I don’t like being angry. To me, it feels unnatural. Something at odds with my personality.
I’m mostly extroverted, friendly, fun-loving, and kind. I don’t enjoy situations that cause stress. But I’m also opinionated, confident, and stubborn. If I believe I’m right about an issue, the least I can do is talk about it. Make other people notice there is something wrong that needs to be addressed. And this makes avoiding stress and anger difficult.
However, there is another, a more fundamental reason I don’t like being angry. Because I often find I’m not allowed to express it. I’m not talking about laws, but rather the threat of negative consequences.
Recently, my dad told me to shut up. We were in a cab, and the driver had pissed me off. He was commenting on the poor driving skills of a—gasp!—female student driver passing us by in her car. The cab driver said that women, as intelligent as they might be, made for horrible drivers. Yes, all women, according to him. You can bet I was angry.
Later, I told my dad off for warning me not to express my opinion. His defense, while infuriating, was realistic. He said we didn’t know that cab driver, and he could be a psycho.
While my dad wasn’t telling me to keep quiet because I am a woman, I was furious because this is not the first time I’ve had to, or been told to, not act or talk back in anger.
Growing up, I learned the value of diplomacy. If I got mad at my dad, I would share with my mom. If I got mad at my mom, I’d share with my dad. More often than not, what angered me also angered them about each other. So I had a shoulder to cry on and an ear to complain to.
Naturally, there were also times when I got mad at both of them, or they were both cross with me. Then my diary would come in handy. Because, let’s face it, you couldn’t yell at your parents for as long and as much as you wanted without consequences. No matter how right you thought you were, they controlled your social life, curfew, and allowance. They had the means and authority to make your life hell if they so chose. I carried these home-taught lessons of diplomacy to school with me.
I mentioned not being shy. However, I’m very rational. I weigh not only the pros and cons of my actions, but also potential consequences, negative and positive. That’s why I only argued with my teachers enough to make my opinion heard, but not to the extent that would warrant a visit to the principal’s office. I chose to rebel slightly with my uniform by making my skirt shorter or wearing shirts in colors not listed in the dress code. I talked in class when I could get away with it. I didn’t study only when I knew mediocre grades wouldn’t affect my future.
Yet, there was always a sense of uneasiness. After all, I couldn’t be fully myself without getting in trouble. My rebellions were safe. For instance, if my dad thought a skirt was too short, I’d wear it behind his back. I was thinking that once high school was over, I wouldn’t need to exercise so much diplomacy and self-control when it came to anger. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
College more or less operated on the same principles. Forget full-blown arguments: you couldn’t openly disagree with your teacher without ending up with a worse grade.
While I am aware this kind of struggle is not necessarily gender-related, it only adds up. Boys in school, for instance, didn’t have to deal with teachers (or parents) telling them their skirts were too short. Ironically, most of us wore them short because the school had granted its teachers the authority to comment on it. Had they been less involved with the length of our uniform, or how we did our hair, we wouldn’t have acted out so much. After all, a choice taken away from you, no matter how trivial, is one more thing outside of your control over your own life.
All that pent-up frustration accumulates through the years. “That lipstick is too dark.” According to what? “Those pants are too tight.” Why does the width of my pants matter to anyone but me? But society loves putting its nose where it doesn’t belong.
Since I’m a woman, I have to stay calm not to escalate things. I have to keep calm so I don’t anger a potential assaulter. I have to remain calm rejecting men or dealing with strangers. Just in case.
Growing up, I used to think that life in the U.S. would be easier. I naively based this perception on the movies I saw, which weren’t exactly unnerving true stories. They were romantic comedies and fun action films. To me, the U.S. represented more individual freedom and more options. A country where I’d feel more at home being myself. Moreover, I wanted to work as a screenwriter, and Hollywood was my dream destination.
Don’t get me wrong, I still want to live in the States. My screenwriting dreams persist. I’m just more informed than I used to be. More political. And I’m scared free speech is not as valued and sacred there as I was led to believe it was.
I often envy my American friends—men and women alike. They get to be critical of the government on their social media. My writer colleagues pen emotional and honest opinion pieces. But when it comes to pitching my own stories about the United States, I am scared. I have deleted several story pitches before they found their way into editor inboxes. Because what if they like it, the story gets published, and it is used as a way to reject a visa or other more permanent applications to live in the country?
If you are wondering why I’m trying to come to a country I no longer believe to be perfect, it is because I’m in my thirties. I am painfully aware that no country is. And I love many things about the U.S., the entertainment industry topping that list.
Of course, I’m angry about the state of the entertainment industry too. I’m angry Harvey Weinstein got away with all his crimes for as long as he did. And he is not exactly suffering for it either. I’m angry Louis C. K. got a comeback so soon after what he did, and it was deemed no biggie by many of his fans and friends.
I’m angry about the latest Supreme Court Justice. I’m angry people thought it was okay to give a guy with his temperament, and his obvious Republican partisanship, a permanent seat with such power. Even without the accusations against him, how he handled the entire ordeal should have been a gigantic warning sign. It wasn’t.
I’m angry writing this might prevent me from getting into the country, since many Republicans see immigrants as a nuisance at best and criminals at worst, unless we are from Northern Europe. I’m angry on behalf of my women friends living in the U.S. because the current two-party system puts their bodily autonomy up for debate. I’m angry that a writer wanting to help other women by making a list of potentially dangerous men in media gets sued for it.
So what can I do about this anger? I can no longer keep it in check. Instead, I can write about it. I can, and I will, talk about it. I can share stories with others who are afraid but expressing themselves anyway. Maybe slowly, we will all be less afraid of our own anger. And when we stand our ground, the consequences won’t be negative. We will finally see permanent, positive change.
top photo by Thomas Kelley on Unsplash
“What if we took all this anger born of righteous love and aimed it?”
—Ijeoma Olou, “We women can be anything. But can we be angry?” Medium.com