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Why Men and Women Dread Female Anger

How the taboos against female anger keep us in place.

Women have long been discouraged from the awareness and forthright expression of anger. Sugar and spice are the ingredients from which we are made. We are the nurturers, the soothers, the peacemakers, and the steadiers of rocked boats. It is our job to please, protect, and placate the world. We may hold relationships in place as if our lives depended on it.

Women who openly express anger at men are especially suspect. Even when society is sympathetic to our goals of equality, we all know that “those angry women” turn everybody off. Unlike our male heroes, who fight and even die for what they believe in, women may be condemned for waging a bloodless and humane revolution for our own rights. The direct expression of anger, especially at men, makes us un-ladylike, unfeminine, unmaternal, sexually unattractive, destructive and strident.

Even our language condemns such women as “shrews,” “witches,” “bitches,” “hags,” “nags,” “man-haters,” and “castrators.” They are unloving and un- lovable. They are devoid of femininity. Certainly, you do not wish to become one of them. No wonder it takes courage to define oneself as a feminist, to risk being viewed as "one of those angry women."

It is an interesting sidelight that our language—created and codified by men—does not have one unflattering term to describe men who vent their anger at women. Even such epithets as “bastard” and “son of a bitch” do not condemn the man but place the blame on a woman—his mother!

Why are angry women so threatening to others? If we are guilty, depressed, or self-doubting, we stay in place. We do not take action except against our own selves and we are unlikely to be agents of personal and social change. In contrast, angry women may change and challenge the lives of us all, as witnessed by the past decades of feminism. And change is an anxiety-arousing and difficult business for everyone, including those of us who are actively pushing for it.

As women we may learn to fear our own anger, not only because it brings about the disapproval of others, but also because it signals the necessity for change. We may begin to ask ourselves questions that serve to block or invalidate our own experience of anger. Or we yo-yo back and forth in relationships between distance and blame.

The challenge is to refuse to silence our healthy anger and protest. And when getting angry is getting nowhere, we need to do something different. Anger serves us best when we use it to define the self, and to take a new and different position on our own behalf. The challenge is to use our anger wisely and well, as a vehicle for both personal and social change. Learn how. As I explain in The Dance of Anger, our anger exists for a reason and always deserves our attention and respect.

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