Sometimes You Just Need To Be Angry - But You Can't

In my last post, I wrote

Me, personally, I'd like to see a lot more chicks in touch with their Inner Pissed-Off Woman, spouting off, making people uncomfortable. It's good for all of us.

I received an email in response from Anonymous Reader:

I...liked [your] post about sometimes you just have to show your anger. I understand and sympathize, but am not sure it is always the greatest strategy in academia. If you do it very often, you then become tiresome even for fellow travelers and are seen only as the strident pain in the ass by the old white guy establishment. At least for administrators, I believe that this is true. I think that faculty have more leeway because if their scholarship is still good, they can garner respect from that. But administrators who are seen as "one-note" on a topic, be it sexism or racism, have a tough time and may damage their own cause. I have seen this play out on our campus.

Well, there is no way around it - Anonymous Reader makes an excellent point. Indeed, when I was working in academia as an administrator, there is no way I would have been as outspoken as I am on this blog, at least not about the anger. (I certainly never had a problem speaking my mind, as I'm sure my friends and colleagues will attest...)

So, there are a couple of things to consider about expressing one's anger: being strategic and being safe.

Strategic is obvious. You really can't afford to be fulminating all day long at everyone you work with. There's that old thing about picking your battles. And then when you do pick them, you have to choose your tactics. But just because you choose not to scream at the top of your lungs, doesn't mean you can't be in touch with your Inner Pissed-Off Woman. You just have to learn to channel that rage into some strategic action.

Safe should be obvious, too. You don't want to lose your job or lose the chance at a promotion or administrative advancement because you are known as someone who flies off the handle too easily. And you don't want to dangerously raise your blood pressure by being in a constant state of anger. There's venting your anger, and then there's drowning in it. If you have some safe outlets for venting, you are less likely to drown, and less likely to inappropriately freak out at work.

What are some of those safe outlets? Obviously, a trusted friend who understands what you are going through. But I also obviously believe that blogs have an important role to play as safety valves. They are places where those of us who are in a little bit less precarious positions, or who are writing pseudonymously, can speak frankly about all the crap, providing a sympathetic site for others to congregate and realize they are not alone. It helps a lot to know it's not just you, you aren't crazy, and other people are pissed off about this stuff, too. Blogs are places where the ugly stuff that goes on under the radar or that routinely gets ignored, dismissed, belittled, explained away, can be brought out into the light of day and examined. We can say, this stuff matters, and here is why, and it makes us angry. Our allies can then learn a little bit about what it is really like to go through life as the people they want to be allies to.

Barn Owl commented on my last post:

I agree that a blog is an excellent venue in which to express anger and frustration, and that a blogger is under no obligation to educate others, or even to engage in unmoderated discourse. However, after about a year of reading, and occasionally commenting upon, many blog posts dealing with gender and diversity issues in academia and in the broader community, I have to say I've learned very little of practical value required to address such issues.

Some might say it's because I'm close-minded or not very bright, but I would say it's because it's easier, more direct, and more productive for me to discuss and act upon gender, diversity, and disability rights issues with RL colleagues, students, and friends. And also because, IRL discussions, I rarely have to endure a load of passive-aggressive or grandiose monkey puckey.

Barn Owl's comment gave me pause. For a few moments I thought "what am I blogging for? is it really of so little value?" But I recall that when I first started blogging, it wasn't because I had in mind that I was going to directly help people figure out practical solutions to address gender and diversity issues. I'd spent several years in a position formally dedicated to doing just that. It's hard work, high burn-out, very frustrating. I was angry, and I wanted to talk about how angry I was, how frustratingly slow such work is. I wanted to talk about the things that made me absolutely crazy with anger, the things I couldn't say when I was in that position doing that day-to-day work, the kind of job that Anonymous Reader was talking about, where you can't afford to be openly angry very often at all. Even though nearly every day brings hordes of things to stoke your anger. And frankly, I gotta say, some of that stuff came from people who were very good at passive-aggressive or grandiose monkey puckey. It's not just in blogs that you find that stuff.

If some of you have taken away practical advice from this or other blogs I think that's great. That's above and beyond what I hoped for in the beginning. If you have, at the least, found a place where you recognize your feelings mirrored and understood, where you can feel a little less alone with all the crap you have to endure, then I feel like I have done enough.

More like this

That's just it. Why do bloggers blog? I donât know. To receive positive feedback to feed their own ego? Really, disagreement from readers is only normal.

I think that ourselves are the ultimate looser for being angry⦠socially, mentally, and health-wise.

I agree that we, women, need to let people know about the problems that cause anger. We need to talk about anger. We need to be angry, not keep it inside, and we need to tell the world what needs to be changed. Because our anger is the symptom of the disease, something that needs to be cured, something that needs to be changed.

I have recently read an interesting discourse about feeling and managing anger at work. This was a part of a small book aimed as assertiveness training for womenâs work-lives, "Women at work: strategies for survival and success" by Anne Dickson.

She writes that aggression (a way of expressing anger) is often confused with the anger (emotion) itself. And that aggression is often accepted culturally, especially if it is coming from men (of course women are culturally conditioned to be âniceâ and not angry, thatâs my personal comment here)...

She describes three types of aggressive expression of anger (aggression towards others, aggression directed inside and indirect aggression, such as sarcasm). She states that none of them is good and none of them is healthy. This is because they all have an intention to blame (others or self). Blame causes defensiveness and it hinders resolution of the original problem that caused the anger.

She suggests two ways of dealing with anger, release and communication, and that they cannot happen at the concurrently, in the same time and space. When trying to communicate anger when releasing it at the same time, we end up being aggressive. She suggests, actually, that there is no place for release of anger at work (unless you want to scream into a towel in the bathroomâ¦). If the anger is communicated clearly, this is then the only way that could lead to change, as the person whose behaviour needs adapting in order not to cause any more anger would not get defensive as if it were the case if they were just aggressively attacked for their behaviour.

Of course, some people will not change, even if confronted coldly and non-aggressively, but that is entirely different matter.

Thinking about anger in these terms helped me a lot recently, as I experienced a lot of anger (I mean my own emotion) in my current workplace.

Zuska, this is a great post. I think sometimes one of the most important things our blog can do is to serve as a portal for readers, allowing them to glimpse what others in their situation deal with.