Being a woman is to rage quietly.
I am furious, but I have to express it delicately, cautiously, or not at all. I cannot hurt anyone’s feelings with my hurt, or draw too much attention to myself. I am the floor mat, the family dog. I do not get to complain, I’m just here for convenience and to provide unconditional love.
When I’m angry, it’s upsetting to the people to whom the anger is directed, and I end up apologizing to protect them. I’ve been trained since birth to assume responsibility and apologize if someone is upset with me. My anger is seen as hostility, or as my own unreasonable assessment of the situation. My own upset has nowhere to go. It’s unbecoming, bitchy, or selfish for me to feel negative feelings.
When men are angry, we are afraid, we listen. We are terrified of them not feeling respected and heard. There are consequences to their anger. When women are angry, it is irritating and out of turn, and hurtful to others. We have to shut it down, fast.
My hurt will hurt somebody else, and I can’t be responsible for causing someone else pain, even if they definitely caused mine first. My job is to be comfort to others, not a thorn. My reward is their peace and well-being. The currency with which I’m paid in my relationships is their need for me. I am rolling in piles of ‘they can’t live without me.’ It used to feel good, was a relief to be needed. Now it feels sticky and heavy. That pressure to give service and love is bigger than any law or physical restraint. It will keep me from expressing my rage. It will keep me from standing up for myself.
I stuff my rage down and compress it until it’s a smoothly polished cool stone, so I can hand it to people gingerly without hurting them. The process of refining the stone is exhausting and difficult for me, but at least I get to hand it off sometimes, in some form?
Through all of this, the repercussions of having my emotions inhibited, and stuck inside me, beyond the simmering anxiety and depression, is that I don’t get to be the protagonist in my own story. I was taught not to take the lead. I have to do all the work, make all the decisions, rescue all the people, but I am the muse, the producer, the background dancer who choreographed it all. It’s their story, not mine.
Women are taught to give, and give, and give. When we are young, what we are gifted is a baby doll, that we GET TO TAKE CARE OF. We are given the opportunity to DO FOR SOMEONE ELSE right away. We are not asked if it feels good to us, if it’s fun, if it makes us feel big and strong and important. What a blessing that we get to serve. Nurture away, little lady! Doesn’t that feel good and right? It’s a lot of work, yes, but think of the rewards. All of those people who cannot live without you. What a treasure you are to them, as they see their faces shining back at them in the reflection off your back.
When it gets to be too obvious that I’m being used and treated badly by the ones who say they love (need) me, I still assume it’s something I’ve done to cause them to be this way. I’ve let them down, I haven’t done enough, or have down too much. I haven’t placed the proper expectations on them. I own it. I can’t ask them to fully see my pain or anger, because it’s my failure anyhow, and I have to protect them. Also, I can’t change the contract now. “You don’t love me right, but it’s my fault, so I have to let it go.”
There’s a hot anger always burning in my gut that doesn’t get to escape, so it burns me down, inside-out. No one can see it until it gets to the surface and I scream, hit, beg or sob to please see me and care for me. Then:
“What’s wrong with mom?”
“You’re not smiling. Why are you in a bad mood?”
“What’s wrong with you? Get off my back. This isn’t my fault.”
I always recover quickly because I wouldn’t want to scare the children or hold the spotlight for too long. Self-control is the name of the game. My self is fairly well-controlled most of the time, but sometimes the flame is too strong. We are built to help others endure. We are built to take the hit. Rarely, if we are injured, does anyone recognize and help to fix it, anyway, so we quietly try to mend us ourselves.
But, we don’t walk away unscathed. I am very, very scathed: harmed, injured, or damaged or destroyed by fire. We are scathed by our experiences. We are not the people we could be if we weren’t burnt down, pushed down, harmed, and quieted.
Being a woman means facing all kinds of unfair obstacles and dangers. We walk away, but we are scathed.
-We are desperate to get pregnant, but it’s not happening, every lonely, empty month after lonely, empty month. We are poked and prodded and frightened and we are scathed.
-We had death up inside us, oh not again, not again. We’ve lost more babies to the bleeding, not again, not again. We are scathed.
-We are pregnant and this was not the plan. What do we do, all by ourselves, all alone? We make a choice because it has to be made and it’s always on us. We are scathed.
-We lose our jobs because our boss fell in love with us and his wife got mad. We are scathed.
-We are told to be patient when we don’t get the promotion. We are told we should be glad for the money we make. We are told we are special, but not important. We are scathed
-We work full time every where we are, and it’s never enough. We run the world, but it is held against us. We are scathed.
-We are touched where we shouldn’t be touched. We are told we are wrong, that is not what happened. Weird, then, how it happens again. We are scathed.
-We were raped by a man. Why? Why did he do that? We go over and over what happened, until the question becomes, how could we have let this happen? How do I still live in this body? Then-
We couldn’t come out of our dorm rooms, so we lost our scholarships.
We couldn’t come out of our bedrooms, so we failed our classes.
We couldn’t come out of our homes, so we lost our jobs.
We couldn’t leave our children, we had to stay to protect them, so we stay as he hurts us.
We tried to stamp down the pain, but it was too big. We tried to dilute it, with drugs and booze and men who loved us for a night.
We were doubted. Called crazy and needy and wrong, untrustworthy, a bad woman, a bad wife, a bad mom.
We are scathed.
-We try to fight for our rights, and we are called pushy and bitter and nasty and uncivil and mean and wrong and misinformed. We keep marching for our daughters and granddaughters, if not for the little bit of us that remains unscathed.
Most of us are just realizing how burnt we are, and are finding ways to get the fire out of our gut. We’re just giving ourselves permission to be angry. Maybe some day we can say our hurt out loud without it feeling defiant, without it being suspect. Maybe the ones who are doing the hurting will finally be the ones to own our shame, and pain, instead of us. Maybe, by the time we are old women, our anger will have consequences to people besides us.