•   Thursday, 25 Jul, 2024
All the rage women are furious and repressing it can ruin our lives

All the rage women are furious and repressing it can ruin our lives

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Oh my God, I love a scream,” says Dr Jennifer Cox, her face lighting up. “Screaming underwater, I recommend. It’s amazing. It’s so liberating and no one can hear.”

The same is true for standing on a motorway bridge and venting your pent-up rage and frustration into the roar of the traffic underneath. Or, at a pinch, for yelling under the noise of the shower, she says. “Women are like: ‘Oh, I can’t be seen to do this stuff.’ OK, don’t be seen. But let it out.”

Sipping an earl grey tea in a London cafe, Cox doesn’t seem a woman with much to scream about. A Cambridge-educated and Tavistock Clinic-trained psychotherapist, she co-hosts (with the writer and actor Salima Saxton) the podcast , and is just about to publish her first book, Women Are Angry: Why Your Rage is Hiding and How to Let it Out. Both are responses to something she kept noticing in female patients: a bottled-up, repressed anger that they were highly resistant to talking about.

We live in an age of rage, with anger at perceived political and social injustices spilling over endlessly on social media; in street protests such as the recent marches over Gaza; and lately into election debates. The book was inspired by Cox’s own anger at the  by a serving police officer, which she says “started to crystallise to me all the things I’d been noticing and worrying about in my patients, and hearing about with friends and family, and feeling myself”. But her focus is less on this kind of publicly expressed anger than on an intimate, swallowed kind, seemingly often triggered by those her patients were closest to – from ageing parents to partners not doing their fair share at home.

Cox’s book is a feminist take on anger-inducing life experiences; from unresolved feelings about miscarriage and loss, to the sometimes maddening business of looking after toddlers, feeling undermined at work, partners failing to pull their weight at home, sexual harassment and violence. Her argument is essentially that it is hardly surprising many women are hopping mad and that their suppressed feelings eventually burst out, sometimes with toxic consequences. She is fascinated by the phenomenon of women becoming online trolls, venting spleen under the cover of anonymity. (“I think trolling is a horribly brilliant way of being able to enact that destruction, but invisibly,” she says.)

Cox previously worked in forensic psychology, mostly with violent male offenders. “I was used to sitting in their bucket-loads of rage, and often at the sharp end of it,” she says. What she had not expected was to find the same feelings in women at her private practice. “It’s obviously presented very differently: it’s all squashed away and they come in saying: ‘I’ve got migraines, I’ve got terrible irritable bowel syndrome, my anxiety is through the roof, I’m very depressed.’ But just scratch a little bit and that feeling comes out.”

Cox began wondering whether suppressed rage might be undermining women’s mental – and sometimes physical – health, and whether recognising and expressing it might help them move on faster. Cox stresses that she isn’t suggesting the diagnoses her clients arrived with, from panic attacks to chronic pain, aren’t real. Rather, she is arguing that a diagnosis isn’t always the whole story, and that for many women that story is complicated.

A of 10 years of data from the Gallup World Poll – which tracks issues such as food access, employment and wellbeing across the globe – found that, by 2021, women were angrier than men by a margin of six percentage points, with the gap widening during the pandemic. Women’s rage differs from men’s, Cox argues, because women are conditioned in a patriarchal society not to show it publicly (much as men are conditioned not to show sadness or fear). “Women have to stay in their place and be very nice, accepting and kind.”

Girls learn that crying is fine, but that yelling is unfeminine. Angry older women are caricatured as screeching harridans, while righteously angry younger ones are told they just can’t take a joke. Black women are portrayed as particularly aggressive if they lose their tempers. “Whatever way society has of squashing them, it does, and that angry black women trope is kind of classic,” says Cox. Meanwhile, angry white women can also be dismissed as “Karens”, stereotypically entitled middle-class whiners. Essentially, women learn that anger isn’t socially acceptable and that losing control means they won’t be taken seriously. “It’s really easily humiliating and shaming, isn’t it? We kind of embarrass ourselves,” Cox says. Easier, then, to keep a lid on it.

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