Since the dawn of humankind, women have been life bearers and sustainers. The role of women varies between cultures and historical eras, but in our culture, bearing life has been tied to expectations of softer attributes: compassion, patience, empathy, etc.
Men, on the other hand, are supposed to be action-oriented: dominant, assertive, and hard-working, for example. And while anger isn’t exactly a desirable trait for either gender in most cultures, it’s much more accepted for men.
Anger doesn’t fit into the stereotypical attributes expected of women. Society teaches women to be easygoing and personable—anything but angry. From the witch trials of Salem to the vilification of female celebs today, the patriarchy has told women to suppress emotions for centuries.
Here’s why you unequivocally should stop doing that sh*t.
The Origins Of The Demure Femme
The origin of the patriarchy is murky at best. According to The Invisible Sex: Uncovering the True Roles of Women in Prehistory, humankind’s history bears little resemblance to the mammoth-hunting men and timid plant-gathering women often portrayed in classrooms. And while it’s true some cultures have revered women more than others, the patriarchy in which we find ourselves today did not root itself in these customs.
On the contrary, American patriarchy is largely based on religious ideals and institutional sexism. After all, how could a country that only granted women financial independence 48 years ago be anything but a patriarchy? Misogynistic values dominate the media, professional fields, the legal system, and more. Though things have improved for women in recent decades, the United States is still a patriarchy through and through.
With that comes a certain set of expectations for women: Maintain the house, keep the man happy, don’t rock the boat, and don’t step out of turn. We all know what that looks like. It’s the boss passing over your ideas for no reason or a stranger on the street demanding you to smile. It looks like someone telling you, ‘no one will like you if you’re too bossy,’ as a young girl.
Fighting Back Against The Double Standards
The influence of this way of thinking is overwhelming. Nevertheless, many women have stood up to patriarchy. From the women’s liberation movement of the 1970s to the #MeToo movement of the late 2010s, women have pushed against misogynistic double standards both en masse and independently over the years.
Despite Christine Blasey Ford’s calm demeanor when she testified against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, Ford was bullied by the media. Meanwhile, Kavanaugh delivered an over-the-top emotional testimony. Had Ford followed suit, her behavior certainly would have been deemed untrustworthy, hysterical, or both, and probably much worse.
Similarly, when Serena Williams demanded respect from a referee, she was vilified. She was accused of disrespecting a game to which she’s devoted virtually her whole life. Meanwhile, other male athletes who have done the same were praised for their no-nonsense grit.
Of course, we don’t need high-profile figures to illustrate the point for us. How many times has your assertiveness rewarded you with a five-letter word that starts with a B? How often have you been told to calm down—perhaps even that you were being hysterical? Women are socialized to suppress their anger, but where does it go when we do?
The Power Behind ‘Hell Hath No Fury’
Anger doesn’t dissipate because society tells us it’s un-ladylike, and maybe that’s a good thing. According to Soraya Chemaly’s book Rage Becomes Her: The Power of Women’s Anger, there is great strength in these emotions. There’s a reason “hell hath no fury like a woman scorned” is so ubiquitous: it’s true.
Jill Suttie outlines the main points of Rage Becomes Her in Greater Good Magazine. She writes, “anger is what psychologists call an activating emotion—one that propels us to engage rather than withdraw. Anger, not sadness, is a way to actively make change and confront challenges. It leads to perceptions of higher status and respect.”
“Anger makes people visible,” Suttie continues. “Repressing anger reinforces invisibility.” And that’s the exact opposite of what women need to be. Chemaly’s book outlines productive ways to channel that anger, including cultivating communities, trusting other women, and practicing ongoing mindfulness.
Why You Should Stay Angry, Aggressive, And Assertive
Whether political, social, or personal, there are many reasons why women should absolutely stay angry. But perhaps the most important reason is their health. “Suppressed, repressed, diverted, and ignored anger is now understood as a factor in many ‘women’s illnesses,’ including disordered eating, autoimmune diseases, chronic fatigue, and pain,” Chemaly writes in a 2019 Guardian article.
Female anger is protective, too—just think of the ‘mama bear’ stereotype. In a country rife with domestic violence, child abuse, and other injustices, women’s anger can catalyze political, social, and legal change. Female anger creates new legislation, philanthropies, and foundations.
The COVID-19 pandemic shone a glaring light on gender disparities that have existed for decades. As we delve further into our post-COVID world, it’s our responsibility to keep the lights on. We have come a long way from the days when our grandmothers couldn’t even vote, but we have so much further to go.
And if there’s one thing that’s certain, it’s this: we will only get there by the light of our internal flames, burning with righteous anger, tough love, and divine feminist empowerment.