There are many reasons women have to be angry: the Kavanaugh hearing, Harvey Weinstein’s trial, the all-too-familiar reality behind #metoo; and then there’s the general condescension that permeates everyday interactions.

As Elena Ferrante wrote in her book My Brilliant Friend, “Women, who appeared to be silent, acquiescent, when they were angry flew into a rage that had no end.” (Haven’t read the book? Season two of the series airs on HBO later this year.)

The problem isn’t whether or not the rage is justified. It is. It’s whether it’s useful. “Anger is one of the basic human emotions,” says Dr. Lina Perl, PsyD., a clinical psychologist in New York City who has researched breadwinner women. “It’s adaptive and rooted in our evolution.” The point of anger is to mobilize. That feeling functions to tell your brain, “I can do this!”

There’s enormous upside to using anger to set boundaries and assert your needs. “Movements come from anger,” Dr. Perl says. “Instead of an individual expressing her need or setting a boundary, it’s a group of people setting a boundary.” And with a movement, after the group has voiced what it’s angry about, there’s action. “That action becomes an agenda, and it’s enormously empowering,” adds Dr. Perl.

Kathy Gunst and Katherine Alford took a creative approach to channeling their rage when they  published Rage Baking: The Transformative Power of Flour, Fury and Women’s Voices. The book, which was published earlier this month, includes over 50 recipes as well as inspirational essays, reflections, poems, and interviews with well-known bakers and activists, including Cecile Richards, Rebecca Traister, Ann Friedman, and more.

“Baking is a metaphor for so many other things. We want to make something sweet out of this rage. It’s the opposite of the cliché image of a woman at home baking in an apron,” explains Alford.

Gunst agrees. “It felt hugely productive and therapeutic to do this book, but it didn’t take the rage away.” The point was more to “feed the revolution” the co-authors explained.

Creating a cookbook played to their strengths as foodies, but the metaphor of community wasn’t lost on them either. “We’re so aware of how people commune around baking. It’s not like making yourself a sandwich where you’re the one who eats it,” Gunst says. “With baking, you’re making a lot, and inviting others to the table with you.”

Getting The Language Right

Opening up the dialogue, expressing how you feel, and hearing other opinions helps turn what could be construed as a negative emotion into something more positive. For one, doing something makes you feel more in control. But, also the mere act of putting how you feel into words can keep emotions from festering and turning inward.

An issue that comes up, particularly for women, according to Dr. Perl, is that they don’t have a language to express their anger. Women traditionally have been taught not to fight or yell; they tend to be more sympathetic and empathetic, trying to relate to the other side.

“There are a million ways to express anger,” explains Dr. Perl, “But, they can all be summed up into four categories: passive, passive-aggressive, aggressive, and assertive.” Each way may be appropriate at different times. If you’re in a situation where you’re being attacked, you may need to tap into that aggressive anger. But, more often situations call for the assertive approach and having an open dialogue is the first step.

Developing a dialogue around being wronged, either individually or collectively, paves the way for being assertive. It’s almost like teaching someone a new language. Part of that new vocabulary includes conveying how you feel and letting the person (or group) know the impact the behavior is having. There’s a skill in making your anger relevant to someone else.

In the case of movements, the way anger is communicated can either take the form of retribution or connection explains Dr. Cristina Migliaccio, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, English and Composition, at Medgar Evers College. She points to the words of Audre Lorde, “The angers between women will not kill us if we can articulate them with precision, if we listen to the content of what is said with at least as much intensity as we defend ourselves.” According to Migliaccio this is how to make anger both a catalyst and a unifier.

The Power of Anger

Anger is incredible fuel at both the group level and the individual level. But it can also be extremely corrosive. “When you don’t know where to put it, anger can turn on you. The result is often depression,” explains Dr. Perl. This is why communication and channeling anger is essential.

Anger gives you a surge in energy, making you want to respond; it literally amps your body up for action. The problem is, not acting, at least at first, may serve you better. “Metabolize the anger; process it first,” advises Dr. Perl. “If you’re experienced, you may be able to use it in the moment, but many of us are not.”

Another pitfall of this super-power is that it can stick. Some social scientists will tell us, it’s not so much that an emotion is good or bad; but the belief you associate with it. And, when the anger is spurred by a societal wrong it can become more entrenched because you believe it’s necessary. In other words, you might not want to let it go. You believe you need to hang on to the anger, even if the situation that caused the anger has changed. Eventually the anger becomes a part of how you identify yourself. And, you may think if you stop being angry, the change you made fueled by that anger, will slide back to the status quo.

The Dark Side Of Anger

“You can really hurt someone with your anger,” says Dr. Perl. “When you get into that rage zone, you have to be very conscious of where you’re directing it.” There are times when you can’t or you don’t direct anger towards the source and instead of it fading away, it bubbles up and takes aim at someone else, usually someone powerless.

Another issue is that anger can be intoxicating, and even almost addictive. “Some people get off on anger,” says Dr. Perl. This may be the rush of feeling empowered; or it can be when someone who has been powerless, seizes power and uses it against others. Either way, that rage quickly goes to a dark place.

How To Make Anger Productive

Dr. Perl recommends these three steps for managing and channeling this powerful emotion.

  1. Recognize what anger feels like. You can even think of it as a cue that something might be wrong; maybe some boundary of yours has been crossed.
  2. Investigate your anger, without judging it. Anger doesn’t require immediate action. It’s okay to turn it over, analyze it, take the time to trace it to its source.
  3. Set boundaries and communicate them calmly.

There’s nothing new about anger—it’s always been there, for men, for women. For a long time, though, there wasn’t a place to put it according to Dr. Perl. “Now there’s an opening,” she says. “Women are getting more power and leveraging that power.”

 

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Last Updated: Feb 15, 2020