The Sharpened Quill

Caitlin Kelly

Caitlin Kelly
Tarrytown, NY, USA
December 31
non-fiction author/speaker/consultant
Bio Author "Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail" (Portfolio, April 2011), deemed "an excellent memoir" by Entertainment Weekly. Out in paperback July 31, 2012. I also edit other writers' work -- everything from thrillers to business books. Email me for hourly rates; references available.

Caitlin Kelly's Links

JANUARY 13, 2012 10:05AM

Hell, Yes, I'm Angry! (And Female)

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Angry Talk (Comic Style)
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This is a hilarious/sad post, re-posted on the fab American feminist website, from about what happens when women -- gasp! -- get angry:

What struck me was that both Rex and the attorney had delivered ill-timed, emotionally charged information, and when I'd expressed proportionate anger or irritation, the blame somehow boomeranged back onto me. I'd been expected to remain amiable, though by any objective measurement, that expectation was ludicrous...

Had their mothers and the women before me never displayed anger in front of them? Or were these men so conditioned by notions of women as the gentler sex they didn't understand that I wouldn't put up with their crap?

I've been a feminist since I was a little kid...But it's weird to me that many straight men watch professional sports and action films, or back their friends up in bar fights, and find those displays of aggression admirable— but when a woman loses her temper for a specific and valid reason, these same men judge her for what is, like burping, a human reaction.

How do we alter the notion that a woman who stands up for herself, her loved ones, or her beliefs is the one who's causing trouble? By accepting once and for all that legitimate female anger isn't the hallmark of a bitch, cunt, ballbuster, or drama queen. We're nearly 52% of the population— it's time for more men to understand our behavior isn't aberrant, and for more women not to feel "guilty" for not staying in the narrow range of traditionally accepted emotional responses. Women are multi-faceted humans with a full range of ambitions and emotional needs. Guys, sometimes we disagree with you, but sometimes we disagree with each other. Which is how it should be.

I grew up in a family where the women -- hmmm, how to put this delicately -- shouted their goddamn heads off all the time. Rocket-boosted by alcohol and/or mental illness and/or an unwillingness to confront the malfeasants making them nuts, the explosions were pretty constant.

There was no notion chez Kelly that polite, calm, quiet = ladylike. Incoming verbal RPG was more their style which, funny thing, I adopted as my own.

Which, funny thing, has made a lot of people nervous: colleagues, bosses, boyfriends, family, neighbors and friends. One woman my age, who now knows me very well indeed, initially told me she found me intimidating. Me? I'd heard it a lot.

Because I don't suffer fools gladly. Or at all.

This has made for a sometimes volcanic relationship with my husband, who also has one hell of a temper  -- in direct contrast to his usual quiet, calm demeanor. No one can believe him capable of such anger. Me? No problem.

I'm always a little eerily fascinated by women who refuse to get angry. I'm in awe if they are now calm and mature enough to simply find a better solution than anger, but sometimes it is exactly the right riposte to bullshit, cruelty and deception.

Here's a recent blog post by a Canadian friend, emmapeel2, a woman my age, on the same subject. And, also from Open Salon, yet another great post, by Beth Mann, a woman who is fed up felling guilty for getting angry.

Guilty? Not at our house!

For many women, and those around them, rage is really the worst four-letter word.

Jose, my husband, and I had two massive fights, early on, that actually involved telling the other -- at midnight, living 30 miles apart -- to piss off and go home. His involved a $150 cab ride.

It taught us both a lot about one another, as both of us had been badly bullied when younger.

Some of the important lessons we learned from a full-throated expression of our anger:

I have limited bandwidth for bullshit

I am able to set and keep my boundaries

I won't hold a grudge -- I'll talk to you tomorrow, just not right now

I value/trust you enough to let you know how I really feel, not fake cheer and surface politesse

I have weak spots! You've just found a few of them

Fighting with someone you love won't kill the relationship, but clinging to unexpressed stuff might

I get it -- you arrived at this mid-life affair with baggage. Some of your anger is generic/vestigial and has nothing to do with me, really

It's OK to get really angry with me. I deserve it sometimes for being such an asshole

I'm able to apologize and mean it

I can accept your apology and move forward

Anger is an emotion that both men and women feel. But only men are socially sanctioned to express it publicly and clearly and forthrightly.

Women who get angry terrify people, because...?

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I've been talking about this lately because my husband got diagnosed with cancer and I'm going thru the 'angry" phase and boy! people don't like it. They want me to smile and say, "everything will be fine." and it's absolutely disgusting how our culture does not want to hear a woman in pain. Some things never change. I still have depression and acceptance to go through but I believe there is a poem out there that says if I woman ever told the truth, the world would split open.
My favorite Goddess Athena carried a spear
and ruled the city that is still named after her.
As a man who has loved many women - perhaps more that I should have - all I can say is, "Gawd! This is refreshing!"

I know from experience that the woman woman who doesn't blow her top whenever wronged is headed for some problems further down the road. Moreover, when you do so, I get to understand just how pissed off you really are. It makes me realize that, if I caused your ire, I have a responsibility to make it up to you as best I can. If you just stay quiet and polite, I'll just let things slide and THAT won't please you at all.
People get terrified because it is still not totally acceptable. I have a mom who showed her anger, then let it go...a master of her emotional life. We knew we were loved, but could not mess with her. I think many men are intimidated by women's mastery of emotions. Great piece...
Deborah, I'm so sorry abut your husband...of course you're furious!! Who could not be? Someone who *wants* a seriously ill loved one? Anger is as normal (hate that patronizing word) reaction as breathing. I wish you and he the best...

skypixie, you get it....So many (truly nasty) women paste on a BIG smile and a SWEET soft voice but truly wish you murder as they do. Better we all know what page we're on, seems to me. Passive aggression is every bit as aggressive but you can't fight back (and clear the damn air) when someone is cooing/lying insistently, "No, I'm fine."

Gary, thanks! High praise. It has changed my worldview, through Jose's constancy, to realize I can get (not stay) angry and still be loved. I think many women are terrified that anger = loss of love/respect/acceptance, when in fact it can have the opposite effect.
I missed this, some how, but wanted to tell you that YOU ROCK!! Thank you for expressing what so many of us feel. Rated, hell yeah.
I like your list at the bottom, being in a long term relationship/marriage I can say, it's a mature and realistic look at anger. When I lose my temper, it's usually over soon, I hate the silent treatment, it solves nothing. There will be anger, hurt and hopefully it can be overcome with love and laughter. My Irish mom had a temper but what was worse was the silent martyr or sarcastic insults. Blow it out and laugh later I say.
"the silent martyr or sarcastic insults."

Keck! I grew up around both and it's bad shit. You got a problem? Say so, as calmly as possible. I can't address a problem you refuse to discuss clearly with about a power play!
If only sacarstic insults were productive. I'm so damn good at them when I'm mad.

Women who get angry terrify people because ... they know we aren't going to back down until a change is made, and they don't want to change.

Really huge generalizations follow!

It seems to me that men more often get mad about an incident that already occurred. Incident - Retaliation (of whatever sort) - Done. No future expectations.

Women are better at cataloging all prior infractons that fit this on-going problem that is pissing them off. They don't care so much about retaliating for the past as they do changing future behavior. Changing future behavior is way more scary than taking the heat for something done previously.
Interesting analysis. I wonder if (?) women store it up until they explode (even scarier) because they feel no one is listening -- while men may feel that those in power (usually other men) are at least speaking some of the same language and may be open to their reasoning.

It is ironic that anger can undercut our credibility or persuasiveness.
I now try to do a lot more negotiating and lot less yelling. It seems to be working.
I used to get angry a lot, growing up with two, angry, yelling, violent parents. I didn't know when to keep it in, and it cost me friendships. I learned to master that by first getting to the sources of my anger, and learning when to let it out, and how to let it out. I am angry a whole lot less, but I also intimidate a lot of people. Not because I rage, but because they can tell by the flash of lava in my eyes that I am not raging as I express my disappointment, anger or hurt. With that, I have also learned to take criticisms a lot less harshly and also less personally, many of other people's rages really have nothing to do with me and everything to do with their frustration in life.
"many of other people's rages really have nothing to do with me and everything to do with their frustration in life."

Very true. In "Malled" I talk about how many customers came in just spoiling for a fight, ready to verbally kick the shit out of lowly retail workers who can't fight back. I call them pre-pissed. Didn't matter what you said or did, it was your turn to get creamed.
Boy do I relate, especially to the part about arriving with baggage. I sometimes forget I am allowed to be angry due to circumstances which happened beyond my control (death of a spouse). I've remarried to the most understanding man. I realize I am so very fortunate to have someone who is tolerant of my sometimes unexplained rages. He always knows why before I do, and always accepts my apology when I do realize it has nothing to do with him.
I am.suspicious of anybody who.says they do.not get angry. Of course anger turned inward becomes depression.and botttled up.anger turned outward can lead to.other more complicating factors. I have had to learn some.anger is totally fine and probably healthy. Very good post.
Buffy, thanks...I think it takes a lot of empathy to realize it when your partner or spouse is losing it...and it really has almost nothing to do with you, even if you're the target. We both had an "epiphany" fight like that and it made a big difference.

Bernadine, thanks. I don't want to be around chronic anger, but it's crazy if you really are upset to deny it. I can't see (unless it is endangering you [and it could be]) not speaking your mind.
Great post Caitlin, and yeah, I've been told I'm "intimidating" too. To which I say, "Really? Because I sure don't feel it." I truly don't get why an angry woman is such a terrifying prospect. And like you, I don't suffer fools and I rarely ever hold grudges. I also know I can be an asshole at times, and that when people close to me are angry with me, I probably deserve it and need to shape up a little.
And I couldn't agree more on the tyranny of the passive-aggressive people among us.
Irish. Thanks Caitlin.
Great comments too ~ particularly your 'pre-pissed' from Malled.
...Because we are so frickin' POWERFUL when provoked. Vestigial is a great word to describe it. And the only reason I sometimes leash the beast is because I know it will drive my target crazy wondering when it'll bust loose. Sometimes the mystery of when the next boot will drop is more punitive.
this is a raw, needed lens thank you r.
I hate it when you finish with a question. Its a style I dislike as much of your writing.
emma, it took me a while to realize (duh!) -- that "you're intimidating" is a an easy label. What it means is "I find you intimidating." Buddy, that's *your* issue, not mine! People less comfortable speaking up/out can't fathom those of us who are OK going balls to the wall...doesn't it cost us? Why, yes! But keeping it passively "ladylike" costs me more.

Linn, that's the power assume I have none, or am too fearful to show it? Just wait...

Kim and Johnathan, thanks much!
blufeather, this is pretty funny.

So why bother reading it at all?
I spent most of my life stuffing my anger, turning it inwards. When my husband died I did not understand how I could ever be angry. I somehow believed it meant I was angry at him and he represented nothing but love to me. We never even had a disagreement in 23 years. I knew he fought hard not to die and I could not even be angry at him for dying. Then I dove into a deep depression, it was three years after his death. I found a psycho therapist you taught me to grieve. I found my anger. I relived my pain. I started my life again. I learned about Kali and and all the great goddesses who fight injustice and seek revenge against evil deeds and evil doers.
I found great happiness when I studied the "Gurlesque" poets and learned how to sculpt a poem from an angry place. Depression, ulcers, tears of pain, are all the result of anger turned inwards.
I married a real SOB the second time and got some big time practice being angry. I think I worked out a lifetime of anger on that fool when I found out what he did to me.
rated with love and lovely anger
Funny? I don't think so, sad, maybe.
Why read at all? To give you all of you angry women equal chance to be heard, "Duh".
RP, I suspect many women have a difficult time with anger...when and where to express it and dealing with the fallout when they do.
Thanks for making the time to comment and rate.
Kudos. And without knowing you personally, I can't tell you don't suffer fools gladly! (We learn more about each other here than we think!)

"and for more women not to feel "guilty" for not staying in the narrow range of traditionally accepted emotional responses."

Narrow range indeed. So narrow, sometimes I can't even fit.

Thanks for the mention and I hope all is well and your world.
Beth, thanks for stopping by...

I think women are "allowed" a very narrow bandwidth of emotions/reactions that don't make others that's a problem because...? Because, then the listener has to (re) adjust their ideas of what we're going to do or say.

But, to be fair, I suspect for many men it's as constricting/limiting to not be able to easily express tenderness or sadness.
There is a double standard for women in this respect. Men are "firm" and we're "bitchy."

I think it also depends on the larger culture of the company and industry you work in...As a career print journalist, I work in a rough-edged biz where women are valued for being tough, decisive and and as aggressive as the story requires. So I think it's been a good fit for me in that respect as I can largely simply be myself and still earn a living.
"Women who get angry terrify people, because...?"

In my experience, it was always an issue of power and control. The person 'allowed' to express usually has the last word, so to speak.

This was certainly the case with my ex, who would decide what I was intending to say within a few words, then cut me off and declare the conversation closed. Naturally HE was allowed to keep speaking, but if I tried to respond, he would remind me that he was "not going to argue" with me. I tried many ways, over several years, to get around it, but the only thing that ever worked was the time I turned the tables.

Every time he opened his mouth to speak, I held up my hand and loudly reminded him that he had declared this conversation over. After ten minutes of this, he was so frustrated and upset (gosh, go figure!) that he was standing over me in my chair, shaking from head to toe with desire to throttle me.
The look on his face when I calmly said, "Now do you understand how I feel when you won't let me talk?", was priceless!
Unfortunately, the lesson didn't stick, hence one of many reasons that he is my ex.
Barb, that's one scary relationship. Power struggles are exhausting and boring.