Yes. There's A Difference Between Male Anger And Female Anger
And here's what it is.
Though nearly perfect, my sainted husband does get mad from time to time — especially during construction projects. He yells and curses, furious that he’s human. Maybe he throws a tool to the ground in frustration. Sadly, he never really absorbed the “measure twice, cut once” commandment preached by master carpenter Norm Abram of This Old House. There are lots of growls and swear words, banging and slamming. He’s only mad at himself, but still … to paraphrase A Christmas Story, my husband can weave a tapestry of obscenity that as far as we know will hang in space over New England forevermore.
The other day, he knocked over a full cup of coffee. The air turned blue with his cursing. “Honey,” I said mildly, “it’s just coffee.”
“I didn’t mean to do it. God! Stupid!” (Words have been changed to protect the innocent.)
“No one means to spill coffee. It was an accident.”
He fumed and stomped, and then cleaned it up.
I also get angry. But my anger looks more like me cleaning furiously or going off to a friend’s house to vent. I don’t get angry at coffee spills. I get angry with … people.
In my book Out of the Clear Blue Sky, the main character, Lillie, is angry. Her husband has cheated on her and moved in with a much younger woman without even a hint of remorse or shame. Her beloved son has gone to college in Montana, so her favorite person will be MIA until Christmas. She has devoted herself to her in-laws, who are now trying to “stay neutral.” Her whole life was built around family; she’s even a nurse-midwife, so her job is all about family too.
And just like that, it’s gone: the future, traditions, holidays, security and love. All tossed for long blond hair and a tight butt. Oh, Lillie is mad, all right. She’s furious. And boy, does it make the men in her life uncomfortable. Her father thinks she’s going off the rails. Her ex-husband cannot understand why she’s so upset, telling her he deserves happiness — no matter what the cost to her. Her father-in-law can’t even manage to speak to her. Even her son is uncomfortable with Lillie being anything but calm and in control. Lillie herself feels like she’s going crazy, but isn’t she entitled? When she has a wee meltdown at the market and throws chunks of Wagyu beef at her ex, it feels so good.
Recently, I yelled at a service tech who was not fixing my brand-new car. By yell, I mean speak softly in a hissing voice. My car was three days old when it broke. We brought it back to the dealership. They assessed it, said they didn’t know what was wrong and didn’t know when it would be fixed.
“Your answer is unacceptable,” I said.
“Nothing else I can do, little lady.”
(He may not have said “little lady,” but his tone did.)
“Then maybe I should come down to your showroom,” I said. “Tell potential customers about my experience here.”
You would have thought I said I was about to kidnap his puppy and steal his beer. “You can’t threaten me!” he said.
“I’m not threatening,” I said. “I’m promising to share my authentic experience. Don’t make me go on social media and tell the world about your incompetence. I’d hate to resort to the scorched earth tactics.”
“I’m putting you on with a manager!” he yelped.
“Good! Finally!” I barked.
This is when my husband took the phone and spoke in gentle tones to the mechanic. When he hung up, he said, “Honey, getting mad isn’t the best way to handle things.” (Pause for double standard.)
“Sometimes,” said I, “being bitchy is necessary if you want to be taken seriously when you’re a woman.”
“That’s not what I’ve found,” he said.
“You’re not a woman.”
He then knew enough to slink off to mismeasure something or spill coffee. I found it notable that, while he curses and bangs and slams, he was disturbed by my very controlled anger. His mother is the kindest, most soft-spoken woman on earth. His father is a tyrant. So there you go.
I’m old enough that I was told to be ladylike; in other words, don’t raise your voice, don’t make trouble, don’t be aggressive. That was my brother’s arena, but my sister and I weren’t given the same latitude. My parents told me I could do anything in the world I wanted, but there was the ingrained societal belief that you had to approach your goals differently. Be nice. Be cute. Be funny. And sure, I am nice and cute and funny. I’m also very polite and helpful.
But when I get angry, I feel … powerful. I feel unstoppable. It takes a lot for me to get there, but when I’m there, I’m the Greek goddess of wrath. Don’t mess with me, I tell the world (or incompetent mechanics). You have no idea what I can do. In the case of people, I have a very high tolerance … until I don’t. Then, when I’ve figured out that I’m angry with a person, and that person isn’t bringing anything positive to my life, the 6-foot steel door slams down. We’re done. That’s it. Powerful, effective, and utterly immovable. I’ve never committed a crime. No one has ever sued me. I don’t destroy things. That’s not how my anger manifests.
There’s not a lot of intel out there about expressing anger in a healthy way. Too many times, we swallow our feelings, afraid to cause any kind of upset. If we’re angry, we’re called hysterical or aggressive — not passionate or commanding. We may be invalidated or lectured. We may be medicated (remember the “mother’s little helper” years of the 1960s?). How about “honey attracts more bees than vinegar”? Are men told that?
But in Out of the Clear Blue Sky, Lillie lives out the dream of many of us women who were told never to lose our cool. She takes action. She gets petty revenge. She does what she can to remind her ex-husband and his much younger, wealthy wife that they broke something she held precious. To her ex-husband, her actions are shocking. He had no idea she had that in her. But Lillie finds out letting “that” out feels pretty damn good.
Expressing anger is a human need. As Lillie discovers, being angry feels so much better than feeling helpless. It motivates her, not just to pelt her ex with raw meat, but to speak out and stand up for herself. Anger lets her take on an incompetent colleague instead of just working around her, as she has done for years. Anger helps her look back at her marriage more honestly. Anger finally brings resolution to an incident she endured in high school.
Expressing anger healthfully — firmly, with authority and honesty — earns respect in a way that sadness or submission does not. Like a thunderstorm, it brings needed rain and some drama … but it also leaves behind a calmer sky in the most beautiful shade of blue.
Oh, and by the way, my car is running just fine now.
Out of the Clear Blue Sky was published June 7, 2022. Find out more about the author and her books at kristanhiggins.com