Anger is not a happy emotion, and angry behavior can be self-defeating. I’m teaching my kids to calmly stand their ground.
I’m old enough to remember when Brett Kavanaugh was not qualified to serve on the Supreme Court because he was visibly angry about being accused of sexual assault.
Now I read feminist author Kate Rope advising parents to encourage their daughters to get angry and show it:
As parents, we often seek to mollify, quell — even extinguish — our children’s anger. Life is busy, we’re moving fast. Anger slows us down. It stresses us out. But the disruptive quality of anger is exactly what makes it a powerful agent for social change, says Rebecca Traister in her new book, “Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger.” Hers is one of two books out this fall that explore the intersection of gender and rage. I went to hear Traister speak at my local library and left wondering if my desire for peace in my home was eroding my daughters’ potential to create peace in the world.
The other book, “Rage Becomes Her: The Power of Women’s Anger” by Soraya Chemaly, looks at the extensive research on our gendered relationship with anger. There is little difference in how boys and girls experience and express emotions, says Chemaly, but there is substantial difference in how we respond. Girls are rewarded for being pleasant, agreeable and helpful. By preschool, children believe it is normal for boys to be angry, but not girls.
I am by no means an expert in the field of psychology and childhood development (and neither are Traister or Chemaly; both are just feminist writers). One doesn’t need to be a psychologist, however, to find obvious problems with the paragraphs above.
First of all, I’m not sure how we can definitively compare something as subjective as experiencing emotions in boys and girls. We can’t get, Being John Malkovich-style, into the minds of members of the opposite sex to check out how they feel to compare it to our own emotions. All we can do is collect the data on certain function of the brain and on how emotions are expressed. Whether the data reflects our feelings properly is another question.
What we do know, and what’s even considered common sense, is that boys have a much more difficult time with what experts call emotional self-regulation. That difficulty is not something that our society encourages, either. In fact, we vehemently discourage it: boys get disciplined more often, boys more frequently get diagnosed with behavioral and developmental conditions, most notoriously ADHD, boys get medicated, teen boys get arrested more than girls. I want to see Rope and Chemaly go tell the parents of special needs boys that they’d taught their kids DSM-grade behaviors through subtle differences in reinforcement before pre-school.
Of course, special kids are merely notable exceptions, and if we disregard the data that comes from this minority population and compare typically developing boys to typically developing girls, we may find that they are equally well-adjusted when it comes to coping skills.
The problems occur because contemporary feminism really wants women to grow up being exceptional, to take over as leaders and creators. “The future is female”, they promise—which, of course, can be arranged with a proper handicapping mechanism for males. Yet quite a few of the exceptional men, the kind we read about in history books, Peter the Great, Lord Byron, Steve Jobs—I can go on forever—had a significant dark side.
None of it means that only deviant people can be highly successful or that women can’t independently raise to top level leadership. Look, for instance, at Margaret Thatcher, an exceedingly normal, hugely successful self-made female leader. What I think is happening, however, is that feminists look at angry men who did very well, and attribute their achievement to anger, when, in fact, it’s probably something that went along with their bad temper that’s responsible for their success.
Of course, women can be quite angry too, and it can serve them well. For instance, Linda Sarsour, the co-chair of Women’s March and, arguably, the single most celebrated political activist in America today, is often described as fierce. Sarsour’s girlfriends Tamika Mallory and Carmen Perez are made of the same cloth, apparently. Tablet reports:
At the end of January, according to multiple sources, there was an official debriefing at Mallory’s apartment. In attendance were Mallory, Evvie Harmon, Breanne Butler, Vanessa Wruble, Cassady Fendlay, Carmen Perez and Linda Sarsour. They should have been basking in the afterglow of their massive success, but—according to Harmon—the air was thick with conflict. “We sat in that room for hours,” Harmon told Tablet recently. “Tamika told us that the problem was that there were five white women in the room and only three women of color, and that she didn’t trust white women. Especially white women from the South. At that point, I kind of tuned out because I was so used to hearing this type of talk from Tamika. But then I noticed the energy in the room changed. I suddenly realized that Tamika and Carmen were facing Vanessa, who was sitting on a couch, and berating her—but it wasn’t about her being white. It was about her being Jewish. ‘Your people this, your people that.’ I was raised in the South and the language that was used is language that I’m very used to hearing in rural South Carolina. Just instead of against black people, against Jewish people. They even said to her ‘your people hold all the wealth.’ You could hear a pin drop. It was awful.”
Perfectly angry, just as #MeToo-era women are supposed to be. And to think that their collaborators have put up with that for years instead of going public, and that they would probably never go public had Tablet not reached out to them. Were they intimidated by the fierceness of their leaders?
There is a tension today between the schools of thought that teach that gender identity is inborn and immutable and the one that tells us that it’s socially constructed. The second school of thought promotes idea that girls need strong role models and tons of positive reinforcements to mature into powerful women. Princesses are out.
Instead we have the pictures of, well, the foursome of the Women’s March leaders on the red carpet during a major media event, dressed in ball gowns, smiling, and for some reason clenching their fists. FUTURE LEADER t-shirts for girls. NASTY WOMAN t-shirts for moms. Pussy hats. Girlpower comic books that bare only superficial resemblance to middle school misery. Films about powerful female tyrants of the past. Girls are growing up under a lot of pressure to show “leadership,” and they oblige, usually in an artificially created environment.
Anger figures prominently in this powerful woman social construct. There are many things people should be angry about. Rape, for instance, or even the subversion of the Women’s March. Yet it’s one thing to be mad at the rapist, and quite another to lash out at your husband because some other man is a rapist. In an effort to form a cohesive female voting block, political activists try to get women to be angry not at the specific perpetrators of abuse, but at the “patriarchy.”
One thing to bear in mind is that there are a lot of people out there who want, to borrow Saul Alinsky’s turn of phrase, to “rub raw the sores of discontent, galvanize […] for radical social change.”
In a very excellent Quillette article this week, Connor Barnes talked about being an angry radical in a company of other angry radicals and of the sadists who manipulate them. Anger opens people up to abuse. Is that what we want for our girls?
All I know is that I want to raise well-adjusted and well-rounded kids. Anger is not a happy emotion, and angry behavior can be self-defeating. I’m teaching my kids to calmly stand their ground.
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