“It’s alright to feel angry. It’s alright to feel anything, in fact.” – Laurie Penny, journalist
On Women’s Equality Day we can’t help but wonder how it is possible that we still do not have an equal rights amendment to the Constitution? When writing this document, women were intentionally left out. Abigail Adams gently prodded her husband, John Adams, to “remember the ladies.” Clearly, that did not happen and, although the amendment was passed in 1972 it still has not been ratified 46 years later. In order for it to be added to the Constitution, three-fourths, in other words, 38 states need to approve it. By 1977, 35 states had done so. Since then, 2 more states have signed on, leaving it just one shy of becoming an amendment. The deadline for ratification passed in 1982…and here we sit. Every year it is re-introduced in the Congress but never makes it to the floor for a vote. Is there any wonder that women are angry? Here’s a little secret — most women you know are angry!
When Donna first entered a workshop 20 years ago specifically designed for her to face her fears and become the person she was always meant to be, she was quiet, sweet and accommodating. She was intensely anxious but smiling brightly, as she often did. But somehow she knew her anger was always just bubbling under the surface. Donna struggled to avoid it her entire life, hiding it with her winning smile because, as a young girl, she had received the clear message that “nice” girls don’t get angry.
Growing up, anger was used against Donna and so she shunned any part of her that would express this emotion for fear of hurting another or being hurt once again. As a child, this strategy worked (sometimes) but, as an adult, it kept her in the shadows — with men, friends, co-workers. During the workshop, there was an ”anger release” process and Donna was panicked. She told the leader, Debbie Ford, who would become her lifelong mentor, that she was certain she wasn’t angry and had nothing to release — that she was the happiest person you’d ever met! As it turned out, she found her rage during the exercise and describes it as “an exquisite experience of letting go… finally!”
During the 2016 campaign, Donald Trump responded to Megyn Kelly’s directness in her questioning of him during a debate by making a comment that seemingly tried to put her in her place by reducing her to, as Laurie Penny of Teen Vogue described as, “a mess of bloody hormones.” It was his way of pushing back and putting her in her place. Of course, he claimed it was a joke — but it’s never a joke. It was an attempt to control Ms. Kelly. When women manage to successfully hide their inconvenient feelings, they say we are strong. But it’s actually code to mean women who don’t complain or get angry.
Actor Tracee Ellis Ross said in her TED Talk this year, “Your fury is not something to be afraid of. It holds lifetimes of wisdom. Let it breathe and listen.” We couldn’t agree more. The question we ask ourselves now is, “How can we use our anger instead of it using us?” How does anger use us? It keeps us stuck in our old patterns of backing down, getting stepped over for a promotion, remaining in abusive relationships, putting ourselves last. It overwhelms us with a huge amount of shame — whether conscious or unconscious.
As life coaches, we teach our clients that we are “everything.” If we wish to be powerful, whole human beings, we must embrace all of who we are — the “good” and the “bad” and understand that anything we can see in another is also a part of us. Our anger is just one of the many emotions that define us as human beings. The process of embracing and learning to accept, or even love, it sets us free.
There are countless stories of women who were underdogs, found their anger and power and created effective change in the world. We recently saw the film Battle of the Sexes about Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs, both tennis stars in their own right. Billie Jean was angered by Bobby’s taunting about how men were better than women and she rose to the challenge. Was there self-doubt, old programs repeating themselves in her head, justifications, and excuses about whether or not she could rise to the occasion? Of course, but did she allow them to define who she truly was? No. She used the energy of her anger to propel her forward to become a champion.
What can you do to use your anger in today’s political environment?
Relieve your stress: Write about your anger — it’s cathartic! What are you angry about, what messages have you received about anger over the years, what kinds of beliefs do you have about anger? Are you ready to let go of the old beliefs and begin owning all parts of who you are?
Reaffirm your power: There is power in numbers. Gather with other women to share about your anger. Affirm your right to express all your emotions. Support each other to use your anger to make positive change.
Remain engaged: Use the energy of your anger to move a project or an idea forward. How do you do that? Get into action. You don’t have to do anything big — just do something. Call your representatives, volunteer for a campaign, register people to vote — make your voice and your anger heard — they are powerful forces of change!
On Women’s Equality Day, let’s remember and give thanks to all the women who came before us who were not afraid to express their anger and won so many battles for women’s equality. We still have a long way to go but by fearlessly owning all of who we are we will create change for future generations.