Posted: Sun, May 26, 2013 | By: Feminism
by Chela Davison
this essay was first published at BeamsandStruts, HERE
It’s more important to me that you like me than that you treat me with respect. I’d rather be contorted inside than make you uncomfortable. I will trade my dignity for your acceptance and I will not, under any circumstances, behave irrationally without later feeling deep shame at my failure to be understanding, compassionate and appropriate. My perspective is irrelevant, my needs are excessive, my boundaries are flimsy and my relentless vigilance to consider the impact that every move I make may have on you, without considering the great sacrifice that acquiescing is to my wellbeing is not something I should resent or even try to change because, after all, it shows that I am a good hearted woman.
This article is an exploration; a dive into women and anger, specifically the large part of the female population who have difficulty experiencing or expressing anger, who habitually go to more ‘appropriate’ or ‘feminine’ emotions, dissociating from, repressing or bypassing their anger. Over the years I’ve been let in to the interior experiences of countless women, many of whom claim to rarely experience their anger or fear it terribly. We’ll explore some of the themes of these experiences, feeling into them from the inside, as well as look at some of our current and inherited cultural baggage around anger.
When looking around at the time we’re in on the planet, women have an incredible amount of power and freedom compared to our mother’s mothers. Where historically expressions of aggression or externalized anger didn’t fit with our station, one could argue that we are in a time when we have ample opportunity to express anger. In fact we can give a nod to many cycles of feminism for blazing paths fueled by fed up rage. I’m not suggesting in this piece that anger isn’t hotly expressed by some women, but I see it as still wholly unacceptable in our culture to express or even experience it. Is this simply the dregs of the past, not yet shaken from our evolutionary bushes? Or is there something else, themes specific to where we are in our current time? Some key themes that I see in our current culture that I want to explore that stand to reject or at least limit the space for anger in women are three archetypes that feel very alive and relevant for our time: Superwoman, Crazy Bitches and Beauty Queens.
My potential is pulsing through me, veins throbbing, bright futures my heroine hit. I can be anything I want to be. I can do anything I want to do. I climb ladders and hierarchies. I make grades and money, love and babies and I raise them alongside my standards for what’s possible. I can do anything a man can do. I am unstoppable and passionate and the only one providing for me, is me. I don’t need support, I lift others along the way, my deep caring is untouchable, unconditional. I will make my foremothers proud by doing everything, everything their culture wouldn’t allow. And I will do it all while being calm, collected and smokin’ hot.
We’re in the age of the Everything Woman, the Superwoman. After generations of fighting against suppression and being confined to limited roles, women of the West enjoy the luxury of choice and opportunity. Yet while we have so many options, with our parents or teachers or culture telling us that the sky’s the limit and we can be whatever we want to be, there is rampant internalized pressure that we should do it all, be it all. Inside this massive space of expectation, anxiety and fear of failure can be engulfing as we try to find our way. Our way is often found through trying to meet particular standards and the standards of that of the Superwoman Archetype are unattainable.
As women find their way within roles that have been historically male, or in attempts to claim power and become successful, there is a draw to emulate traditionally masculine qualities. What I have seen in a lot of high functioning, successful women and experience within myself is a high need for rationality, clarity and conscious expression of emotions. While I feel quite deeply and am tuned in to the subtleties of my arising emotion and, for the most part, feel quite comfortable expressing these emotions where some may fear to tread, I also feel a lot of contraction and containment around what healthy expressions of emotion means, particularly when it comes to anger. When buying into the Superwoman archetype, the pressure to seriously have one’s shit together is huge. To experience or express an emotion that feels hot, uncontrollable or irrational conflicts greatly with this the identity of being mature, collected and on top of your game. Robert Masters points out the emotion vs. reason struggle as follows:
“It is not uncommon to view emotions as being lower or more primitive than reason, doing little more than clouding the skies of rational thought, or muddying objectivity. Thinking clearly is thus often associated with dispassion, or a muting of our emotions; moral decisions are allegedly best made when passion and feeling are either “safely” out of the picture, or kept functionally peripheral to the decision-making process, much like children excluded or kept at a distance from parental discussion.
To view emotions as lower (or less reliable) than reason also has serious gender implications, femaleness being commonly associated with “getting emotional,” and maleness with being rational. This is roughly paralleled by those views that claim that the neocortex, associated with rational thought, is “higher” than the
phylogenetically older zones of the brain that supposedly “house” and deal with emotions- which implies that men, being supposedly more rational, are therefore more developed than women. “You’re being emotional!” remains more of a putdown than “You’re being rational!””
If we’re going to play like the big boys, we’d better learn to act like them. As much as there’s emerging leadership among women to bring something new in the way we show up in this world, part of trying to claim our small piece in a patriarchal society has, in many ways, been by emulating maleness, taking on more traditionally ‘masculine’ attributes such as agency, directionality and the ability to put emotion aside and get r done. But we’re still women, so add to this the cultural assumptions that anger and aggression is more male than female we end up a little stuck. While we can get as rational, logical and pragmatic as we want, when we start taking on traditionally ‘male’ expressions of anger or aggression it’s ‘whoa girl, no need to bring out the crazy bitch’.
Enter stage left…
The Crazy Bitch
I am not overreacting and I am not FUCKING YELLING. What does that even mean; I can’t see your perspective? I can see just fine. Fuck you. EVERYONE is ALWAYS blaming me. Well guess what!? I’ve had it, I hate you. I will fucking destroy you. I am sick of being pushed around, no one thinks about me, no one considers what this is like for me. Me me me! I can’t breathe I am so furious. I feel like I am going to explode, I want to throw something, break something, smash something and that something is going to be you. You better watch your back bitch. You’ll pay for this loser. Fuck.
There is a crazy bitch it our midst. Her fury cannot be contained or reasoned with and not in some admirable way like a warrior princess. She does damage. She’s mean spirited and cruel. She will do and say what mustn’t be done or said. She’s selfish, unconscious, and narcissistic. She cannot be trusted. Her perspective is whack and she can’t see past her own insane interpretations of injustice. She’s a victim of the worst kind and is relentless in her vengeance. Not only is she crazy, she’s crazy making, she moves around and can’t be pinned down, never accepting responsibility for anything. She makes trouble, stirs the pot and aims to destroy sanity and happiness and connection. Her expression of anger is uncensored and immature.
The Crazy Bitch, as an archetype that we deal with in our culture, creates a different kind of damage than this alleged woman. The Crazy Bitch archetype, as described above, degrades healthy expressions of anger and keeps unhealthy suppressions of anger right where they are, muffled. A woman raging will be cast this term before the first yelp lands on ears. The rising of the Crazy Bitch within oneself can be so terrifying that any path other than setting her loose must be chosen.
Who wants to be a crazy bitch? Not a single one of us. What does it take to be perceived as one? Not much as it turns out. The Crazy Bitch is in our psyche,any moment and thus she keeps the healthy maturation of anger under wraps. Anger is not a straight or clean or soft emotion. The bubbling of it can make us feel out of control, wild and even crazy. The Crazy Bitch looms as a promise of who you shall become should you let that anger continue to rise. The fear of being her is very real among women. And the accusation that she has arrived waits like mud in fists to be slung. And it’s slung quickly. “What a crazy effing bitch” at the first sign of aggression, at a push back, complaint, contrary voice or firm boundary.
Women are irrational right? We’re too emotional and lack the ability to think and act clearly. While this may seem like an outdated statement, absurd to those of us who consider ourselves evolved. It is so deeply felt within our culture; there is very real pressure to not be a Crazy Bitch. When discussing this recently with a male friend, he said ‘but there are crazy bitches’. True, there are women who inappropriately express anger in very destructive ways. So do men. What’s the male equivalent to a ‘crazy bitch’? This very real identity structure lives with women and is something to be avoided at all costs.
We shun each other for inappropriate expressions of rage and we shun ourselves. Here’s the trap though. If we’re relentlessly trying to ensure we don’t act out of line, if we’re avoiding, at all costs, being a crazy bitch, the cost is great. The cost is practice; that is building the capacity to healthily experience and express anger, becoming intimate and resourceful with this hot emotion.
‘Crazy Bitches’, that is a woman in an overt expression of anger that seems to lack any sense of regard for others or the ability to take other perspectives or have any self-control doesn’t just end up there suddenly. Explosions of anger often come long after dignity has been sacrificed, boundaries have been crossed and grievances have been left unexpressed. Crazy Bitch comes out to play when enough is enough, thank you very much. For those around it can seem out of the blue, but that’s because the building of the anger has been repeatedly pushed down, rationalized, side-stepped or molded into a more appropriate emotion. For those of us who have, in one expression or another, felt as though we’ve acted like (or even been perceived as) a crazy bitch, feeling and expressing our anger MORE does not seem like the appropriate course of action. But with practice, we become more skillful and with skill, we lessen the probability of being run by our emotions in destructive ways and embodying this archetype.
The Beauty Queen
OMG, does this Rage make my face look fat? These frown lines are totally making me look old and ugly. Botox please. I need to calm down and quit being so upset, my face is totally red and my eyes are puffy. I can’t go out like this; I look like a bulldog. I feel so pissed off, no one should have to be around me right now. I’m so mad; I could just cry and cry. I wish I could just get over it; this is so embarrassing and not very feminine to be all raging.
Hold up a picture of an airbrushed woman and a real woman and we’ll automatically think the airbrushed one is prettier (and don’t give me any of that ‘no, real beauty is far better’ garbage, save it for someone who isn’t paying attention to what’s going on.) If we put a placid porcelain woman with a receptive gaze and half smile next to a red faced, raging woman, we’ll automatically feel more attracted to the former, and possibly even repulsed by the latter.
Anger. It makes you ugly.
The image of an angry woman doesn’t line up with what we conventionally hold as being beautiful or feminine. Softness and receptivity, an open, glowing, graceful and cool look are depictions of femininity and beauty. Flawlessness. Mystery. The raw humanity of the fullness of this expression exposes the human parts, the dark parts or, in this culture, the ugly parts. So ladies, wanna be hot? Check the anger.
Beyond the aesthetic affront that rage can be, anger as an emotion is more often associated with being masculine. Beauty is held as the ultimate superpower in our culture and to not be feminine, or to seem masculine conflicts directly with the pressure to be beautiful. Not only can it feel less conventionally feminine to be experiencing or expressing anger, many of us have learned that anger won’t get us as far as tears in expressing what we want or need. Collapsing into tears, expressing sadness, grief or vulnerability is far more acceptable, especially when trying to communicate with a male counterpart. In some ways, this could actually be seen as a form of emotional manipulation in women as showing the softer emotions are more likely to get us the attention or tenderness that we may desire. What this doesn’t do, however, is tend to our feelings of anger and can lead to all sorts of displacement within our emotional selves as we continually try to find ways to get our needs met and be in relationship with others in a way that still has us look and feel like the feminine beings we’re supposed to be.
As we can see, each of these cultural constructs contain constraints (say that ten times fast!) that we ought to wrangle ourselves out of. When feeling inside as these archetypes I can feel a sensation of contraction around a variety of fears that inform the choices we make, the experience we have and thus the cyclical nature of rejecting our anger. So what are these fears and what slick new moves can we try out to begin practicing with anger in a healthy and productive way? While any of these fears could be experienced independent of the archtypes cited, for the sake of creative continuity, let’s check them out below as above.
Being out of Control: It takes a lot of energy, skill and awareness to do what I do in the way that I do. Anger frightens me because it feels like a storm that doesn’t consider that which it wreaks havoc on. I am afraid if I really let this bubble up that I will be taken over by it and no longer be the intentional driver of my own life.
Ill Repute: I have put a lot into building a strong reputation and I must be vigilant in not allowing a passing emotion to rip that down. I’m afraid that I will be perceived in a way that will not bode well for the favourable reputation I am trying to uphold.
Being wrong: Since I am aware that multiple perspectives exist simultaneously, I am also aware that my anger exists within my own subjective experience, thus; there are things that I cannot see. If I express my anger prior to exploring all perspectives, I run the risk of being wrong or being out of line. I must ensure that my feelings are entirely valid prior to expressing them.
Developmental inferiority: I am identified with being developmentally high, particularly in a spiritual or interrelation context. To react or become upset challenges my longing to be above my base humanity. When I remain calm, cool and collected I am exercising my own superiority, (which in itself can be violent.)
Crazy Bitch’s Fears
Loss of Perspective: I’m insane. My altered state leaves things foggy and distorted. I’m having a difficult time discerning perspectives and measuring their validity. This makes it challenging to trust myself or others and I feel overwhelmed.
Causing Pain: When I lash out if frightens or hurts others. In a moment of reactive rage, things get said or done and that can be deeply cutting. Finding out that I have deeply wounded someone I love fills me with shame. I so fear this that I perpetuate it by not expressing my own hurt or boundaries until suddenly lashing out and repeating the shame and anger cycle.
Loss of relationship: I am afraid that my own reaction and overt expressions of anger will be too much for others and that I will permanently damage the relationship. Consequently, I am on the look-out for others causing damage and can find myself pushing others away or feeling unforgiving towards other people’s expression of anger.
Beauty Queen’s Fears
Being vulnerable: My self-sense is strongly connected to perfection. My desire to be flawless has me feel afraid of being truly seen. I don’t like feeling exposed and vulnerable to criticism. I want to be seen and heard, I want to express my discontent but I am afraid of how I will be regarded by others and it’s very important to me to be accepted.
Being unworthy: I am trying to uphold a standard of femininity and beauty and what lingers beneath is a deep fear of inadequacy. I fear that I don’t have the right to feel what I feel or to be upset. Further, even if I do have a right to be upset, I don’t feel worthy of retribution or deep connection and regard.
Being rejected: I am afraid of being left or rejected. Being liked and accepted is very important to me and I don’t want to behave in a way that might make people feel repelled or even repulsed by me. I am identified with being beautiful and likeable and endeavor to behave in a way that keeps positive attention coming towards me, not moving away from me.
Facing our fears and dancing in the flames
So what are we to do with all of this? This article is aiming to turn us towards some of the complexities that we face when dealing with anger. To begin to work with and shift our habitual ways of being in relationship with our anger (and all of our emotions,) we must first be awake to it, curious about what is going on. I see the archetypes above as a doorway into this exploration. From here, as we become more intimate with our own experience, our beliefs, our motivations and our fears, we can begin to practice something new. What feels most frightening about practicing with anger is that the emotion itself is so hot, and in moments when it arises, the stakes often feel very high. But as we pay close attention, we may cautiously or boldly try a new move, bringing our beautiful, crazy superpowers into a hot dance with anger herself.
this essay was first published at BeamsandStruts, HERE
Want to read more by Chela Davison? We recommend her essay, I Heart My Vagina - Vaginoplasty and the Spiritual Circumcision of Women