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Women + anger

Women + anger

[In the interests of transparency, integrity and to state up front an awareness of my positionality – I am writing as a white cis woman.  I recognise the privilege that comes with that in terms of the access to education, financial security and host of other considerations that this privilege has afforded me.  I do not speak for all women, nor do I believe for one second that I have learned all there is to understand about this very complex intersection of challenges. I will use the terms ‘women’ and ‘men’ throughout this week’s blog and recognise that this is a binary position that doesn’t adequately represent everyone’s experiences.  My intention is not to exclude trans or non-binary voices and I fully acknowledge my limited personal experience in this space.]

Once upon a time, in a place not so very far from here, a little girl was born.  She had big enquiring eyes and a smile that lit up a room.  She brought sunshine into the lives of her parents, siblings and everyone who met her.  She grew up to be a kind and compassionate friend, being taught to think of others before herself.   She was helpful and tried to give more than she took from friends, family and the lands where she grew up.  She worked hard, was diligent and always endeavoured to do a ‘good job’.  She was polite and courteous; in short, she was a ‘good girl’ and she grew up to be a ‘good woman’.  Then on an ordinary day, which started much like any other, something changed.  On this day she felt really very angry about something (it might have been lots of things), and when she expressed that anger (in a manner that she’d seen men do around her all her life, from her father to her brothers, to her (boy)friends, and to men on screens, sporting fields and at work) her life changed.  She was told to ‘calm down’ and ‘to not get hysterical’.  She was told that she wasn’t being very ‘nice’.  And it made her more cross.  So cross in fact that she felt rage for the first time in her life.

While I was out walking this morning (Sunday), I realised that I wanted to write about something that I’m aware is an emotionally charged, and difficult topic – women and anger – and realised that maybe if I started it as some kind of fairy tale it might not be so hard to approach.  Turns out it still pretty hard to write so forgive me if it’s a bit clunky this week.  But I’ve been having lots of conversations recently (not just in sessions within the practice) where women have been sharing just how very angry they are, and men have been sometimes (often?) a bit confused by their reactions / experience of this anger.  So, I’ve been reflecting about how I’ve been clumsily trying to explain it / explore it with people and thought I’d share it this week.

First up, let’s be super clear, anger is an emotion like all the other ones we have access to (go watch Inside Out 1 & 2 if you need a crash-course on feelings) and everyone – irrespective of whether or not they have a uterus – can be angry. Anger also serves an important biological purpose. Anger primes us to physically counter threat – it makes our heart beat faster, blood sugar levels rise, breath-rate increase, and senses sharpen ready to do the perceived ‘fighting’. Interestingly, when it comes to scientific / academic research, there’s been much more attention given to other emotions like sadness, and there’s not as much that has focused on anger.  (The cynic in me wonders if that has anything to do with the lucrative market that exists in the treatment of depression, but I digress…) Research suggests that there isn’t much difference between the experience of anger between genders – dispelling the ‘angry men’ myth.  The difference comes in the way that it’s expressed, and most importantly what is considered ‘normal’ and ‘appropriate’ in that expression of anger.

I always bang on about how important the context of things is.  Well, I think it’s important to know that the word ‘hysteria’ comes from the ancient Greek word for uterus (hystera) and back 1900 years BC it was believed that most of women’s ‘afflictions’ came from the premise that a woman’s uterus wandered problematically around the body, triggering wild and changeable emotions.  I wish I was kidding. I literally could spend a whole week writing blogs about this but read the book ‘Vagina’ by Naomi Woolf for more on this – a great book.  This is the stuff that our western, medical model health is built upon.

Whilst anger is experienced at an individual (internal) level HOW it is interpreted (by ourselves and others) is shaped by the society and culture we live in.  Women (for a host of reasons I’m not getting into today) have been cast as the ‘fairer sex’, as the nurturers, caregivers and the ‘emotional’ gender. It has not been acceptable for us to display our anger the way that men have been taught / encouraged to.  And when we have, we got labelled as ‘difficult’, ‘crazy’, ‘irrational’ or ‘a bitch’.  So, we have learned to internalise our anger.  To keep the peace, to maintain or prioritise relationships or maybe because we were just too tired to do anything else.  I believe that this might be one of the many reasons we have higher rates of diagnosed depression and anxiety than men – what happens to anger that gets internalised if it doesn’t make us sad, anxious and prone to either overt or less obvious forms of self-harm?

And when it comes to the specific context of 2024, I think that women have an awful lot that’s tangible to be angry about: in Australia we have lost more than 30 women at the hands of men this year, with rates of gender-based violence increasing exponentially. We are not just angry about the misogyny, inequality and mistreatment that we have experienced – in the street, in our relationships, in our workplaces, in the medical / healthcare system, throughout all levels of government and society – we are ENRAGED.  For too long our pain (physical and mental) has been dismissed, misunderstood and misdiagnosed.  We’re more likely to be given Valium than adequate pain medication in a hospital.  I’ve had clients who have been told they’re anxious when they’ve actually been having a heart attack.  And that’s just the tip of the iceberg in one country at the bottom of the earth, I can’t even bring myself to address the global context.

In a therapy space I’m a huge fan of anger.  It calls for action, it screams to be moved to be worked with.  It says to me “let’s f*cking do this!” And that is powerful and can be so healing.  But outside of that space can be tricky because we’re butting up against the stereotypes and gender norms that don’t appreciate all that comes spewing out when we attempt to articulate the rage we carry.  So, I don’t really have a solution for right now.  Except to say that I feel it too, I get it and I’m trying to figure it out too.  We are not alone.  Oh, and therapy helps.

Great reads:

  • Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez
  • Rage Becomes her by Soraya Chemaly
  • Pain and Prejudice by Gabrielle Jackson
  • Unwell Women by Elinor Cleghorn
  • Vagina by Naomi Woolf


If you’d like to explore your mental health and would like a space to talk about your own anger and rage, please get in touch with us: / / 03 9077 8194.