Lessons for Girls, number one: Anger


Don't be a dip$hit!

If I wish I had learned one lesson earlier in life, it’s this:  it’s okay to be angry, it’s okay to make other people angry, and anger can work for you.  (Well, that might be three lessons, but I find it hard to disentangle them, so bear with me.)

It’s okay to be angry.  Girls are subjected to an impressive load of anti-anger propaganda.  Snow White and Cinderella, at least in the mid-century modern Disneyfield versions we’re stuck with today in U.S. popular culture, are both specifically praised for remaining sweet and good-natured in spite of the fact that they’re turned into indentured servants by their stepmothers.  (There’s also a not-so-subtle implication that it’s their sweet natures that preserve their beauty–because anger is so aging, my dears!)  What kind of a lesson is that for girls?  If a child of mine were enslaved by an evil stepmother, I’d sure as hell want her to get pi$$ed off and fight back.  But, anger is punished in girls from the beginning.  An undergraduate student of mine recently complained that she’s not permitted to express anger.  When she does, first she’s patronized and told that she really doesn’t mean what she’s saying, and when she insists that no, she really is angry, the reaction she gets from other people isn’t apology or rational discussion, it’s anger at her anger.  (For more on this see below, “It’s okay to make other people angry.”)

I’ve got another version of Snow White’s story I like to tell:  Instead of a smiling, simpering dip$hit who simply loves scrubbing the stairs, Snow White sneaks away one day to raise an army.  (She makes sure break that tattletale Magic Mirror first, so that he can’t rat her out.)  Snow White delivers a stirring speech in a clandestine meeting at the local cathedral, where the women and men of the kingdom agree to enlist in her cause against the usurper queen.  She returns to the castle in gleaming armour, and while her army overwhelms the queen’s guards, she chops off the queen’s head with her broadsword, and displays it on a pike from the castle’s highest tower.  And of course, the kingdom becomes a republic with a constitution and an elaborate system of shared governance; Snow White stays on as a cabinet secretary.  Without anger, that course of action is simply impossible.  Without anger, you’re at the mercy of forest animals, dwarves, and handsome princes, all of whom have their own agendas should they choose to help you out.

It’s okay to make other people angry.  It happens to us all–if you are a sentient being with needs and opinions, you will pi$$ someone off.  Most of the time it won’t have been your intention at all, but you will make others angry.  Sometimes you’ll be in a position to make a decision that will make people angry.  Suck it up–it’s a privilege of rank to make decisions, and those people are entitled to their anger, too.  Sometimes, you’ll pi$$ off others because they treated you badly and you protested their treatment because you are, after all, a sentient being who refuses to be treated badly.  But, be warned:  people who treat you badly get really, really angry when you refuse to accept bad treatment.  Don’t get upset because people who treated you badly are angry.  Always remember:  no matter what they say, they don’t have your best interests at heart, because they treated you badly!

Sometimes people will get angry and treat you badly because you’ve expressed an opinion they don’t like.  Whatever the reason, please get over any compulsion you may have to apologize to them or to anyone else for their anger or for their inappropriate displays of their anger.  This will be very hard if they insult your intelligence or misprepresent your point of view.  It will be even harder if they scream at you in public and make wild accusations about your motives for expressing your opinions.  Understand that these people are behaving childishly, and the way to deal with angry children is to send them to their rooms and ignore the tantrum.  Their anger is their responsibility.

Anger can work for you.  There are people who will disagree with me on this, but I have found anger to be a remarkably clarifying and cleansing emotion.  Men’s liberationist movements are all about anger:  Anger was at the heart of what made the American and French Revolutions happen, and anger motivated generations of black and white abolitionists to fight against slavery.  Anger is the only rational and healthy reaction to exploitation and injustice.  In my own life, anger has worked:  Once upon a time, anger motivated me to get out of an exploitative romantic relationship.  Early in the present decade, anger motivated me to get another, better job when I was being bullied at work.  I agree that anger that doesn’t lead to productive change is a problem that probably requires therapy.  (And you have to use anger judiciously–don’t get angry at traffic, and don’t get angry about petty everyday frustrations.  That’s anger that doesn’t go anywhere but straight to your cardiovascular system.)  Too many girls and women are told that it’s bad simply to feel anger–let alone to express it or act on it, and I think that’s because denying anger is enfeebling.  (Denying anger takes its toll on your cardiovascular system, too–beware, my pretties.)

Not being angry is a large part of what makes us girls and women–we agree to be the not-angries who are somehow nevertheless responsible for placating everyone else’s anger:  our employers’ and co-workers’ anger, our parents’ anger, our partners’/abusers’ anger, and even our children’s anger (when applicable).  That’s a division of emotional labor and emotional privilege that has awesome (and awesomely unequal) economic,  political, and social consequences for everyone. 

What lesson do you wish you had learned earlier in life?  Do any fembloggers out there want to take a swing at more Lessons for Girls?  Let me know in the comments below, and I’ll post links here to your contributions to our little feminist vade mecum.  (If you don’t have a blog, I’m willing to consider guest posts–so e-mail me and let me know.)

This post is dedicated to Clio Bluestocking, who was recently lectured about her inappropriate “tone” when her opinions were solicited by a fellowship program she’s participating in and she actually shared them with the other fellows.  She was informed that no one else in the program liked or respected her, so she should try to moderate her language and “tone” because it would be so good for her personal growth.  Clio’s description of her experiences made me very angry on her behalf, but they helped me clarify some thoughts that have been knocking around for a while about women and anger. 

57 thoughts on “Lessons for Girls, number one: Anger

  1. Here’s my question: in your scenario, at what point does Snow White cry, “Come and see the violence inherent in the system!” and establish an anarcho-syndicalist commune?


  2. Thank you, Historiann. This whole post is right on.

    This recent experience is, of course, not the first time that I’ve been told to not be angry or that I had no right to be angry or that angry made me ugly (“smile more — you’re so much prettier if you smile!” Please!). Usually, no matter how controlled, my anger was at issue because it indicated that I was no longer willing to put up with the objecting person’s b.s. any longer.

    Like you write, anger is a warning signal that you are being treated badly, it is a rational response to being treated badly, and it is a powerful force that can be focused and used to improve the world (even if it is your own world).

    Notice how, in those fairy tales, the princess is usually alone? All of the other women are either supernatural (fairy godmothers) or malevolent (evil stepmothers and sisters)?


  3. I do wish I’d had this idea in my life earlier. It took years of therapy to realize anger was suitable and acceptable. It’s still hard. Thanks Historiann. We need to hear these things, and more importantly, know them.


  4. Manohla Dargis was just pointing out how many recent movies involve dead mothers:

    Enough with the dead moms: I appreciate that the Bambi Principle is one of the tenets of mainstream narrative cinema and a surefire way to make us feel something for your characters. Yet in the past few years, the dead mothers club has grown awfully crowded what with the additions of “Slumdog Millionaire,” “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” “The Uninvited,” “Nim’s Island,” “The Secret Life of Bees,” “Sunshine Cleaning,” “Knowing,” “Then She Found Me,” “Shoot ’Em Up,” “The Kite Runner,” “Grace Is Gone,” “Smart People,” “Eastern Promises,” “Dan in Real Life,” “No Reservations,” “Hannah Montana,” “Mister Foe” and “I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry.” I’m sure it’s nothing personal about women (right?) and that you love your mothers (not that it’s any of my business), but some more time on the couch might be in order. (P.S. Does John Cusack not like being fictionally married? He played a widower in “The Contract,” “Martian Child” and “Grace Is Gone.” Just asking.)



  5. “What lesson do you wish you had learned earlier in life?”

    No blog and no wish to write a post, but can’t resist saying: NEVER “give consent” to sex! The only reason to engage in sex is if it gives you pleasure.


  6. Oh, yes, and lessons that I wish I had learned earlier in life (in addition to this anger one): You can be liked or you can speak powerfully. That is, you can try to make everyone like you, which seems to be the lesson that girls are taught from birth; or you can speak your truth, which means that lots of people won’t like you because you will be inherently challenging them.


  7. thanks for writing this Historiann. I read Clio’s post as well and was horrified precisely b/c she did take time out to compose her thoughts and try and make her anger work for her and everyone else. One thing I wished I’d learned as a girl, knowing the only behavior you can really change is your own and sometimes you have to walk away.

    (PS. I like Lorde’s “The Uses of Anger” as both a teaching tool and a reminder to myself that anger has a place as long as it is productive.)


  8. Clio B.–I’m glad you like the post! I encourage you to write up your Lesson for Girls about either pleasing people or having opinions. I think that’s spot on, and clearly related to my lesson on anger. And I know exactly what you mean about being commanded to smile by complete strangers. One of the compensations of getting older and gaining status (aside from the status gained, of course) is that no one interrupts me randomly to tell me to smile any more. (I wonder if that’s because I’m a pretty smiley person now, compared to how I was as a teenager?)

    Belle–it’s not like I (as you say) really *know* this lesson, but in writing it down I hope to be able to stick to it. As you say–some of the brainwashing takes years to undo.

    bc–the missing mother has always been a feature of the Disney Princess movies, as well as other Disney titles. But I think Dargis is correct–it’s a motif that comes up again and again in other movies lately, perhaps because of Hollywood’s blatant discrimination against women actors over 35 or 40. I’ve long mused that the end result of feminism in the movie industry is that men’s roles have expanded to fill every possible niche in films. We now have men in the movies who do all of the work that women do–emotionally and otherwise–so there’s no need to cast actual women in these parts any more! Fabulous.

    And snow black–too true, too true.


  9. I really liked this one, but I had a question:

    “Not being angry is a large part of what makes us girls and women–we agree to be the not-angries who are somehow nevertheless responsible for placating everyone else’s anger: our employers’ and co-workers’ anger, our parents’ anger, our partners’/abusers’ anger, and even our children’s anger (when applicable).” Why do you lump partners and abusers…? Yeah, most abuse comes from those near and dear…but still, it seems to not make a distinction that needs to be made…



  10. I read the link to Clio. Here’s a good life lesson: Grownups do not try to “fix” other grownups (unless perhaps they have some kind of therapeutic credential). So we should refrain from fixing others, and we should be suspicious, or angry, or amused (as appropriate) when others try to fix us.

    Clio: That program supervisor is incompetent, and she’s afraid of you. Ignore her.


  11. I whole-heartedly agree that anger can work for you. Take the energy from the adrenalin rush and use it to act decisively. Unfortunately, it’s possible to go overboard into ranting, screaming, and/or crying mode, which is never productive (makes my head ache and doesn’t make people think “gosh, her reason for anger might be reasonable”).

    I’ve also noted that getting angry is easier/better when you’re getting angry WITH somebody. For example, when your production team mentions they’re upset about Manager Smith insulting their work, and you agree and say that’s not right and they are right to be angry and you’re angry on their behalf — they loved that. And when I talked with Manager Smith about the situation, “they’re angry and I completely see why”… well, he didn’t apologize to me or them, but at least he didn’t insult them to their faces anymore. Having allies in anger can help channel everyone’s raw emotion into useful results.


  12. Bing–I guess I lumped abusers and partners together because 1) not all men expect women to do all of their emotional work and serve as punching bags for their anger, but 2) among those who do, I think there’s a continuum of having to deal with anger that shades into abuse pretty quickly.

    Mamie–yeah, weren’t Clio’s posts kind of “Alice through the Looking Glass?” Everyone reading them can see that the fellowship director is a hot mess of crazed insecurity. Good lesson in not trying to fix people (unless they come to you and ask for it.)

    Erica, you’re right that working with a team can help channel anger into productive solutions. But, I wish women’s anger would be taken seriously regardless. And, maybe I should have made this clearer in my post, but I think there’s a distinction betweein being angry and how one expresses anger. Tears, screaming, etc. are not good ways to express anger in a work environment, no matter how righteous the anger is. I think it’s important for everyone to control their expressions of emotion at work. Perhaps anger, like revenge, is a dish best served cold?


  13. So so true. I don’t do anger well. But I have learned to say what I believe, and damn the consequences. That means people get upset with me because I don’t cave in. I “speak truth to power”. I don’t do well with “someone is being a jerk, get angry with them”, and I don’t do confrontation, but I have learned to analyze a situation and use my anger to make change. Mostly that’s just putting one foot in front of another, and doing what I think is right. And I think Erica is absolutely right about company. When my colleagues and I were angry at our dean, it was much easier, because I knew I had support.

    I’m with Mamie and Snow Black on their life lessons. Fortunately, when I went off to college my mother’s advice about sex was “If you start worrying about morality, don’t do it, because that’s a signal about other problems.

    I also think our culture needs lessons in getting angry well. Our models for getting angry are not usually constructive ones. So one reason people don’t want to “do” anger is that they don’t like many models of anger. (Shouting at people, throwing things, etc.)


  14. Clio —

    I’ve read your posts. Re: the second one, keep in mind that the administration may very well be (and probably is) lying about you causing damage by your postings and is probably doing so, in part, to create a record against a “troublemaker”.

    IME it’s a common tactic in employment settings. Subjective complaints like “tone” and “hurt feelings” and feelings of “intimidation” are very easy to fabricate and very hard for employees to fight against. It’s why they’re so often used to get rid of people.

    Also, you might want to think about taking your blog posts down, especially if you think this episode is potentially damaging to your career.

    FWIW only.


  15. And not to belabor the point or pick on anybody, but I do think this is important: while I agree that the program supervisor is a hot mess, IMO it may be better, i.e. more protective of your own interests as an employee, to focus on her as an agent of your employer and not just somebody with poor interpersonal skills.


  16. And, I’m sorry, one more, I meant the last post as a general point, not one aimed at Clio specifically and I’m sorry that now that I’ve re-read it again it sounds patronizing. (Arg! I’m a troll!)


  17. Rock on with the anger! I’ve never had a problem with feeling or publicly expressing anger; rather I have the opposite trouble of channeling it appropriately and not taking it out on people. Among other things, I trace that back to my love of punk, riot grrrl, and other angry loud music, which let me express anger and even see the benefits of righteous anger/social justice anger (even though a lot of hardcore music is totally messed up on the feminist/gender side of things).

    So I totally don’t get my students, who overwhelmingly say they don’t like anger or even don’t have anger, and anger is bad and dangerous. I was in a class where the lecturer taught Barbara Ehrenrich’s “Welcome to Cancerland”

    (a variant of the essay is here: http://bcaction.org/index.php?page=welcome-to-cancerland-2)

    and I was surprised how much the (all female) students in my section hated it, even getting angry at it, who seriously and wholeheartedly loved the tone of the meek and supportive web site comments that Ehrenreich attacked in that essay. They didn’t agree that getting cancer or being treated badly by doctors or getting screwed by global pollution or knowing you were about to die was at all a justification for feeling anger, much less acting out on it.

    Getting angry is at base a refusal to “know your place” whether or not that place is deserved, and I was surprised how forcefully my students policed women on this.


  18. Another element — we all feel anger, but women tend to internalize anger since society tells us that “good girls don’t get angry.” So we often don’t show it openly or use it to energize change. Instead, we keep it bottled up inside where it festers.

    Passive-aggressiveness is anger, but anger that has internalized due to all the “feminine” rules that hedge us about. Women are supposed to take it and smile or maybe, if they’re daring enough, make the people around them suffer but never, ever say anything overt about what’s the problem.


  19. Emma–I didn’t think you sounded patronizing. I think it’s good advice–although I think this woman’s mania is a manifestation of her fear that she’s NOT an agent of Clio’s employer. (That is, that Clio will clearly be seen as more authoritative and more reliable than the administrator if it comes down to a showdown.) But you’re right–people should be wary. My own experience in an abusive job was that although some faculty and administrators were sympathetic, no one who had the power to do anything actually did anything. (I guess they thought meeting with me or taking me out to lunch was good enough.)

    Susan–your mother sounds remarkably progressive! Sisyphus, didn’t you know that anger causes cancer (as well as frown lines and forehead wrinkles!)? You should be careful, otherwise you’ll die of cancer and it will be all your fault because you didn’t pick up the bucket and scrub the steps and sing with the birds like a happy little dip$hit. See how easy it is? “I’m wishing…for the one I love…to find me…today!”

    Janice, I think you’re absolutely right that passive agression is still agression–and probably more destructive because of the denial of anger. Ugh. I’m getting heartburn just thinking about it! Some women do try to control others (particularly children or other familiy members) with that kind of anger, by playing the “guess what’s wrong/guess what you did wrong” game. Me, I’d rather have someone scream and yell at me. (Almost. It’s easier to ignore a passive agressive person.)


  20. Emma, thank you! I didn’t take you comments as patronizing either. Definitely good advice. I’m not sure about the coordinator as an agent or typical or rogue in connection to our employer. You never know how provincial people can be, and that can change from one person to another. At least she is on another campus and not in the chain of command above me on a regular basis.

    Mamie and Susurro, thank you, too.


  21. I so appreciate this post, because it came at just the right time. A family member, who writes a somewhat well-known blog in her East Coast City, just posted a scathing post about a small faux pas I made on the social network that begins with F and ends with K. I am extremely angry, but I hadn’t really stopped to think about how “letting it slide” is really part of the societal pressure to make women keep silent (even when the abuse comes from other women). My mom wants me to let it lie because this particular relative will only escalate the conflict if I make my displeasure known. I am torn, though, because I am so sick of taking crap from people.

    Now, I’m off to catch up on the Clio Bluestocking situation. Thanks for the links!


  22. @Historiann — Yes, the distinction between “anger” and “angry” is rather a fine line 🙂 It’s worth trying to make that point, though. When you’re stuck on feeling “angry”, you’re not necessarily able to convert “anger” into more productive forms of energy.

    This is a point I have tried to make with my preschooler, that it’s fine to be frustrated when you spill your milk, but throwing a tantrum won’t get more milk in the cup. I don’t think she really grasps it yet (nor do I necessarily expect rational behavior from a five-year-old, although I’d be happy to see it occasionally), but I’m hoping the problem-solving skills will grow with time. And now I also have to tread a line between “don’t be angry” and “don’t be THAT KIND of angry” 🙂 It is a good thing to be aware of!


  23. THE–well, there’s anger, and then there’s (as Notorious, Ph.D. put it yesterday in the troll thread) “not looking crazy in the eye.” I don’t understand why someone would publicize a relatively minor faux pas (from your description) of a private person on a blog. That seems oddly aggressive–are you the White House Secretary of Protocol? Are you Miss Manners? So, your mom may be right that it’s not worth it to pick a fight. (You’re still allowed to be angry, though! You could try writing a brief note–by hand, on paper–to say that you deeply regret your faux pas, but that you’re also dismayed that she would write a post about it.)

    In short, how irritating, but it doesn’t sound like it’s quite at the level of raising an army to storm the castle…


  24. The starting point for conversations I have with my children (boys) about anger is that everybody gets angry sometimes but what matters is working on managing our anger productively instead of letting our anger manage us. Get angry, figure out why you are angry and what you are going to do about it, move on.

    I have found that with age (40’s), I have become less intimidated about speaking out in professional settings. Sometimes you find you have allies you never expected and sometimes folks who were putting on an act reveal themselves.

    When I was young and starting out, I’d just stand and take the (shocking lot of) outright sexist attitudes. For example, when I was a PhD student, a highly placed dude at a funding agency asked who did the math for me on a project. I just smiled and chirped “I did.” These days, I’m more likely to push back. This is perhaps more about what I like to think of as righteous indignation than anger.


  25. Mike Tyson, the boxer, was ordered by the court to attend an anger management course after he bit off part of an opponent’s ear. Judge, that’s how he earns a living. Grandoc


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  27. Sterling, acute anger might not lead to cancer but chronic anger does lead very quickly to heart attacks. Combine that with poverty and the attendant inability to access healthcare as well as having no redress for crummy working and living conditions, and one can see where chronic anger could be the crucial link between poverty and a shortened lifespan.


  28. Truly brilliant and necessary post.

    I haven’t read through all the comments but I notice it’s interesting that men and patriarchal women assume that all anger is “chronic anger” and contains little reflection.

    I do have a several male colleagues like that. They are never satisfied with anything, always mad at something, and anything bad that happens is always the fault of some evil villain they designate.

    It fascinates me that when women get angry in self defense it is assumed that what they have is chronic anger such as that described above.

    If I had not gotten openly angry at my abusive X and left, I would have died much sooner than I will now. AND I would have had chronic repressed anger. So paternalistic cautionary comments from people with names like “fratguy” do not impress me.

    I know you do not like Facebook, Historiann, but I use it for didactic purposes and I may post this to my real name page.

    Fairly recently I posted a lot of things about anger there because I had protested meanness by a newish female friend and she had responded by saying that if I was “angry” at her it was because I was “angry” generally — it couldn’t be that she had actually done anything, because we are all “responsible for our own reactions” and what not. It was absolutely nauseating.

    As I say: I understand ire, the deadly sin, and it is a hallmark of abusers. But show me someone who preaches against “anger” generally and I will show you an abusive person who does not want victims to escape or talk back.


  29. Reading through more thoroughly, I’d submit my “On Pity” for reposting. I am not sure about Facebooking this because it would lead back to my supposedly anonymous blog, but I’m pointing to it on my blog.

    On the comments — I think Emma may be generally right on what Clio should do but at the same time, being that careful and that well advised on what might be going on and how one should protect oneself has not always been the right thing for me. I’ve found that when I censor myself too much IRL or about what is happening at work, I also get tongue tied writing up my research. Then all that happens is that I become a slow producer.

    What would a man do? is always a good question for me. Generally they give their opinions more readily and without as much fear, and so with a lot less stress and less beating around the bush (whether that is done externally or internally). Then they don’t sit around worrying about reprisals. So, unlike me – who sometimes has days in which the ONE achievement is to give an honest opinion, because first I have to dare and then I have to get over having done it – they lead their life, give their opinion, and then go back to their life. I think I recommend this.


  30. Prof. Zero–I think if you re-read Fratguy’s comments, he’s mocking Sterling. That is, Fratguy thinks there are more direct and acute threats to people’s health than anger, and in many cases, people have a right to be angry about the conditions of their lives.

    It would be nice to be a man on occasion, wouldn’t it?


  31. I was not mocking Sterling, I absolutely agree with his obervation that chronic anger is a very real and demonstrated health hazard, much in the same way that chronic stress and fear are. Ultimately all of these emotions or more correctly states of being are going to be occuring at the same time for the same reason. It was Historiann’s response to Susan, fleshing out the oblivious snow white, who went about her tedious and thankless chores with a smile and a song, that had me thinking about the conditions of life and work and the injurious but unavoidable response to those conditions. Any sentient being, like a put upon adjunct, is going to be righteously pissed at this kind of treatment, and no amount of happy thoughts are going to change that response. People forced into this state of chronic anger are not long for this world both because of the conditions that cause the anger as well as the anger itself. I do not think that you can say the same thing about righteous bouts of acute anger. Those are probably quite beneficial. Unfortnately when feminists, minorities, the poor etc decide that a righteous bout of anger is in order, the efforts are met with a metaphoric or literal shot to the gut. The great yop is the privilege of the privileged.


  32. Professor Zero, I did not mean to say “don’t get angry” it was more of clinical digression on the effects of inescapable anger. If Sterling’s intent was to say “don’t get angry” then my tone should have been mocking.


  33. I truly get it now, Fratguy, and I appreciate various of the points in your next to last comment, including that the “great yop” is a privilege of the privileged.

    The oppressed have to get really really Zen or something in order not to internally combust and/or take a shot to the gut. And yet they also create needed revolutions. I have not yet figured out how all this is done. I admire the yoga (or whatever it is) it takes, and I want to learn it.

    The only example I can think of right now to teach myself is me. I’ve got a male colleague who is righteously angry about some things I can’t afford to be angry about because it would just make me miserable, and disable me from (a) doing something about some situations I can in fact remedy and (b) working effectively around the problems he is righteously angry about.

    I see his reaction to me very clearly and it is a mixture of:
    a) admiration of my goddess like calm and envy of the fun it allows me to have outside work (I have the most fun); and
    b) irritation and incomprehension that I do not join his battle (it may be a losing one and will definitely become that if I join it, but he does not see this).

    He does not realize that although he may in fact be able to win his battle by his methods, I am not in a position to use those. Nor does he realize that if I win my battle (a slightly different one than his, but one which in fact includes his), the situation he is upset about will be swept away by my general victory. (This will of course take more time than he may be willing to wait, but I am more than sure it is the only positive path available to me and possibly to either of us.)

    My point is that the way he looks at me is the way I look at those yet more Zen like combatants who are yet less powerful than me.

    His anger, while it exhausts me to see it and while I cannot join it and survive psychically, is still pedagogically useful because it keeps within view the kinds of rights we really ought to all have.

    My “girl” point of view on it all is, you shouldn’t repress anger because it is a really useful guide. While some peoples’ chronic ire is a displacement (they’re not facing what they’re *really* angry about, so they are overly irritated at many smaller things), and while the truly powerless may in fact die early of anger (and other factors), anger can be a really useful, consciousness raising guide. Now, my colleague can afford to let this kind of anger eat him up in the short term because ultimately the system and his own sense of will step in to save him before he completely self destructs. From the “girl” point of view, though, you have to notice what anger has to show you and act on that, but also step away from the feeling because you need all of your health.

    Or, as a less privileged but also male student said to me yesterday, “If you have a real crisis, you discover how very little there is out there to help you. You then know you cannot listen to any platitudes. You must keep all of your wits about you so that you do not really sink.”


  34. I wish everybody in my town wouold read this. The New Age and Healing Arts community has made anger a bad word.
    Even the Conflict/Resolution folks don’t like it.


    Women are made to feel so guilty whenever we express anger – and often we would be crazy to do otherwise.

    I love this post. At 45, I’m still learning to be angry in front of someone (being angry alone, I know all too well)and it is still incredibly difficult. Sometimes I’ve lost a friend or a relative because I stood up for myself. But on a few occasions, a domineering person has shown me respect for getting angry at them.

    Wonderful post.


  35. My lesson is learning that it’s okay to say no. I’ve gotten a lot better at it, but I admit I still haven’t fully mastered it. From somewhere deep in my psyche, I still occasionally hear that little voice saying it’s my job to help everyone else out and never refuse a request, even if it’s at my own expense or detriment. Luckily, I am getting pretty good at telling it to shut the f* up.


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  37. Pingback: Lessons for Girls, numbers two and three: Opting Out, and On Pity : Historiann : History and sexual politics, 1492 to the present

  38. OK, here’s one of my comments on anger, posted elsewhere and for other reasons, sometime in April:


    Why are you so angry? asked my bullying ex friend — it being, as we know, that anger is not a proper Christian emotion, and that it is considered a “secondary” one in some therapies (for example: rather than feel anger at, say, the invasion of Iraq, you should explore the fear your anger is supposedly covering.)

    I am angry at outrageous behavior, said I — and dishonesty, manipulation, self servingness, and exploitation. Most importantly, I am angry at the abuse of trust.

    If you see those things in me, said my bullying ex friend, then it must be that they are characteristics of yours you have projected into me. Because we see nothing but ourselves, you know; we create our own realities, quoth she in dulcet tones.

    From an academic point of view that response would rate an F in both beginning philosophy and beginning rhetoric, and I am not sure in how many other beginning courses.

    That is why I never know how to respond to people who give it. They are so impaired intellectually, it seems, that it is not possible to talk as equals. It is at that point that I become overly kind. This is an error.”


  39. I don’t know if someone has already talked about this one, because I didn’t read all the comments, but I would be happy to write this lesson because it’s one that has had profound influence on my life, and one that I still struggle with: “it’s okay to say no”.
    I’m not just talking about in a sexual way, but talking about the fact that women in general are expected to “make it work”. To be able to be everything and do everything and be everywhere. It can be very taxing and hard to turn people down, because you don’t want to be a burden.
    Let me know if you’re interested. I might write the post anyways just because I believe it might be cathartic.


  40. I love this post (and all the other Lessons for Girls)! I’ve been a person who has struggled with intense emotion and the requirement to be sweet and placating all my life, and I’ve ditched the “sweet placating” requirement without a shred of guilt in the past ten years or so.

    Learning that it was okay to make people angry was life-changing for me. (As was letting go of romantic fantasies – one of my major life lessons: hope you don’t mind me linking!)


  41. Pingback: Two more lessons for girls: you can say no, and don’t peak early : Historiann : History and sexual politics, 1492 to the present

  42. Pingback: Vade Mecum feminista « Diario de un padre

  43. Pingback: Friday round-up: police state a-go-go, yee-haw! : Historiann : History and sexual politics, 1492 to the present

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