Paying Attention Bill McDonald’s
May 2011 - Volume 11, No. 5
Enter The Bitch
A Topography of Female Anger
Men in general have trouble with angry women. Women in general have trouble with angry women. Everybody seems to agree that angry women are a problem. They must be bad. Pure and simple, they must be bad.
A popular t-shirt among the biker crowd says “Zero to BITCH in 2.1 seconds.” I saw a woman wearing one, and she wasn’t referring to any bike.
First, a comment about anger itself. I like to consider that anger has a purpose, a positive purpose. It’s a signal, a signal to trigger an awareness that something is out of balance, then to access energy needed to respond to that imbalance. Ideally, when that purpose is satisfied, then anger can retreat, it’s done its work.
Frequently the response to the signaled imbalance is itself accompanied by anger - the woman sounds angry when she speaks from her anger. Often she’ll do this because nobody listens to her when she speaks calmly. But then many women know the experience of not being heard no matter what tone or energy of voice they choose to employ.
Now let me get back to that “B” word. It’s an unpleasant word, representing an unpleasant experience. Women speak to me about it with a ready apology. Men speak of it as a horrible and sonically grating experience. And yes, when a women gets upset, her voice often goes into a most unpleasant tonal quality, which can pain the ears of everybody around.
So what’s a woman to do when she is angry? Swallow it and try to be nice? That’s what many prescription drugs are designed to accomplish. Voice her discontent and see everybody (even the pets) distance themselves from her? Here is a common sequence: 1) she gets upset, 2) she is ignored, 3) she gets angry, 4) she is ignored or scolded for being angry, 5) she retreats into herself, 6) she gets depressed, 7) she decides/feels she must be crazy, 8) she gets a prescription from her helpful family doctor, 9) she no longer feels angry, 10) she no longer feels anything, 11) everybody around her is now ‘happy’.
I have another suggestion. How about the woman trust that her anger is important, and even better, have a partner that believes it must be important, and who will listen to whatever is behind or within the anger. A few years ago a woman proudly told me that Bitch is an acronym for “Babe In Total Control Of Herself.”
If only men and women were not afraid of anger (or of women in total control of themselves).
But here’s what happens instead.
Women feel guilt, they want to apologize for or swallow their anger. It’s bad to be angry. It’s bad to lose it. And, of course, part of our training in childhood is to restrain such feelings in the name of learning to get along with others. It's like toilet training, what once felt so natural now becomes an experience of shame.
Men often go to fear - though not admitting it. We’d rather canoe up the Mississippi River in floodtime than face an angry woman. Maybe it’s a regression on our part - when we were infants, and if Mother was angry, we could easily die. (Women can have the same regression anxiety, but for them, it’s not complicated by being with the opposite gender.) So for us men it’s a fear within our vulnerability - and we don’t like to be vulnerable. So we easily make the woman “wrong” for being angry. When a woman says to a man, “We need to talk” it’s completely counter-intuitive for a man to immediately welcome the experience. But....
Here’s what I recommend: For women, consider that that “bitch” within you is a loyal servant, who is free to lelt you know when something important is out of balance. And if you’re blessed with a partner who isn’t put off by your anger, but is willing to listen, then you don’t have to speak in anger - no “bitch” vocals necessary.
For men, LISTEN. But don’t listen from your fear, listen from your caring. Of course, our first wired-in response is to retreat. But pass through that initial reaction quickly and move to a better here and now place. Don’t be afraid - which means don’t go to defending, justifying or even explaining. Don’t get angry back, don’t retaliate. In a sense, don’t take your initial discomfort seriously.
A gynecologist once told me that women have seven hormones coursing through their bodies, each with a different schedule and purpose. We men have only one, and we have enough trouble with that one. Our gift is to be considerate, as well as trust that at some level she’s probably right. Trust the Bitch to be a faithful ally to her, and to us men as well. Really!
Women change. Relationships change. People and relationships grow and mature. Women who weary of needy men, needy friends, of constantly being taken advantage of - find themselves wanting to say “no” more often. Let them speak it. And if it’s the “Bitch” who’s speaking, give her room to speak. Trust her. In the long run, she’s usually our own ally as well.