotion I am associated with. And you know what? I feel honored that rage has become me and I am my rage. I am confident with my anger. My anger fuels me. My anger is me.
I urge you to channel your rage and let it nourish you rather than stifling it. Suppressing it just makes you agreeable and appealing to an unjust society, and why would you ever want to be that? Go ahead and set your rage on fire. You’ll be shocked at how powerful you are.