An Argument for Anger
My cousin and her husband are separating after only three years. Mostly because my cousin is angry â angry at so many problems she saw but wouldnât name, so many arguments she forced into the back of her throat. Her parents have the worst marriage Iâve ever seen â vicious, bitter, and Catholic. They fought so much during her childhood that my cousin becomes physically ill when she thinks about raising her voice to a lover. She has never had a real fight with a boyfriend. They either faded out of her life or, like this one, festered within it until the reservoir of love that so often carries us through upsets became too poisoned with secret anger and shame.
Then the other day I was flipping through a womenâs magazine, glancing at teasers like, âwhat he REALLY means with that text messageâ and âgetting your man to have âthe talkââ. Endless glossy spreads of âmen are from mars women are from venusâ war manuals for the gal on the go. Be independent, but donât wound his pride. Be sexy, but let him make the first move. Be aggressive, but only passively so.
Whatâs the connection? Anger. I am angry. A lot of women I know are angry. This isnât necessarily a bad thing. Anger can be really healthy for pain. It is healthy because it can be powerful. When you are angry, you can act, you can drag yourself up from whatever shit-hole of self-deprecation and misery youâve buried yourself under and do something other than eat ice-cream and listen to Whitney Huston on repeat. I like anger when it is well aimed. I like it a lot.
The problem is that I have been raised to believe that, as a woman, my anger should never be loud, it should never be inconvenient, it should never be shrill or harpy-ish or based in emotion. This would just not be sexy. And it would be just too straightforward to work on that alien species: the straight male. Itâs not only just anger, really.
Heterosexually speaking, when it comes to matters of the heart, we are still fed the same bullshit about learning to temper our messier feelings into more âproductiveâ (a.k.a. manipulative) courses of action. You canât just come out and explain whatâs bothering you; silly boys would never have the emotional depth to comprehend that. Better withhold sex for a couple of days and hope heâll just guesses youâre concerned he had lunch with an ex. We are led to believe that due to some fundamental difference in our biological make-up, semiotics rearrange themselves between the male/female communication line until we need literal de-coding manuals to understand what the opposite sex âreally meansâ.
I had a somewhat rough beginning with my current boyfriend. After the sheen of lust and butterflies settled down, I was left with the uncertainty of a relationship whose terms I never really understood. For almost a year I said nothing because I knew without doubt, that if I voiced my questions he would leave – just walk naked from my dorm room and never look back, scared off by my request for communication. Obviously, when I finally did speak up, this was no the case. But for about a year after things were finally âgoodâ between us, I carried around this knot of anger inside me. I realized one day that was what it was. It was this immense resentment for the time I felt I had lost in making myself feel smaller, my feelings less valid. I was (unfairly) angry at him for wielding that power over my moods and actions. But mostly I was angry at myself, disgusted with how I had gone from a person whose emotions were as easy to name as colors before my face, to someone obsequiously veiling them in what I thought were the trappings of a sexier, more likable woman. I am not angry about that now. Only a little disappointed perhaps, that I trusted myself and the person I love so little, that I was so lost to the fear and falseness that dominate our ârulesâ regarding heterosexual couplings.
Iâd like to think that everyone knows how silly these rules are, how they fall apart when you actually talk to a person as a person and not as a woman or as to a man (You know, use more passive verbs with women, we like that. Just grunt and point with men.). Especially when that person is a person whom you love, in all their complexities. But then I see my fourteen-year old cousins devouring pages of girl vs. boys advice and even fiction, and I just start to worry. I know better than to tell anyone the ârightâ way to have relationships of any kind. But I do hope that, however it happens, feelings can come out where they need to. For my cousin, whom I hope will learn to shake her lover awake when she is crying at night instead of simply hiding it. For my friends, who can write bible-length emails articulating feelings they feel shamed into hiding from parents or lovers or other friends. For myself, because Iâm far from there yet. For everyone.
We do a grave disservice to men when assume that they will not be emotionally capable of having honest, open discussions. And we do a grave disservice to ourselves when time and again, we pack up feelings of hurt or worry or frustration and leave them to fester in secret over the years. What Iâm saying is not new. Itâs not groundbreaking. Time and again we see it in sitcoms and Judd Apatow movies. The war of the sexes is probably the highest grossing trope in the history of art and entertainment. But I simply canât believe that weâre keeping on this way for the sake of serving up fodder for Hollywood. So why are we still telling women that their feelings should never be expressed openly or directly to their male partners, either because thereâs no possible way theyâll get it, or because it will run the risk of making them look needy and cloying? And why are we still telling men that they should not be having, enjoying, or initiating these conversations, that they will inevitably put their foot in their mouths if they do because they are emotionally retarded and women are emotional ninjas? We put out magazines and books and movies all offering up rules and guidelines and complaints about âthe gameâ, and yet we canât seem to stop playing. We canât seem to believe that the rules are ours to change.