48. Beautiful, Powerful, Angry Women

There is power in anger. There is purpose in anger. Anger is that beautiful, much-maligned and useful emotion that women, in particular, are discouraged and punished for expressing. 


In this episode of Crina and Kirsten Get to Work our hosts talk about anger – that much maligned and useful emotion that women, in particular, are discouraged from and punished for expressing.  There is power in anger and there is purpose in anger – even at work.  And it’s time women understood and used their anger in the workplace – for real!  Crina recalls experiences of white-hot anger in her personal life, and little of that in her professional life.  Kirsten admits that she was an early adopter of anger and has honed her expression of it over the years into something that she believes makes her more effective and authentic.

Anger at work comes with a strict warning for its use – nothing physical and no yelling!! And if you know you are out of control, we recommend against its use. 

Now to the juicy topic of anger.

Soroya Chemaly is one of the most thoughtful people on the topic of women’s anger.  She believes women are told that anger is an emotion better left unvoiced.  “It is reserved as the moral property of boys and men” says Chemaly.  Chemaly has some other good observations about anger.  Women who are angry are called such things as spoiled, high maintenance, shrill/ugly.  And when we add race and ethnicity to the mix, we get labels like spicy Latina, crazy white women, sad Asian, angry Black woman.  Chemaly notes that instead of getting angry, women tend to cry or be sad or disappointed, use minimizing language and the like.  Chemaly believes these distortions of anger actually negatively affect women’s physical and mental health.  Women are twice as likely as men to have heart problems, anxiety, eating disorders and self-harming behaviors.

Women have a lot to be angry about.  According to a New Yorker article, American women between the ages of eighteen and forty-four are nearly twice as likely as men to:

  • Report feeling exhausted every day; 
  • Make less money than their male colleagues; 
  • of the thirty highest-paying job categories, twenty-six are dominated by men, while women dominate twenty-three of the thirty lowest-paying categories; 
  • female patients are treated for pain less often than male patients who present with the same symptoms; 
  • one in four women lives with domestic violence; 
  • one in five women has been sexually assaulted; 
  • and two-thirds of women have experienced street harassment, roughly half of them before they turned seventeen. 

The Perils and Possibilities of Anger

Against this backdrop – our hosts dive into anger at work.  Of course, men are generally rewarded for their anger, while women are generally punished.  The issue seems to be that we are comfortable with and assume a purpose in men’s anger, but because we do not feel comfortable with women’s anger, we often impute an intention that is negative – to match our discomfort with the anger.  However, when women explain their anger, it is more likely to advance status in the workplace. (Can Angry Women Get Ahead?).  Explaining and additional information tend to undermine the biases that people form – so explaining your anger substitutes for the negative assumptions people tend to make about women’s anger.

Anger can be very useful at work.  People who are able to process their anger and make meaning from it are more creative, more optimistic, create more intimacy and be better problem solvers – and these are all great things for and that we want more of in the workplace. (Can Angry Women Get Ahead?)

Our hosts end the episode by examining what smart and thoughtful women have said about anger.

I felt like a hand was at my throat when I first started writing. That if I was going to be a proper writer, I’d better be as polite as possible and as calm as possible and as un-angry as possible — and recently I’ve been thinking, you know, fuck that, basically. Zadie Smith

One of the things I wanted was for her [a Netflix tv character she was writing] to be a hothead because it is so unacceptable in society to be an angry Asian woman. You’re supposed to be demure and agreeable. I always had so much impatience and ambition — these things that if you had them, you were supposed to have them secretly. Mindy Kaling

Every woman has a well-stocked arsenal of anger potentially useful against those oppressions, personal and institutional, which brought that anger into being. Focused with precision it can become a powerful source of energy serving progress and change. Audre Lorde

You should be angry. You must not be bitter. Bitterness is like cancer. It eats upon the host. It doesn’t do anything to the object of its displeasure. So 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. Maya Angelou

More Good Stuff on Anger

Can an Angry Woman Get Ahead?: Status Conferral, Gender, and Expression of Emotion in the Workplace

 I Used to Insist I Didn’t Get Angry. Not Anymore. (Published 2018)

The Perils and Possibilities of Anger

Soraya Chemaly: The power of women’s anger | TED Talk

Can an Angry Woman Get Ahead?: Status Conferral, Gender, and Expression of Emotion in the Workplace

The Perils and Possibilities of Anger