I have, for as far as I can remember, been called an angry person. There is a social taboo attached to women being angry. We are considered hormonal and driven by ‘nature’ rather than logic. Our passions are considered wild and it is the men who are in charge of taming us. There have been several instances when my husband’s friends have told him that they were afraid of me. We have a good laugh about how I rub people the wrong way. While it would have offended me earlier, nowadays I do not feel a thing. I know that what they are afraid of is my honesty. The fact that I choose not to hide my emotions makes them uncomfortable. Perhaps they are used to women wearing masks and appearing to be demure and coy. I do not fit the bill. Taken unawares, they turn their discomfort into my character flaw. That’s right. I have been conditioned to believe that being angry is a character flaw. Anger is an emotion. Human beings get angry. Some people are good at hiding it and some are not. That is the only difference. But the general discourse is that women’s anger is different from men’s anger. I have a problem with that.
Since childhood, girls are told to be nice to everyone. We must put others before us. If we get angry, then people around us get perturbed and one must always put up pretences. Thankfully for me, my parents never sent me any covert messages to that effect. However, that has not made me immune to familial criticism about my anger issues. On a particular birthday, my friends had given me a card which had said, “Don’t use your anger to burst balloons.” I still remember it to this day because I remember how it had made me feel. Not so good. But I was not the one to cave in. After years trying to ‘tame’ my anger, I have come to accept and own it. I have come to realise that on most days, my anger is valid. I don’t need to make excuses for it. I have come to realise that it is okay to be angry sometimes. It is also okay to let others know that you are angry in a healthy constructive way. It is alright to take some time out and breathe because anger is a secondary emotion. It is important to understand which is the primary one.
At various stages of my life, I have been angry about various things. As a child, I would be angry because I felt left out. As an introvert, I preferred being quiet and alone but I was angry when I realised that this was interpreted as being rude and reclusive. As a teenager, I was angry because I wanted to learn playing the guitar and my father thought learning the sarod would be a better option. As a young adult, I was angry with my parents for withholding freedom. I was angry for being misunderstood. I was angry for being expected to do certain things in a certain way. I was angry when I was asked in no uncertain terms to manage my own anger issues. And I did just that when I became a mother.
No one is ever quite ready; everyone is always caught off guard. Parenthood chooses you. And you open your eyes, look at what you’ve got, say “Oh, my gosh,” and recognize that of all the balls there ever were, this is the one you should not drop. It’s not a question of choice.Marisa de los Santos, Love Walked In
Even before I’d properly met my new-born son, I experienced self-doubt and guilt. Was it my fault that he was born premature? Had I done something wrong? Had I caused the foetus too much stress? I replayed over and over in my mind the events leading to the point when my water broke. I tried to see what I might have done to have caused the premature birth of my son. I remember being jealous of my husband for being able to see our son in the NICU while I was restricted to the bed for the first 3 days as a result of the emergency C-Section. I remember shouting at him in the hospital room. I wasn’t being angry. I was, but my primary emotion was not anger. I simply wanted someone to understand the pain, the frustration, and the deep yearning that felt to be near my baby. I had loved him much before I had met him. I did not know it then but these intense emotions that I felt were normal for a new mother to experience.
Over the years, I have spent time with my anger, talked to it, let it wash over me, observed it when it bubbled up from within, and then I let it go. I own it now. I know when and why I get angry and I have figured out a way to not let it fester. Motherhood is made out to be all roses and peaches but there are moments when as a mother, I feel broken inside. There are times when I feel incapable of being calm but I have made peace with the fact that there will be times and situations when I will not be myself. I need my son to know that his mother is not perfect. However, what still bothers me is the constant criticism covert or overt, that befalls all women. Our anger is taken at face value and nobody takes a minute to consider that there could be some deep-seated frustration (and mostly sleep-deprivation) that can be the cause of the angst.
If we are mothers, we are allowed to be angry about what happens to our children and families, we are allowed to be angry at our families and children as mothers and partners, but we are not allowed to be angry about what happens to us in the experience and expectations of motherhood.Soraya Chemaly, Rage Becomes Her.
In Rage Becomes Her, Soraya Chemaly talks about the origin of anger for women and she takes us back to the first and formative years for a girl child. The messages she receives, mostly through body language stays with her for the rest of her life. They are trained to be experts in emotional labour. Emotional Labour is the work done by people who have to express emotions they do not feel while suppressing those they do. Recently, I saw this video of an African American girl. She must have been 4 or 5. A woman was doing her hair and she suddenly burst into tears saying that she was ugly. It broke my heart to see how the poison trickles down in society and how early on the children absorb it. According to research, girls are granted less opportunity to speak their minds, at home or in the classroom. Instead, they are taught to be polite by not interrupting. If boys are not taught the same rules, then the message the boys receive is that girls are assigned lower status, with less authority and credibility. It is our responsibility to teach (mostly) girls, three key sentences— “Stop interrupting me”, “I just said that”, and “No explanation needed.”
Men explain things to me, still. And no man has ever apologized for explaining, wrongly, things that I know and they don’t.Rebecca Solnit
Girls are perennially portrayed as damsels in distress. They are literal or metaphorical princesses waiting to be rescued by Prince Charming. The media throws up images of sexualised and objectified women with such conviction that we have internalised these into our cultural discourse. Women are meant to be demure not angry. While men’s anger is legitimised, women’s anger is demonised. Movies like Stree (2018) and Bulbbul (2020) are cases in point. I have mixed feelings about these because it makes me uncomfortable to think that for women to legitimise their anger, they need to be un-human. I would rather watch NH10 (2015), Kahaani (2015) or Mirch Masala (1987). I would want to watch strong living women avenging societal/personal wrong-doings like in Kill Bill Vol 1 &2 (2003, 2004), Peppermint (2018), or Enough (2002). I have always wondered why princesses could not fend for themselves. It is because only the princes were taught the art of warfare or heraldry. The princesses are only meant to look pretty, be rescued, and “live happily ever after”. Neil Gaiman’s The Sleeper and the Spindle is a spine-chilling re-telling of the The Sleeping Beauty and Snow White. There, the young queen walks out on the day before her wedding on a quest to rescue a princess sleeping in a tower. In Jeremy Whitley’s Princeless, the princess rescues herself from the tower with the help of the dragon and sets off to rescue her sisters from a similar fate.
..just because a warrior is a woman doesn’t mean they have to wear a chain mail bikini? […] I’m going to design the first line of armour for “warrior women” not “women warriors”.Jeremy Whitley, Princeless Vol.1.
Nothing angers me more than the words – “She’ll be angry.” Or rather, these used to annoy me. Nowadays I have come to realise that I need to simplify life by only keeping those people close who add meaning and joy to my life. It has taken me years to understand that the accusation of me being angry is a supremely brilliant counter-attack tactic to snub me off because the moment someone says, “Oh, you’ll be angry”, I would tend to be on the defensive and say something like “No, I won’t be.” But I don’t fall for that trap anymore. I say “If you’ve done nothing wrong, then you have no reason to fear.” Then I add a rider. “Besides, whether it makes me angry or not, you should never be afraid to tell the truth.” I own my anger now. Game, set, and match.
4 Replies to “Week 25: I Own My Anger. Do you?”
What a wonderful read! Can’t tell you on how many levels I relate with this article. Fantastically articulated!
Thanks so much, Mansi.
Spot on ! Thanks to the lockdown impact, it is for my family to get into a rather high pitched war of words . On one such Sunday afternoon when my brother’s pitch exceeded beyond acceptance levels, Mom was quick to freeze in fear and said ” Tum chup jaao, mardon ko apna gussa control karna nahin aata” . All I left her with was a question : “Toh sikhaya kyun nahin? Jaise humain sikhate aa rahe hain bachpan se?”
Oh, I know how you feel. It is so sad that we always have to face this differential treatment.