Cheryl Bridges Johns | Feb 26, 2020
Anger Becomes Her
Anger has been the domain of men. It’s expected that men will show anger, and they are given a great deal of latitude in ways of expressing it. Throughout history, angry men have dueled, engaged in fight fights, and gone on killing sprees with their AK-15s in hand. In some cultures, it is permissible for angry men to hit women. “I should not have made him angry,” is an all too common phrase I have heard from battered women.
When it comes to women, anger is forbidden fruit. No one likes an angry woman. I warn you, don’t Google “angry women.” If you do, images will pop up of women pointing their fingers at men (the scold), women with their mouths open wide, pulling their hair, women with contorted faces. Deep down women know it’s not safe to show anger. As a result, women are skilled at repressing anger. It is almost an art form. We learn to ignore, minimize, and move on. We are expected to bury our anger. Recently, after experiencing online verbal attacks, I was advised by a church leader to “bury it.” Of course, that is what women are expected to do.
There is a price to pay for the skill of moving on. Anger doesn’t magically disappear. It gets deposited in our brains. It is held in our bodies and remembered in our dreams. Anger gets channeled into sadness and depression. How many times have women said, “I’m not angry; just sad”?
Every woman faces a time when holding anger in and moving on becomes extremely difficult. The hormonal changes at perimenopause, a time of life when in preparation for the cessation of menstruation and childbearing, makes it difficult to ignore our anger. The anger women experience at perimenopause happens when estrogen and its lovely dance partner, serotonin get out of sync. When this happens, the part of the brain that triggers anger awakens from its slumber. It has been in hiding since adolescence, kept under control with a potent stew of “happy hormones.” Let’s just say, that when this stew dissipates, anger seizes its chance to return.
Perimenopausal anger takes women by surprise. It takes people around them by surprise! Everyone, including the woman herself, wants the former, more agreeable self to return. What is a woman to do? She knows there is no safe place for her anger.
Women do not realize that perimenopausal anger is a gift. It is a cleansing fire, sent to force us to come to terms with the past, re-dress old wounds, and find renewed personal strength. Perimenopausal anger is an opportunity to learn what Soraya Chemaly, in her book Rage Becomes Her: The Power of Women’s Anger describes as “anger competence.” Anger competence is more than anger management. It is using anger as a positive and liberating force.
Harriett Lerner, in her classic book, The Dance of Anger, makes the point that anger is neither good nor bad. It just is. “Asking if we have a right to be angry,” writes Lerner, “is like asking ‘Do I have a right to be thirsty.’”
Anger is a life force, and today’s women are learning how to use this force for the good of themselves and the world. The #MeToo and #ChurchToo movements are examples of the positive use of women’s anger.
In Seven Transforming Gifts of Menopause, I write to help women claim the gift of anger. I take them by the hand and walk them through ways of developing anger competency. I write to create a safe place for women to harness and learn to express their hidden anger. I write to warn them of the dangers, physically, psychologically, and spiritually of repressed anger.
Most of all, I write to move women out of feeling shamed because they express anger. Anger becomes a woman. There are occasions when it is the most appropriate response. At times, Jesus was angry. In the first section of the gospel of Mark, we get a picture of Jesus being trolled. His opponents followed him around, looking for things with which they could accuse him. Nothing he did was right in their eyes. If he healed, he did it on the wrong day. If he forgave sins he was exhibiting authority he did not have. If his disciples took a bit of grain while walking through the fields on the Sabbath, he was allowing them to break the Law of Moses. If his disciples did not fast, as did the disciples of the Pharisees and those of John the Baptist, they were not as pious as they should be. If Jesus had dinner with people of reputable reputation, he was accused of being “one of those people.” They even accused him of being demon-possessed. Finally, on the Sabbath, a man with a withered hand was with Jesus in the synagogue. Jesus knew his opponents were watching closely to see if he would heal the man, “so that they might accuse him” (Mark 3:2). After healing the man, “Jesus looked around at them with anger” (Mark 3:5). I can only imagine the fierce look of his gaze! Jesus was also “grieved at their hardness of heart,” (3:5), but his grief did not cancel out his anger.
Far too often women allow grief to cancel out anger. We channel all our anger into sadness. It’s OK to be hurt and sad. But, there are times when it is entirely appropriate to be angry. Jesus is the example of what it means to be fully human; he is not merely an example of what it means to be a man. Women need to claim the right to be fully human. To be fully human is to express anger. Women deserve the full range of human emotions at our disposal. In the words of my husband, Jackie, “To suppress a woman’s anger is to dehumanize her and to rob her of an essential aspect of the image of God.”
My dear sisters, claim the gift of anger. In the words of Mayo Angelou, “You should be angry…Use that anger. You write it. You paint it. You dance it. You march it. You vote it. You do everything about it. You talk it. Never stop talking it.”
Portions of this essay were taken from Seven Transforming Gifts of Menopause: An Unexpected Spiritual Journey. Used by permission from Baker Publishing.