As a government information librarian, I never forgot an old record I found from an American “insane asylum” from the 1800s. In there it mentioned that one woman was placed in the asylum for “refusing to obey her husband.” This parallels the apparently not unusual behavior of President Woodrow Wilson and his cronies back in 1917, when they tried to persuade a psychiatrist to declare the suffragette Alice Paul insane so they could institutionalize her permanently. The doctor refused saying Alice Paul was strong and brave, but that did not make her crazy. The doctor admonished the men:
‘Courage in women is often mistaken for insanity.’
But when we stop and consider the centuries of historical and genetic evidence, we see that males of our species increased their chance of survival with shows of aggression, while the females survived best my passive, receptive behavior. Females needed male protection to survive, especially after babies arrived. Aggressive females probably did not survive or have the chance to procreate like the more passive ones.
Jumping from historical records to personal experience, I was taught from a very early age not to express my anger. My father was the holder of the anger in my family. The rest of us were afraid of his rage. This fear in myself was so ingrained and unconscious that it took years of counseling for me to finally uncover this new source of power within myself. The first time I tried to get in touch with my anger and express it in some useful way, I instead found myself breathless and confused.
Did I have the courage or the right to express so much pent up rage from decades of standing by while others, usually men, raged on?
Granted, we boomers have lived in a time of transition from traditional female definitions of success to modern independence. Traditionally marriage was a time to celebrate female success. This meant that the woman could now fulfill the proper role of mother and helpmate to her husband. He was the head of the family. and she was the helper who worked to promote her husband’s success.
But since I had no desire to marry at an early age and fulfill this traditional role, where did I fit in? I spent a lifetime figuring this out for myself. In the meantime, I slowly learned through excellent counseling to appreciate and express a full range of emotions, even anger. But I find most women of my age still fear expressing any emotion close to anger.
When we feel anger, it comes from a place deep inside of us whose purpose is to protect us from outside aggression or danger. It tells us when our bodies and minds are threatened and then tells us to react to protect ourselves. Historically women had no way to protect themselves from male aggression or anger, but today we do. I can highly recommend using it.
I LOVE this response to this post! Read the whole comment below:
“The day we stop needing the approval of those around us is the day we take our power back and are free to express the full range of emotions we have. Thanks for this post – it’s very supportive.” – Gilly