Recently an incident occurred in which my anger got the better of me and I felt ashamed of myself. This isn’t something I thought I’d be saying at the age of 35, but it’s got me thinking about female anger and how it differs from male anger.
It was our first outing to a big shop as a family (that’s my husband Mark and I, and our two young boys) since Covid hit in March. We went to Tesco to buy the boys some new school uniforms and get a few other bits and pieces. It was busy and stressful from the offset, with every parent in the local area seeming to be there to get school uniform at that particular moment.
We got round the store as quick as we could whilst trying to stop our youngest Charlie from touching or putting his face on everything in sight. It was chaotic but we got it done. The incident happened afterwards when we went to get petrol.
Usually you can get two cars next to each other in each lane at the petrol station, but today the right hand lane was sectioned off with cones. We pulled up on the left hand side and Mark put petrol in the car as I was driving. So far so normal.
Then a young man in some kind of posh white car pulled up behind us, fueled up at lightning speed and got back in his car before Mark had finished with the pump. White car man immediately honked his horn, despite Mark not having even got back in our car yet. “What a knob”, I thought, but I ignored it.
White car man (we’ll use WCM going forwards) could not go round us as he normally would have been able to because of the cones sectioning off the right hand lane. Mark got back in the car as soon as he’d finished but at this point WCM was attempting to bully me into leaving by driving slowly right up to the back of my car, and then gradually crawling up beside me. He couldn’t go any further though until I left.
Now, I admit we weren’t in a hurry and while Mark fuelled up I was doing something on my phone, something which would only have taken 30 seconds – the normal amount of time you could reasonably expect to be waiting for someone in front of you to leave (IMO). I’m really not one of those annoying people who dawdle at petrol stations for the sake of it.
But the fact that WCM hooted before Mark had even finished at the pump, and then proceeded to try and bully me into leaving according to his very important timescale, pissed me right off and I decided to take my time even more. He hadn’t even had to wait very long at all.
As WCM continued to try and inch past me I could feel my blood boiling. When he got almost level with my window, well, that’s when the windows came down and the gloves came off!
A surge of pent up rage came flooding out of me like a reservoir bursting through a broken dam. I can’t remember everything I said, but I know I called him an “impatient arsehole”, and used some other swear words I’m not proud of, especially with the kids being in the car.
He complained about me “twatting about on my phone” (I think that’s what he said), whilst he was in a hurry to get back to his very important job. Needless to say it got very heated, and everyone in the petrol station was staring at us by the time I reluctantly jammed my foot on the accelerator and whizzed off, throwing the kids and our belongings across the car as I sped out of the petrol station.
WCM followed angrily behind for a short distance and then fucked off back to his very important job in his very important white car, having lost even more time due to the row than he would have done if he’d just been a bit more FUCKING PATIENT!
Where does the anger come from?
Now, I know that us humans are defensive in nature, and primed biologically to fight for what’s ours. I’m certainly made like this, as I’ve never been one to let anyone bully me and I always stand up for myself. In this case I guess I was fighting for my right to exit the pump lane in my own time. Also, he was definitely just an arsehole, and I don’t like them.
I gradually calmed down as we continued the drive home, but still shaking from the encounter. One of the first things I did was apologise to the kids for my bad language and how I reacted, as they seemed quite frightened. I told them this was a good example of how not to react to arseholes (not in those words) and spent the rest of the journey thinking about all the other things I should have said to WCM which would have been more witty and impactful, and how much calmer I should have been. Calmness, whilst still saying what you want to say, can actually be more unnerving that someone who’s raging at you.
When I got home and we’d put the shopping away and plonked the kids on their games (please don’t judge – it was a stressful few hours), I thought about anger – about my anger which can come out in a torrent at unexpected moments, and female anger in general.
How does society view female anger?
I can guess how the people staring at us in the petrol station viewed me – the words ‘deranged’ and ‘crazy woman’ spring to mind. But how do we view female anger in general? Do we view it differently to male rage? Is it less acceptable, more frightening?
We’ve all heard of that well-known saying, “hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.” But do generalisations like this do women a big disservice? This phrase in particular implies that a woman could not be expected to respond to an intense situation, such as being scorned, with anything other than rage. There is a dichotomy here though when we simultaneously hear men telling women to “calm down love”, implying that female anger is not justified and must be minimised.
As a 35 year old woman I get angry about things frequently, but often I feel (or am made to feel?) that I’m blowing things out of proportion and I feel silly after expressing my anger at something or someone. Why do I feel like this though? Is my anger less just than a man’s? Obviously it depends on the circumstances which have triggered the emotion, but generally I often recognise internalised misogyny in the way I berate myself after showing anger openly.
Those angry women
As 21st century women, I think we are very much still trying to find our footing in this world and how we want to be, especially given that we haven’t really been allowed to be anything significant at all for very long.
The science suggests that women get angry as frequently as men do, perhaps contrary to popular belief, but this anger incapacitates us less than it does men. I’m not sure I agree with that. When I’ve experienced incidents such as the one I’ve described here I’m often left shaking and unable to complete whatever task I was doing before the incident. In the case here, I didn’t drive as carefully and mindfully as I normally do on that journey home because I was thinking about the incident and still raging physically and mentally.
I suspect this might be because as little girls we internalise the notion that anger isn’t a feminine emotion and our role is to keep the peace and ensure the harmony of everyone else around us. Women are more often people-pleasers and approval-seekers, and sometimes the only way we feel we can safely express our anger is through passive-aggression rather than full-blown rage.
Women who express anger at men are viewed even more negatively than when rage is directed towards another woman. To berate a man is to reject our ultimate feminine traits of peacekeeping and nurturing. In these cases we can expect to be called a “nag” or a “bitch.”
I’m sure most women would be able to recall being told to stop “nagging” their husband or partner upon asking them to perform a simple household chore, or acting like “such a bitch” when we assert our boundaries and refuse to bend over backwards for someone from whom we get nothing in return.
Lately there are signs that women are reclaiming their anger though, and feeling safer in showing their anger in public. However, I still think there’s a way to go before we feel not just safe but just in expressing female anger, before we feel that we don’t have to control ourselves so tightly all the time. Perhaps then we’ll find that there are less occasions where our rage bursts forth violently and unexpectedly due to being wound up like a coiled spring for far too long.
What do you think? Have you noticed feeling ashamed of yourself when you justifiably express anger?