The philosopher Aristotle once said, “We praise a man who feels angry on the right grounds and against the right persons and also in the right matter at the right moment and for the right length of time.”
But what about a woman who feels angry?
If the recent New York Post cover is any indication, a woman feeling anger is a spectacle, a newsworthy event that belongs on the front cover of a major daily newspaper. Publishing a full-page photograph of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton with her mouth open, mid-sentence, the Post ran the headline, “NO WONDER BILL’S AFRAID” and describes Clinton as exploding “with rage” at a recent hearing.
To give this grossly exaggerated headline some context, Clinton’s image was captured mid-sentence after Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), aggressively questioned her during a recent hearing on Benghazi about the actions her department took following the attack. Clinton’s response was, “With all due respect, the fact is we had four dead Americans.” And the New York Post took that and ran into the land of angry womanhood.
The fact that a respected politician who expressed emotion over the death of four Americans is a newsworthy event begs the question: would Clinton have made headlines, let alone the front page, if she were a man? I recall President George W. Bush being praised for crying on television after the September 11, 2001 attacks. People were moved that a man – the most powerful man in America – was comfortable with expressing his emotions publicly.
So why is a woman expressing anger such a contrast – such a shocking, newsworthy event?
A noticeable trend of media and culture has been pushing women to return to traditional gender roles, stressing the importance of “femininity” and letting “boys be boys.” “The War on Men” by Suzanne Venker, published on Fox News’ website in November 2012, stated bluntly that “women aren’t women anymore,” which then begs the question, “What are women?” Venker framers her argument around the idea that women today are suffering from a lack of potential husbands, and the solution she offers is for women to act more feminine and abandon any personality traits that might be perceived as masculine or might threaten the masculinity of a potential mate.
“In a nutshell, women are angry. They’re also defensive, though often unknowingly. That’s because they’ve been raised to think of men as the enemy. Armed with this new attitude, women pushed men off their pedestal (women had their own pedestal, but feminists convinced them otherwise) and climbed up to take what they were taught to believe was rightfully theirs.”
The conclusion I drew from this article is: women aren’t supposed to be angry. And if you are angry, you are not a woman.
What pedestal is this that women apparently had before feminism? That of wife and mother? Homemaker? Domestic goddess? The last time I checked, all of these options are still available to women today – if they desire them and possess the socioeconomic resources to obtain them.
Regarding the lack of husbands out there, Venker offers these words of hope:
“Fortunately, there is good news: women have the power to turn everything around. All they have to do is surrender to their nature – their femininity – and let men surrender to theirs.
“If they do, marriageable men will come out of the woodwork.”
This statement is disturbing on so many levels, one of which being that in Venker’s eyes, all women are the same. There are no women who aren’t “feminine;” there is no individuality. Has such a blanket statement been made regarding men in recent media?
(Venker’s article also begs the question: if she is such a proponent of women being “feminine” and traditional, why is she working? Is she going to quit her job because her earning a salary might frighten her husband and threaten his masculinity? Or is writing “feminine” enough that Venker isn’t hurting a man’s feelings by dong it – as long as she can still have dinner on the table for her family, per Mitt Romney’s ideal of a working woman’s life and schedule?)
Men’s Health recently addressed the topic of an “angry woman” as well, publishing the article “11 Ways to Calm Down an Angry Woman.” This article objectifies women in numerous, varied and insulting ways, the first of which strips them of their personal identities. The article is not about how to calm down “your partner,” “your girlfriend,” or “your wife,” but simply “an angry woman.” It is also patronizing of women and their emotions, simply assuming the reason this “angry woman” is angry is a silly little pet peeve, and isn’t that just adorable? With the helpful advice of, “Next time your little honeybee turns mad as a hornet, here’s how to stop the buzzing before her fire turns to fight” Men’s Health recommends its readers to “use magic phrases” to calm troubled waters. Of course, thoughtless, empty promises will do the trick. Why would your silly little honeybee want to think while talking with you?
But even outside of the home, a woman’s anger is still not taken seriously. Secretary Clinton’s experience is just one example of when a woman’s passion for her job or frustration at an injustice is not taken seriously. It is patronized, coddled or even ignored. Singer and performer Nicki Minaj spoke of this topic in a video called “Bossing Up,” where she described the double standards women face in the music industry. When Minaj shut down a photo shoot due to lack of preparation, she quickly earned a reputation for being “difficult,” but, Minaj asked, what would happen if a male singer expected a photo shoot to be prepared properly?
“When I am assertive, I’m a bitch,” Minaj said. “When a man is assertive, he’s a boss. He bossed up. No negative connotation behind ‘bossed up.’ But lots of negative connotation for being a bitch.”
Forbes magazine even published an article titled “How to Work for a Female Boss,” the first piece of advice was, “Let Her Wear the Pants.”
Why is that something that even needs to be said? If “wearing the pants” means respecting someone else’s authority, why wouldn’t a boss be given that respect? Why is this considered good advice? The fact that such an idea even requires being outlined depicts an apparent lack of progress in our culture in terms of gender roles. A boss should be treated with respect regardless of gender. It shouldn’t matter if the boss is male or female, but even Ivy League colleges are questioning the ability of “angry women” to succeed professionally.
Minaj elaborated on the pressure she feels as a successful woman, saying, “When you’re a girl, you have to be, like, everything. You have to be dope at what you do, but you have to be super sweet. And you have to be sexy and you have to be nice…it’s like, I can’t be all those things at once. I’m a human being.”
Women do have more opportunities today than ever before. And these are opportunities they have fought hard to obtain. As a result, more is expected of them. The New York Times article, “Can Women Have It All?” states a study of 240 parents with professional careers found most overwhelmed by the conflicting demands of raising children and career but desired to do both well. Mothers are shunned and scorned if they do not put their children to bed every night, but fathers are praised for showing up to a single soccer game. The expectations of women to “do it all” are smothering, and those have also been examined in the media. But every article, every book, I have read about this topic has contained a scolding, and yes, patronizing, tone, that seems to say, “Well, you asked for it.”
So maybe women are angry. And maybe they have a reason to be. Maybe they are exhausted with trying to “have it all” and then being told they have to suffer the consequences (which are, apparently, no potential partners to date, let alone marry.) Maybe they are tired of feeling judged, no matter what choice they make. Maybe they are angry about being all but forced into motherhood because their government attempts to take away their reproductive rights again and again but refuses to offer good maternity leave or even equal pay when two candidates – one male and one female – are vying for the same position. Maybe they are pissed off that they have to work at full-time jobs to obtain quality health insurance (especially gynecological care) but they are paid less than their male colleagues and can barely take any time off to spend with their babies after they are born, or find a clean, safe place to pump breast milk if they are breast feeding (or facing judgment from numerous and varied groups of people if they choose NOT to breast feed). Maybe they are tired of facing sexual assault and then being blamed for it because of what they are wearing or if they had been drinking (neither of which justify sexual assault. Ever.) Maybe they are angry and have a dozen f***ing good reasons to be.
I strongly believe that if Clinton were a man, her passion for the subject might be applauded. It might be admired. It might even be called sexy. But because she is a woman, she is made a spectacle. Given Hillary’s passionate display of dedication to protecting the lives of Americans, her husband shouldn’t fear her; he should respect and admire her, not attribute her dedication to her job to her emotions or her hormones or tell her to “calm down.”
Perhaps what causes people to be so afraid of “angry women” and to ignore or patronize their anger is just that – they have a right to be angry. Actually listening and reflecting on what it is makes these mysterious creatures so fearful will require thoughtful contemplation and real action – to help improve society to the point where both men and women actually are treated as equals.