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It’s Okay to Be Angry, Unless You’re a Woman

During the recent Democratic presidential debate, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders swiped a question originally directed at Hillary Clinton, saying, “The American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damn emails.” Imagine if Hillary had said that herself. They might be polling differently today.

Women who show anger aren’t taken as seriously as their male counterparts, according to a recent study published in the journal Law and Human Behavior. Researchers found that when females expressed anger during a group discussion, it undermined their argument and made other participants feel more confident in the opposite opinion. When a male expressed anger in the same way, while making the same argument, he won over participants and became more confident that his argument was correct.

Doesn’t that make you angry? It’s nothing new to social psychology. A 2008 study found similar results. Males who expressed anger earned respect, while females lost respect.

Sadly, this doesn’t bode well for feminism. It’s infuriating to be treated as inferior because of your sex. It’s almost impossible to have an unemotional response. How would the women’s movement ever have begun if it weren’t for frustration? Would women have secured the right to vote? In the new film Suffragette starring Meryl Streep as British political activist Emmeline Pankhurst, she announces:

“For 50 years, we have labored peacefully to secure the vote for women. We’ve been ridiculed, battered, and ignored. I incite the women in Britain to rebellion.”

Is it not frustrating that women working full time earn about 78 percent of what their male counterparts make? Does it seem fair that when a female walks down the street, from the time she learns to walk until her death, sexual malice follows her?

But it’s not just male study participants who lost faith in females because they expressed anger. Women had the same response. Why do we see incompetence in feminine anger and leadership in masculine anger? We’ve clung to a pattern of faulty perception that has held women back and taught them to denigrate their feelings. Might as well label them witches when they practice intuition, and hospitalize them with hysteria when they’re upset.

Of course, my knee-jerk response as a woman is, “Well let’s not show them our frustration then. Let’s be stoical. We’ll do whatever they least expect.”

But there is something much easier we can do. We can try to suppress the reaction that makes us fear feminine anger and frustration. We can attempt to be more understanding of emotional responsiveness. Being emotional doesn’t amount to being irrational. How many leaders throughout history had deep emotional responsiveness? Martin Luther King, Jr., Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Winston Churchill. You could hear frustration and determination in every speech they made.

We have to make room for everyone to have a right to their emotional state. There’s no reason to fear that state. It’s inside them, not us. What if that woman was your mother or your daughter? Would you be so quick to dismiss them if they were to become angry?

Ask yourself, “Does this person have a right to be angry or frustrated?” If the answer is yes, there’s no reason to make a leap in logic and presume they are unstable. After all, what would equanimity be without passion?

Angry woman photo available from Shutterstock

It’s Okay to Be Angry, Unless You’re a Woman

Sarah Newman, MA, MFA

Sarah Newman is the managing editor and associate publisher of PsychCentral and the founding editor-in-chief of the Poydras Review.

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APA Reference
Newman, S. (2018). It’s Okay to Be Angry, Unless You’re a Woman. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 30, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 31 Oct 2015)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.