Why Women Don’t Get to Be Angry
When men get angry, their power grows. When women do, it shrinks.
My parents’ wedding, in 1965, was a lavish affair that went on for more than 20 hours and with more than 500 guests in attendance. Among the most prized gifts my parents received that day was their wedding china. These white-and-gold plates were more than an expensive gesture: They were an important symbol both of adulthood and their community’s and family’s approval of marriage in general and this marriage in particular. When I was growing up, these look-but-don’t-touch dishes were used only on the rarest and most special occasions, and always with great care.
That’s why, one day, when I was 15, I was dumbfounded to see my mother standing on the long veranda outside our kitchen, chucking one china plate after another as far and as hard as she could into the hot, humid air. Our kitchen was on the second floor of a house that sat perched atop a long, rolling hill. I watched each dish soar through the atmosphere, its weight generating a sharp, steady trajectory before shattering into pieces on the terrace far below.
While the image is vivid in my mind, I have no memory of any noise. My mother didn’t utter a sound the entire time. I have no idea if she even knew anyone was watching. When she was done, she walked back into the kitchen and asked me how my school day had gone, as though nothing out of the ordinary had happened. I desperately wanted to know what I had witnessed, but it didn’t feel like a good time to ask questions, so I sat and worked on my homework as my mother prepared dinner and the day morphed into night. We never talked about anger.
Why do we so rarely learn how to be angry?
Like most of us, I learned about anger in a vacuum of information by watching the people around me: what they did with their anger, how they responded to other people when they were mad. I don’t remember my parents or other adults ever talking to me about anger directly. Sadness, yes. Envy, anxiety, guilt, check, check, check. But not anger. It turns out that, for girls, this is par for the course. While parents talk to girls about emotions more than they do to boys, anger is excluded. Reflect with me for a moment: How did you first learn to think about emotions, and anger in…