A Delicate Feminine Flower

screen-shot-2016-11-01-at-4-09-22-pmI did a bad thing.

I yelled. On Sunday, I yelled in Relief Society. I was so upset by a quote and the direction of the discussion that I forgot to politely raise my hand, and I stood up, shaking with anger, and raised my voice. In my defense, my anger was at the topic and context, and not at the teacher or at my fellow sisters, but in the heat of the moment, I acknowledge it’s often very hard for both the affronted and the recipients to finesse that out. It takes work.

I left Relief Society and sat in the foyer until I stopped shaking. I am fine now, and care has been extended to me by both RS leadership and members of my bishopric. Those details are not actually relevant to what’s on my mind now…

I want to talk about anger. Specifically, I want to talk about women’s anger. How do we talk about women’s anger? We don’t.*

Of course we all know women get mad. We all know women can lose their tempers and are capable of the gamut of human emotions. And yet… we are also battling against the ever-present folk-tale of our dear Angel Mother who never raised her voice in the home, who instead raised a General Authority, and who patiently and spiritually tended to the needs of her family without ever losing her temper. We have the trope of the woman/mother who is cherished and wonderful and who is propped up on a pedestal where she really doesn’t have much room to move. A pedestal is for admiring something still and precious, not for something dynamic and living- and it’s a very small space. Telling women they’re incredible is a way of silencing their full experience, of keeping them confined to a narrow slice of human expression. Incredible is…nice. But it’s not real.

Culturally, when we only allow for one facet of an archetype (and that’s what the Angel Mother is), we end up repressing the whole. Repressing whole aspects of a person—in this case specifically a woman—often causes damage, and can manifest in self-harm, eating disorders, manipulation, passive-aggressive behaviors, depression, and the need for excessive control, among other behaviors. This a problem. It’s not a uniquely Mormon problem, obviously, but it can manifest in particularly virulent ways within our culture.

I’m not claiming my anger on Sunday was righteous—maybe it was, maybe not—but how do I even figure it out unless we talk about it? We don’t have a vocabulary for discussing women’s strong emotions or anger beyond the narrow scope of our pedestal. And that, frankly, cripples us all. We apologize for slipping off the tiny space we’ve been placed, and for taking up more room than intended. It’s got to stop.

So how do we talk about things that are challenging? How do we move from the milk of comfortable things to the meat of hard things? When our vocabulary is limited on one small slice of a large emotional pie, how do we learn to hear each other through emotions that don’t fit neatly on the pedestal? How do we bear the burdens of our sisters if we’re busy clutching our pearls?

Because until we learn to witness one another as fully embodied people, capable of all that is human, there will be no Zion.

* This conversation needs to include men, too. Women need to start it, but men need to stop talking about us like we’re something better, something finer, than they are. We’re not. We’re human. We’re fallen. We want respect and personhood not admiration and a china cabinet.

Comments

  1. Being a mother who does not yell is something I aspire to, because I hate the expression on my toddlers face when I do. That’s not to say that I don’t ever want to get angry; that’s part of being human and (no matter what my former bishop said) an appropriate reaction when wrong is being done. But I think when we yell true communication shuts down. And for the record I think “speaking angrily” and “yelling” are different things.

  2. Sure, absolutely, GH. Yelling is not synonymous with anger. I don’t like yelling- but I also understand being angry sometimes means powerful emotions cause us to raise our voices. When we focus on the woman’s *yelling* or other behavior, we are actually not addressing the underlying cause— her anger— and that’s what we need to talk about.

  3. “We want respect and personhood not admiration and a china cabinet.” Loved this. Part of the problem is that we have more stereotypes going than just the Angel Mother. Yelling and anger often flips us into the stereotype of hormonal PMS-ing witch. Too often people will just roll their eyes as they reclassify you as completely irrational, still sabatoging your credibility. Same when a claim of sex assault flips a person into a category of Temptress. We aren’t treated as people with individual opinions and situations. We’re treated as stereotypes.

  4. Yes^ All of that! We’re damned coming and going. If we slip out of the narrow space allotted, we’re screwed. And that makes me angry!

  5. Great post. You expressed beautifully what I recently tried and failed to communicate to my bishop. Also, the next time someone quotes the Joy of Womanhood on facebook I’m posting the picture from this post in response :)

    As for yelling in relief society? Props to you for speaking up at all. I never say a word, even in the most narrow and disheartening of discussions. I haven’t attended for several months now, partly for health reasons, and partly because I do not find a place for me there. I don’t know what subject upset you, but I bet there were people like me there, uncomfortable and sad and silent.

  6. I hear you, Rachel. I stayed away from RS for more than a year. I really haven’t felt like I belonged in a long, long time. In the last month I had made a commitment to go again, and it was going well. I was really trying. I will again, but it’s going to be hard. I feel very ostracized now, and I admit that’s partly my own doing, obviously.

  7. Praise, this was written for me! I wanted to yell too when we had another lesson filled with examples of how to be quiet and soft. I love that I’m passionate and fierce. I also love my girlfriends who exemplify the RS type of kind and more reserved. We embrace each other as unique, not as women trying to insist one personality prototype is perfect. How boring would life be if all women were the same?! At the end of the day, it’s the LDS correlated lesson material myth that all women should be quiet, soft and malleable. Pass.

  8. You sound like Deborah and Vashti from the scriptures! I freaking love Deborah and Vashti! For me the most natural place to start the discussion would be to look at angry women in the scriptures and those two were the first that came to mind. We definitely need to discuss the fact that not even all women in the scriptures fell into the same quiet catagory.

  9. This is a topic I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. I’ve taken some heat (the passive aggressive kind, mostly) about something I said in anger recently, and through talking to different people, I’ve finally learned that what put people over the edge wasn’t simply that I expressed disagreement (although that wasn’t awesome, either. I was disagreeing with BYU, ya’ll) but that I disagreed with something that they felt shouldn’t be disagreed with in an angry way. I’ve since been told I’m too opinionated, that I’m seeking to destroy testimonies, that I ought to use my social media for “more faith promoting” purposes. It’s interesting, and I’m still trying to figure out which parts I ought to feel bad about, which just weren’t best for the context and which people need to just deal with. Maybe a guy would’ve gotten the same response (or harsher ones)… I don’t know. But one thing I’ve read since about anger that I’ve really liked is something Carol Lynn Pearson wrote in her book about polygamy: “Seeing preventable pain, mine and others, makes me angry… But I know that anger is good only as a fueling station, never as a destination. I have used anger before to move me to good places, and I will do it again.” This post is perfect. Thank you.

  10. Maybe we get a lot of soft spoken lovey women stories in RS, but look back at the early church because there were some fierce women there. And what about the “mama bear” analogies of women defending their children? Women certainly have the right to have a range emotions–perhaps that isn’t a topic explored in RS, but it doesn’t mean it’s not true and valid. Look at Christ, our example, who expresses righteous anger in the temple, frustration with the disciples, and fatigue with the masses of people who follow him around.

  11. Brava, Tracy M!

    A psychologist friend once told me that there is a difference between expressing your anger and throwing the cutlery at someone. Anger is on a continuum. Suppressing anger (for either men or women but especially for women because we are always told to make nice) is a really good way to get sick. On the other hand anger can also be your friend because it is a sign that something needs to change. So we need to listen to it because it can point us in the right direction. It’s the continuum, and where and how on that continuum we express our anger, that is the tricky part!

    Good luck, it sounds like you are listening to your feelings and that you have supportive people around you.

  12. * the difference between suppressing your anger and throwing the cutlery

  13. I would sometimes like to yell (whether angry or not) at the topic and context in high priests group meetings. I’m almost embarrassed that I haven’t in view of the embarrassing nature of some of those topics and their context (or in view of other matters irrelevant here). I did once inform a high priests group leader that when a certain person “taught” I defined my job as not running screaming from the room. We didn’t hear from that person again. I don’t know if your anger and response was righteous or not, but I’m glad you yelled and wrote this blog. Don’t think, however, that men are somehow immune from parallel expectations of a very limited range of emotions and expression, especially in a Church context.

  14. A Fellow Traveler on the Path says:

    Someone very wise told me (again and again until I could finally internalize it) that you become angry when someone steps on your core values. The angrier you are, the more important the value is to you. And if you find you’re angry all the time or even a lot, it may be they have been squashing many things that are very important to you for so long you can’t even recognize its happening.

    The trick is to figure out what value is being stepped on and how to best stop it from happening in the future.

    Sometimes all you need is to tell the person to stop. Sometimes the only solution is to leave the situation completely, as it is unreasonable to force others to change. And, of course, there’s lots of situations in between.

    He never said it was easy, but I’ve found it well worth the effort to learn and do.

    And I learned the language to allow me to talk about my anger in a way it was hard to dismiss as “just a hysterical, PMSing woman,” not that many still don’t try. As long as we allow ourselves to be silenced, either because were dismissed as hysterical or because “women are gentle, soft, and quiet,” we will never learn how to talk about being angry, much less learn how to effectively express our anger to effect change.

  15. Yes yes yes. I think anger is a difficult emotion for everyone but especially for women. We aren’t supposed to feel it and we certainly aren’t supposed to express it. Every time I have spoken openly about anger, and how it is a natural response to certain things, I have gotten pushback from mormon women. I think there is a lot of shame around the anger. I think there is also so.much.anger underneath the surface in their lives that they are scared to peel that layer back at all. There is a fear that the anger will consume them and everyone around them if they acknowledge it and legitimize it.
    I don’t know how we start to make it ok for women to experience anger. The only way I know how is to talk about it like it’s a normal experience. It’s hard to do when everyone else acts like they don’t experience it. Or worse yet, use scripture to tell you that anger isn’t ok.
    **This is a huge soapbox for me. My anger is sacred to me. I had so much repressed anger and even rage. Working on that, and understanding why it was there, has opened my life up in ways that I didn’t know existed. And I would never have done that work if I wasn’t so angry.

  16. Men can get away with being angry when they’re seen as “defending” the church. They can get away with being angry when they’re in a high authority position (I’ve seen both a mission president and a general authority get angry, although thankfully I was just an innocent bystander).

    Heaven help me, though, If I get angry when the EQ teacher again scapegoats some group he doesn’t like, whether it be gays, Democrats, feminists, intellectuals, or immigrants. That kind of righteous anger apparently has no place in the church.

  17. I think it’s so true that we live in a culture that often can’t accept female anger as justified or constructive. I’ve been angry a lot lately: I’m at a new job where I’m the only woman of my rank, and I’ve had a lot of trouble with support staff forgetting to file critical paperwork on my behalf before deadlines. They also tend to demand unnecessary approvals from my supervisor, I think because they aren’t used to taking orders from a woman.

    What is most frustrating is that there’s really nothing I can do about it. If I don’t express anger, or just show a little anger, people ignore my requests and continue to not take me seriously (I get called “sweetheart” a lot, it’s the South). I’m a likable person, but if I get a bit more assertive, people quickly dismiss me as moody, bitchy, unfriendly, and difficult. When I make it clear I’m mad and take more serious steps (like bringing in HR or my supervisor), people get personally hurt and defensive and act as though I’m way out of line–even if I’m just calmly and firmly insisting that a fairly simple problem must be fixed. Basically, no amount of anger changes the circumstances. I just have a choice between having my coworkers dislike me, and bottling up my frustration (which results in general crankiness and poor sleep).

    Church of course, is in many ways even more extreme in silencing female anger, although I think it silences male anger too.

  18. Kelsimarie, thank you. We do need to remember those examples.

    Aly H, yes, anger is important to get out out of situations, for fuel, but not as a destination. That’s so true. And yeah, no doubt men are under constraints, too.

    Jessica, yes- there were fierce strong women in our history. I love their stories. I am also deeply uncomfortable about casual comments about Emma staying in Nauvoo. She had reason to be angry, and to choose for herself the rest of her life. I feel very defensive of her, and am glad the narrative around her has softened in recent years.

    Good points about a continuum, BB.

    JR, I hear from my husband similar thoughts about HP Group. Lots of frustration.

    A Fellow Traveller: “…you become angry when someone steps on your core values. The angrier you are, the more important the value is to you.” That certainly explains my fury on Sunday.

    Anon1, there is absolutely a load of shame around anger. It’s tied into the tropes and stereotypes and the narrow range of roles that are acceptable for a Mormon woman. Tiny spaces, again. ***I’m right next to you on that soapbox.

    Tim, yeah, double-standards suck.

    Em, I’m sorry. Workplace misogyny is terribly destructive and damaging. And so, so pervasive.

  19. Nevada Grami says:

    What was the quote or the direction of the discussion that set you off? I am an older grandmother, and I am the only one in our RS who speaks out when a quote or discussion does not seem right. I like to keep track of topics that are out there that set someone off or that might be brought up in my RS and I could answer “intelligently” about.

  20. In the spirit of talking about dealing with anger constructively, here’s what I wish had happened on Sunday…

    (First and foremost, I understand my feelings and expression are mine, and are not anyone else’s responsibility. I’m a grownup and I own my stuff.)

    I wish that the lesson for the day had been scrapped. I wish the RS president had said “Sisters, put away your books. We need to talk about what just happened. We need to care for and hear one another, even when it’s hard.” I wish the circle of women had drawn together to talk about their feelings- if anyone else had been uncomfortable but didn’t want to speak out, and why? If when I spoke out some silently agreed, or if I had made them uncomfortable? How they felt about disagreements, and how we could disagree with each other without calling each other’s faith or righteousness into question. I wish there could have been a conversation about how we can do these things. It’s so important.

  21. Observer of Things says:

    Sorry, no. You’re an adult. If you lose your s*** in RS, you need to apologize and figure out what you did wrong, not wonder why the whole lesson didn’t stop in its tracks and focus on your needs. You want to be treated like a whole human? Great. Whole human adults recognize when they’re being selfish and try to make up for it afterwords. They don’t try to blame the institution for their personal failure to keep it together in an adult setting. Grow. Up.

  22. Observer, you have no idea what I did or didn’t do, because I didn’t give details, and that isn’t what this is about. I did apologize, and I did write an email to the RS president and the teacher. As I said, I own my sh*t, and I did what was right. Your assumptions are presumptuous.

    This post is about how we talk about anger in women, not in me blaming anyone else. I do think we need to have conversation about this stuff. And yeah, there were other women in that room who felt the same way I did, but didn’t speak up. Why? Women are not allowed to be angry in our church, and that’s what I want to address.

  23. I don’t accept your premise that men act as if women are something better and finer.

  24. Mark, then you don’t pay enough attention to conference talks about women. They are full of that sentiment. Hence, the feeling by both men and women in Church that women are the greatest, most divine naturally full of charity and patience, etc.

  25. Open an Ensign or conference talk and read words about how remarkable women are, how limitless their gifts, how incredible! we are, and how women don’t need the priesthood because they’re naturally more spiritual, that the priesthood is for men because they need the extra help, and so on. These are sometimes said in jest, with a chuckle. They’re frequently coupled with comments about how inadequate and useless the men are without their wives. These are common ways to keep women in their place. It’s thinly coded, patronizing speech.

    And that doesn’t even begin to touch on speech about how women are responsible for men’s thoughts because of our appearances. This sets the groundwork to lay assault at the feet of victims, as men are powerless before our exposed shoulders or knees. It’s turtles all the way down.

  26. Angry women are powerful women, and angry women are scary women. We don’t like that.

  27. Elizabeth St Dunstan says:

    I appreciate this post, Tracy! I recently had a conversation with my mother in which she told me that several extended family members wanted to talk to me about areas of my professional expertise, but they wouldn’t because I “get passionate” and that’s “a lot to handle.” It is true that I get fiery, and the quote about anger being proportional to the value being affronted explains why many of these conversations are so hard for me. I was finally able to tell my mother that I don’t take kindly to being told that my anger or passion is bad because I’m most often reprimanded for showing it just when I’m feeling proud of myself for how much more I held back. I think this post may help me have some of the vocabulary to explain how discounting my anger hurts me, and to help me own my s*** better.

  28. No judgement here, I understand the frustration with Sunday RS meeting. I haven’t attended for many weeks, and I don’t know if I can go back, in large part because of the way we suppress so many critical things women at church should be talking about. There is a recurring theme, taught and reinforced often, that women should be gentle and compliant in their discipleship, and non-vocal about taboo topics, in the home and especially in public, and anything contrary to that is suspect. It’s almost like it’s in our DNA it’s so subtle and pervasive. It’s exhausting just thinking about it.

    I am reminded of the way that FLDS women are admonished to “keep sweet,” which is code for keeping anger suppressed, and not questioning those in authority. Suppressed anger is an express ticket to depression.

  29. Certainly done my fair share of hurling RS manuals at the wall in the past – at home, not in church. My current calling keeps me out of RS for the most part (though when visiting other wards with my husband I do get to go). I was probably making far too many waves when I was last in RS and Sunday School in my home ward.

  30. So if we do get angry (or hurt or any number of reactions besides edification) in RS about something being said, what do we do? Do we bite our tongue and keep quiet? I’d say it depends- maybe sometimes, but I think if that’s the only option, that’s where we run into trouble.

  31. In some RS (mine) just an open and generic acknowledgement that such feelings exist is considered inappropriate.

  32. Fashion C says:

    Whenever I feel the conversation becomes obtuse in RS, I chime in with what I feel the sisters seem to be forgetting or overlooking. I push back. But I try to do it as civilly as possible because I want them to listen. The second anyone feels threatened they no longer listen. So while I find my heart racing and my blood beginning to boil when destructive myths are perpetuated in any space in church, I find sharp words spoken clearly make a bigger difference than an outburst. I think this idea is taught to both genders in secular leadership training. Not that I don’t lose my sh*t often with my kids, I do that all of the time. I’m irreverent in many ways. I think the most important thing we sister’s can do is tell our stories just as you have, Tracy. We need to start the stories in our spheres if no one else is. We’ve all been trained to be too discreet, as in testimony meeting. And while I can understand the thinking behind that suggestion, I wonder if it isn’t hindering our ability to practice true Christian fellowship. As it stands we love each other superficially. The true test is if I can succor my fellow members through their hurts and trials. Can we be vulnerable enough to let them help us through ours? It was very brave to show where you were in that moment during the class.

  33. macthenaif says:

    “I yelled. On Sunday, I yelled in Relief Society. I was so upset by a quote and the direction of the discussion that I forgot to politely raise my hand, and I stood up, shaking with anger, and raised my voice”

    “I wish that the lesson for the day had been scrapped.”

    “I’m not claiming my anger on Sunday was righteous—maybe it was, maybe not—but how do I even figure it out unless we talk about it?”

    Just sounds like garden variety emotional manipulation to me. You had a tantrum because you couldn’t get what you wanted in another way. Maybe try growing up?

    As someone who spent a good part of last year sitting in the back of RS with a holster full of red cards instead of attending my priesthood meetings, my guess is that you probably did much more harm than good.

  34. Incredible IS real. Incredible includes the good, the bad and the ugly. You can lash out and still be an incredible person.

  35. Homeslice says:

    I’ve seen priesthood leaders fly off the handle a time or two in church meetings. The few times I’ve seen it happen I remember hearing people comment about how strong of a leader so and so is, and how he must have been inspired to use such force, and now it’s up to us to be humble and internalize his message. For sure a different standard.

  36. Well, Mr. or Ms. Naif, since you don’t have any idea what happened or what the reaction in the meeting was, your opinion is worth approximately what was paid for it. Thanks for dropping by though.

  37. Mr. Naif, Nope. No emotional manipulation whatsoever. Personally admitting wrong behavior, and explaining what– and why– I think talking about feelings in a room full of women trying to be sisters matters. I did not have a tantrum. I raised my voice. In treating me like a child— using words we use for toddlers— you are perpetuating the infantilization of a grown woman expressing herself. I said I raised my voice. Full stop.

    You have no idea what happened or didn’t happen, and as I CLEARLY stated in my opening, I realize I made a mistake, and that is NOT what this post is about. Several dudes have shown up on this thread to correct me on their *assumptions* about *my behavior* when I have already owned my own mistake (and taken private measures). It’s sadly unsurprising though, that people feel the need to chastise me when the topic of the post is how we deal with female anger. I used my own experience as a jumping off point, but dudes feel entitled to make assumptions about me, and to make recommendations about my course of action- none of which were the subject of this piece. You can take your ‘advice” about what I should do and shove it.

    The next comment like that will be deleted.

  38. Perhaps a remedial viewing of the movie “Inside Out” would be helpful for some here?

    We promote order and civility in our Mormon culture, but are more allowing of men to break those boundaries than we are of women. This discussion ought to be as important and liberating for men as it is for women. Thanks for starting the discussion.

  39. macthenaif says:

    I don’t have any idea what happened because the details were intentionally omitted. If the OP was intended to discuss what “really happened” but was not described to us, well then there are probably different issues at play (sympathy?).

    “Owning” the mistake doesn’t make it less infantile and the fact the an apology was merited means that we probably agree and are essentially saying the same thing, each in our own fashion.

    If you don’t like what I said, a more effective argument may be to point out the hypocrisy of popping off in polite company in an attempt to hijack the discussion, when referring to behavior described as popping off in polite company, storming out of the room in an attempt to hijack the discussion in order for the “the RS president to say “Sisters, put away your books. We need to talk about what just happened.”

    Object. lesson.

    What I don;t understand is how one woman yelling at a bunch of other woman in a room with no men somehow qualifies as feminist bravery, unless that refers to the mysterious and “really happening” discussion

  40. I am in no position to speak for Tracy, but it appears to me that she was having difficulty in dealing with the anger she felt in a discussion with the group that she has been taught are her peers, her support, who are there to have her back. How are we to deal with our feelings when we find ourselves at such odds with those we self-identify with? That seems to me to have been a brave act, indeed, regardless of whether or not men were present.

  41. Sigh. I wish we could just be more open about disagreeing in general in RS. I find that the first person to state an opinion drives the conversation as any following opposing remarks would be seen as being rude. All it takes is for Sister Commenter #1 to say “when the prophet speaks, the thinking has been done” and then, there goes the lesson. And since I’m in a very conservative, culturally Mormon ward, there’s a lot of agreeing on generally accepted topics that I often disagree with.

    I’m working up the courage to speak my mind in RS. It may be social suicide, but I’ll get there. And had I been in your ward last Sunday Tracy, you can bet I would have followed you and exposed myself as a kindred spirit.

    Yes, I just said “exposed myself.” I can’t think of a better way to put it.

  42. I find myself in a puddle of tears every time I get angry. I have finally figured out in recent years that this is because I’m trying so hard to keep myself from being angry that my body’s only available response is tears. Growing up I was always told I was the “peacemaker” so every time I feel anger it feels like I am somehow disappointing my mother. Little by little I am finding my voice and realizing that anger can be good. Someday I hope I can have a heated discussion without crying, because the only woman taken less seriously than an angry woman is a crying woman.

  43. Hey, macthenaif —

    You seem keen to philosophize about hijacking the discussion. Go sit in some corner, far, far away and quietly contemplate what it means to hijack a discussion, while the rest of us continue the discussion.

    Thank you.

  44. Mac, sounds like you have really figured out how to deal with female anger: by making rude drive-by comments. Sitting in the back of the RS meetings, I’m sure your words have been a healing balm.

  45. The OP WAS NEVER meant to be about the details of what happened- if it were, I would have written it that way. It. Is. NOT. About. The. Details. Of. What. Happened.

    I neither need nor want sympathy. What happened was simply a jumping off point for me to consider women’s anger in general, and how we do or do not allow it in our Mormon culture.

  46. “As someone who spent a good part of last year sitting in the back of RS with a holster full of red cards instead of attending my priesthood meetings”

    What is being referenced here? Clearly I am missing out on something. Are we talking red cards like soccer?

    Sorry to hijack productive discussion, I’ve just never heard of a man sitting in RS with red cards. And I am really curious.

  47. Tracy I love your bravery and honesty – in your actions, how you handled yourself afterwards, and for posting this post. All of us have complex emotions and reactions and church (especially RS!) often doesn’t allow for our complexity and wholeness to be addressed. I 100% agree that female anger is unacceptable. How do we change it? I think by doing things like you just did – by sharing your example, the good and the bad, and by just talking about it.
    In my experience of discussing anger with mormons I have seen even the experience of being angry (with no resulting behavior) get vilified. “Whosever is angry with his brother…” How do we discuss the experience of anger and being angry when our scriptures seem to condemn just being angry (as opposed to lashing out in anger)? It seems like a very uphill battle to get mormons to accept anger as an acceptable emotion to experience when scripture says otherwise…

  48. I wish I were in macthenaif’s RS so I could earn myself a red card.

  49. I don’t get angry. I’m comfortable with the angel mother kind of thing. My husband gets angry a lot and I don’t understand it. I have been learning to live with trying to let him have his own angry feelings (and tantrums) but to still live my life rather than to try to accommodate him.
    So, I don’t understand this post much. I view anger as suspect. Anger is scary. Anger in people in positions of power (physical or other) is scary. Anger hurts people’s feelings. I guess I never see my husband’s anger as justified, it just seems to ruin everyone else’s life.

  50. I think the broader issue is that we as Mormons don’t have much experience discussing sensitive topics with empathy or real substance. We offer platitudes instead of engaging with the messiness of life. Most of the time I think that people don’t even know what they are really saying when they parrot the typical Sunday school answers. What many people hear, however, is we don’t talk about this in church – or ever.

  51. I got angry (frustrated, alienated, discouraged) the last time my visiting teaching came by — not at her, but at the VT message she insisted on reading to me (I find all the messages this year, all based on the Family Proclamation, to be dismissive and contemptuous of my efforts to remain an active member of the Church despite being a single woman). She (another single woman) never gets angry, never takes anything personally — and she says it’s because whenever anything starts to bother her, she actively works on “not caring about it any more.” I don’t think her way of dealing with such things is any better than mine — I would rather care about things, even if I can’t fix them, then go through life deliberately not caring about anything, and not having an opinion about anything. But she fits into the ward much, much better than I ever will, because she smiles and doesn’t make anybody uncomfortable.

  52. macthenaif says:

    Tracy, again I think we are saying the same thing. I agree that I don’t know what “really happened” and assumed that it was you omitted it intentionally because it was irrelevant to the discussion. We’ve both said that twice now.

    I don’t buy the argument that the response to angry outbursts in Church are gender biased. I suspect that the predominant aspect is cultural. Never having lived inside a Mormon cultural zone, one of the things that is striking to me is the inability of members from Mormon cultural areas to deal with conflict. They avoid and avoid and avoid until it blows up in a mess of anger. I suspect this is nothing more than lack of experience, like the first time the nerdy kid at school gets in a fight it’s all flailing slaps and snot (see some of the replies directed at me). I’m in no way saying that conflict is good, just that, like with anything, one gets more effective with experience (and of course there are lots of different drivers and desired effects).

    The red cards were figurative. There were two ongoing conflicts in RS, one of which involved threats of violence. I sat in the back and read until there was an outburst at which point I would have to “eject” one or more sisters and escort them out of the chapel. It was a mess and while the threats have mostly been resolved, the effects are lingering and will for some time to come.

    Like I said, tantrums in Church usually always do more harm than good, to everyone involved.

  53. “I don’t get angry”

    I don’t think it’s humanly possible not to get angry. You may not express your anger outwardly, but I’m highly suspicious in the idea that you don’t get angry jksdfs. Because it sorta sounds like you get angry at the way your husband handles his anger.

  54. Ardis, I would rather care, too. Even if it’s hard, even if it’s messy. The idea of being numb just isn’t for me.

  55. rebeccadalmas says:

    We talk about it by allowing the anger to be a natural, understandable part of the problem-solving process. We allow anger to do its job, to flag a problem, and we don’t restrict the possibility of a problem to the one expressing the anger, but open up to the possibility of something larger.

    As a woman, as a mother, I let go of the soft-spoken Angel Mother when my oldest were little. I’ve since had to learn how to let anger be without letting it dominate. No one who acts abusively out of anger should expect respect, but many are fortunate to receive it. So when I am angry, am honest about it yet control it, I do expect my words to not be dismissed if I display emotion, but to be judged by their merit.

  56. Never having lived inside a Mormon cultural zone, one of the things that is striking to me is the inability of members from Mormon cultural areas to deal with conflict. They avoid and avoid and avoid until it blows up in a mess of anger. I suspect this is nothing more than lack of experience, like the first time the nerdy kid at school gets in a fight it’s all flailing slaps and snot (see some of the replies directed at me). I’m in no way saying that conflict is good, just that, like with anything, one gets more effective with experience (and of course there are lots of different drivers and desired effects).

    You’re not wrong about this. American Mormon culture is Nordic/Anglo-Saxon culture on steroids when it comes to passive-aggressiveness and aversion to confrontation. For a son of the Rust Belt (=lots of Irish and Italians) who went to a college where 75% of students are from the New York metropolitan area (add Jews to previous), this has always been difficult. If you’ve ever seen My Big Fat Greek Wedding, there’s a scene where Tula’s dad refers to Ian’s extremely WASPy parents as “toast people”; by this token, most “ethnic Mormons” aren’t just toast, they’re saltines.

    Having said that, the gender layer is still very much present. Men are allowed to get angry over the pulpit as well as cry; women are only allowed to cry. Watch General Conference sometime, where Elder Holland’s frothing at the mouth is as much a feature as a bug, versus the extremely frigid reactions of the female speakers.

  57. jksdfs, I don’t know the kinds of problems your husband’s anger has caused you. I’m sure they are many and I am sorry for that pain to you and others you love. However, if my spouse said that he didn’t think any of my anger was justified, I would probably be pretty perpetually angry too.

  58. @jksdfs,

    I am in the opposite situation. My husband is almost never angry and is never comfortable with anger. Part of our marriage has been figuring out how to deal with my expressions of anger. I have learned to be more gentle, and to communicate the direction and scope of my hurt feelings so my husband doesn’t feel like he is being attacked. He has learned to listen to his passionate wife, offer comfort, and refrain from trying to silence those feelings. Obviously this is something we will continue to work on. Sometimes I wish I was more like my husband, and not get upset, but sometimes I wish he were more like me, and would express what bothers him. There is absolutely value in anger as a form of expression – though as many commented before me, it can be limiting if it never progresses further.

  59. EnglishTeacher says:

    It took reading the poetry of Sylvia Plath that made me realize female anger is powerful, in that it doesn’t have to be irrational or inarticulate. The mere presence of anger doesn’t constitute unnecessary cruelty or contention; I wish we recognized this more when things heat up in a lesson (if they heat up at all).

  60. “How do we bear the burdens of our sisters if we’re busy clutching our pearls?”

    Well, like other Mormon Liberals, you are very articulate with your contempt, and you will receive effusive pats on the back and sympathy on this Mormon Liberal website.

    Is everything you hear in Relief Society really just pretense and facade to you? Is the gospel of faith and hope just pie in the sky, or our LDS hymn book just a sheath of Pollyanna verse? I see our incredible Church media and I see real life pain and hardship dealt with ever more. You were, I think, getting close to the truth when you mention anger not always being ‘righteous.’ It is so easy to become intoxicated with your own rightness, and blame the Church for your discontent, especially when you have a gift for wordplay (“We want respect and personhood not admiration and a china cabinet”).
    If it helps, maybe ritualistically burn a copy of the Ensign and hiss and howl as the ashes ascend from the fire. Or, you could talk with God, and listen to His sweet, kind Spirit.
    God bless you,

  61. Glen Danielsen, In your eagerness to condemn, you wholly fail to “bear another’s burden” or “mourn with those who mourn.” Your off-topic rhetorical questions betray your reading into the OP some attitudes and beliefs that are not implied. Though off-topic, the matters you raise about the gospel and Church media are legitimate and could have been expressed without your descent into attack mode. It would seem that it is easy for you to become intoxicated with your own rightness and make wholly unjustified attacks on others. Perhaps you might emulate a “sweet, kind Spirit” instead.

  62. I’ve been thinking about this, and I think another issue with our (American/LDS) culture is that we’ve sort of erased the nuance between non-abusive and abusive expressions of anger, perhaps in our haste to condemn all anger. Paradoxically, I think that often people react to non-abusive anger as if it is abusive and manipulative, which conveniently frames the angry person as wholly in the wrong and undeserving of consideration. On the other hand, in my experience, abusive anger (from leaders or loved ones) is too often labeled as a “normal” and justified emotional reaction that maybe went a bit far due to the strength of the emotion. I think our culture would be healthier if there were more space for people to express non-abusive anger without everyone around them being aghast at witnessing raw emotion in “polite company.” Then maybe we’d get better at distinguishing it from abusive anger.

    And as macthenaif incidentally points out, women are more often viewed as infantile or hysterical in their anger, whereas for men, anger is frequently a masculine prerogative that is assumed to reflect passion and strength. If Tracy were a man, talking about some vague experience where he got mad and stormed out of Elders’ Quorum, I bet people would be slower to jump to the conclusions that a) people in EQ were negatively impacted, and b) that Tracy’s anger was probably unwarranted and he just wanted to make a scene.

  63. All of us get angry, every single one. We are all on a continuum that ranges from hot to cold. Some of us have a short fuse and an intense flame (that’s me and yes it’s scary), and some of us have a cold temper that comes out in passive-aggressive, mean-spirited self-righteousness. (Looking at you, Bro Danielsen.) All the rest of us have some other configuration of qualities relating to anger.

    I am one of those with a hot temper, though it’s not very powerful because denial and suppression, and I have benefitted a great deal from studying anger management materials. Such things are badly needed among Mormon women, (and men!) and would do a lot to correct the toxic falsehoods that we perpetuate upon ourselves and each other, some that we have seen reverberating in this thread comment. For example, the idea that anger is either righteous or unrighteous, dependent on weighing blame, is a terrible and damaging approach. Anger is almost always a secondary emotion, and dealing with it involves looking at the underlying issues while withholding blame. It’s worth a whole Relief Society lesson on that alone, and the moms would get much practical guidance out of it. Another neglected discussion topic is abusive anger. (See above. Thanks Em)

    Also, as a public service for those of you who may not be very well acquainted with Tracy, it’s not a good idea to lecture her about real life pain and hardship.

  64. RockiesGma says:

    Anger expressed by yelling, screaming, cursing, stomping around, waving hands, pointing fingers, throwing things, or….. seething, shaking, speaking in threatening and degrading language no matter how quietly, hitting, shoving, and on and on is ALL wrong and un-Christlike. All of it. It negates priesthood power. It drives the Spirit away. Anger is to be managed in positive and constructive ways. There is no place for it in church. Ever. We may feel it, and we may say we disagree with something, or we may quietly get up and leave a meeting. But yelling and disrupting a meeting are not what Jesus would ever do, nor want us to do. Anger management classes are excellent sources of developing constructive means and ways to turn our tempers into something productive and meaningful in relationships and public settings. We must learn to manage anger in healthy and constructive ways. We must never yield to our basic instincts to lash out and react/overreact to the things that set us off. So much more good can be brought forth if we manage anger well and develop healthy conflict resolution skills. These ought to be among our top priorities in life. By the time we are adults we should certainly be well versed and skilled in them.

    Look at our society–Poor anger management runs amok these days. The very concept of conflict resolution skills is largely unknown or disregarded by most people. We react, rather than act upon with calm, thoughtful expression and sincere listening to others. This is how animals behave. As human beings, and especially as adult ones who are striving to be like Jesus, we must, must, must work on these important skills, set the example for our children, and teach them daily to understand and implement these things.

    However, we all fall short, don’t we? Hence, apologies sincerely given, before the other person or whole group whom we disrupted by our anger poorly managed are a must. Humility to admit we didn’t handle a situation in a healthy way is something we all must learn and do, even though our viewpoint may be completely correct, good, and valid.

    This is my “talk” regarding how women, men, and children “should” deal with anger.

  65. Having been in an abusive marriage, I have never been a big fan of anger. I felt first hand the emotionally scarring impacts of anger uncontrolled. That said, I have come to believe that anger is a vital emotion for informing us when something is wrong. Trying to be Christlike, I did not react to the abuse I experienced with anger, instead I tried to forgive, over and over and over again. Thinking that anger was always wrong, I buried the righteous emotion within me that was telling me I did not deserve to be treated that way. In so doing, I gave my subconscious the message that in fact, I did deserve to be treated that way. My anger, which was always buried immediately, turned in on itself and I developed an autoimmune disease. While I know that there is a physical cause to my disease, no one can convince me that it is not also the result of years of burying my own emotions, ignoring the healthy messages they were trying to tell me to get out of that abusive relationship.

    My mom was also very meek and submissive and I learned from her and from church culture in general that anger was always wrong. I remember watching in awe in various shows or movies where the girl slaps the guy who tries to invade her boundaries. I always wished I had learned the skills to do that for myself. Of course, a healthy sense of anger at such a violation would have gone a long way, had I learned that such an emotion is acceptable. Self control is admirable but we need to make sure we are not teaching our daughters to ‘stay sweet’ at all costs.

  66. RockiesGma, while I generally agree about anger management, it is not helpful to tell us what Jesus would never do in the face of John 2:13-17 and parallel reports in the other gospels, or in view of the many scriptural verses attributing anger and wrath to the God we identify with Jehovah/Jesus. I note that your “talk” is effectively addressed to at least some of our General Authorities as well as the rest of us. I appreciate your including all as falling short. This is a part of the talking about anger that Tracy suggested needs to happen rather than the sometimes pretense that women, in particular, never get angry.

  67. I don’t think this post is a good example to refute the Angel Mother archetype. I can’t see how it’s a good thing to have anybody shouting in and then marching out from RS or EQ, so I can’t see how it’s a gendered thing. I also find it amazing that somebody who did such a thing would then use the event as an example of how the system (not she) needs to change. If I did such a thing, I would be ashamed of myself. My pain might be an explanation for my anger, but not a justification. And, my anger might be an explanation for my bad behavior, but not a justification. I’m really wary of how so many people are indulging in self-righteous anger and its resultant behavior. Isn’t the election bad enough? Can you really justify bringing that kind of behavior into church?

    Yeah, I know, that’s not the discussion you’re trying to have, but for those of us who don’t feel that personal pain is the sole metric for determining right or wrong, it’s a bad way to start. I’m sure your ward members are genuinely concerned about you, but I think you should also consider how high maintenance you really want to be.

  68. RockiesGma, I think your general sentiment is fair, but I really think there’s more nuance than that. Sometimes spectacular displays of anger are okay (or even Christlike). Look at Christ kicking moneychangers out of the temple! If a person don’t react strongly when their boundaries are violated, this can makes room for abuse, simmering resentment, and a lot of other problems.

    As an aside, I used to live in a country where men propositioned me a lot on the street. I tried dozens of polite ways to say no, but the men would continue to follow and touch me. Finally I asked a local friend how to deal with this, and she said that if you were polite, men assumed you liked them and were being coy. If you really meant “no” you had to look mad and yell the local equivalent of “F- off!” a few times. They wouldn’t be offended really, this was the normal way of saying no. I had never sworn before and it was so, so hard to do at first. But it worked: the men would shrug and walk off. I think it would be hard to argue that I should have put up with sexual harassment just to avoid swearing and appearing angry.

  69. Martin, and every other dude who has shown up to police my behavior: You don’t know the story, and that’s not really the point. I didn’t throw a fit, I didn’t scream or belittle or harm anyone. I raised my voice over an issue I had with the topic- AS I SAID IN MY OPENING PARAGRAPHS. Nowhere did I claim to be proud of my emotional response. Nowhere did I frame my emotions as more important than anyone else. I was very clear that my feelings were about the lesson, and not at the sisters or the teacher. Has no one else had feelings bubble up unexpectedly? Has no one else ever spoken out of turn and then apologized for it? The assumptions that have been made about me from this small shared glimpse into something that caused me to reflect on larger issues is truly astounding.

    This is Exhibit One in what happens when a woman even *opens her mouth to say she got angry*. I literally cannot even SAY I got angry without people making sweeping character judgements and calling me back, despite having little to no information about what happened, what I did afterwards, or what precipitated the feelings.

    Utterly astounding.

  70. Ordinarily I’m not a fan of “What Would Jesus Do?” because too often we try to apply it to situations that Jesus would never find himself in. It’s often a completely irrelevant question. I prefer to wonder what Jesus would want me to do. And I think in the case of someone having an angry outburst in church, Jesus would want me to prioritize trying to see things from the other person’s point of view over keeping the lesson on track. We’re in church to support each other in our individual faith. We’re in church to learn from each other.

    My daughter, who is autistic and has impulse control issues, has often made angry outbursts in church. (Anyone who knows my daughter knows this is an understatement.) I was never pleased when she did this; it was almost never defensible, let alone justified. As her parent, I’ve spent a lot of time trying to teach her the skill of letting stuff go and/or letting stuff wait. As her (hopefully temporary) surrogate frontal lobe, that was/is my job. However, I have always appreciated when people at church responded to her outbursts with genuine charity rather than admonishments about the appropriateness of her anger. Of course her behavior wasn’t appropriate. But I think we often feel entitled to a certain atmosphere at church–one that doesn’t challenge us and is always peaceful. I wouldn’t advocate saying (or yelling) everything that springs to mind (the way my daughter does), but a lot of us are not peaceful inside, and being at church is painful precisely because we have to pretend we are. We’re always being told that if we’re bored at church, it’s our own fault because we aren’t approaching it with the spirit. Well, if that’s the case, by golly, we should also be responsible for keeping the spirit when a meeting or class is disrupted by a non-peaceful outburst instead of blaming the angry person for “driving away the spirit.” As we’re fond of saying in our house, the Holy Ghost is a big boy. He goes where he wants.

  71. Unfortunately, I forgot to include in my previous comment that thought my daughter’s *method* of communicating was frequently inappropriate (and uncivil), she often had a valid point. I’m grateful to people at church who could see that despite the unfortunate delivery.

  72. Since I come from a family of short fuses, one of the most useful things I have learned about anger management is to resist the impulse to judge an angry person too quickly, but to try to understand the underlying nuance so that if judgement is needed, it’s fair and balanced. I have found no better way to ratchet down the heat of someone’s temper than to offer them a sympathetic ear, trying to understand, if not agree.

    It’s interesting and predictable that despite her clear and repeated explanations, and her refusal to provide enough information by which to judge, Tracy’s action, which is Not The Topic up for discussion, keeps being judged to be unrighteous and has Ruined Church for the good sisters in her ward, is called out as immature, and any anger is bad, and an angry woman is bad and should be burned, ad infinitum.

    Guys, be gone, before someone drops a house on you.

    Because this is a very much needed conversation for the rest of us. For heck’s sake, read Rebecca J’s comment and see how much there is to learn there about understanding the nuance of an angry situation.

  73. Some of these comments are absolutely shameful. Literally. You would think Tracy had kicked the RS president in the teeth and stomped on a few nursery kids on her way out the way some of these commentators talk. If we’re dishonest with ourselves about our feelings, we can’t feel the spirit. Even worse, we can mistake other things as the spirit. I speak from experience. The suppression of women’s anger is not of God; that’s a by product of good ol’ fashioned American culture and the patriarchy. I feel all of us LDS members (particularly a few men on this thread) could use a crash course about the damages of tone policing. Members of the church are so repressed that it obstructs actual honest discourse. How can we be brothers and sisters if we can’t even give and take honestly and without fear in our words? http://www.robot-hugs.com/tone-policing/

  74. Martin, Glenn, and similar characters upthread that I might have missed,

    I have really enjoyed reading your responses and learning how things are done where you are from. It does indeed sound like people do things better there. However, on the planet that I live on (Earth), people get angry. Everybody gets angry. It is part of the starter kit of emotions and responses that God and Natural Selection have given us to use in defending our turf, frightening our rivals, getting upset enough to change bad conditions, and work out our salvation by learning to control both the chemical and the other physiological manifestations of having an actual body.

    So not getting angry is really not an option for human beings like us. It is going to happen. Some of us will express anger in fairly dramatic ways and have to repent (fortunately our human theology has a way to do this). Others will not express their anger because doing so would violate strong social taboos–and violating strong social taboos is something that humans are afraid to do because of how it might hider our hunting and gathering, both literal and metaphysical.

    What I read Tracy as saying is 1) that she, like me, lives on the planet earth–which I find really good news, because the fact that I share a planet with someone as awesome as Tracy makes me very happy and helps me get through a lot of hard times. But she is also saying 2) that some humans have very different social expectations and taboos placed on them because of where they stand in the very real social hierarchies that human beings create. One group that has been especially socialized not to display anger is the group of human beings called “women.”

    As I read Tracy’s post, I do not see her inviting any commentary on what she was actually angry about (and she is certainly a good enough writer to make that very clear if she wanted to), nor do I see her criticizing anybody in her ward or the Church generally for how they responded to her anger. Indeed, she makes a point of saying that both the men and the women in her ward responded to her with love and respect–exactly as they should have.

    The problem that she identifies is that the cultures and subcultures that she is a part of do not have a very good vocabulary for talking about the way that human beings who happen to be women experience and express anger. Part of this is because the “ideal woman” that many of us have been raised to revere doesn’t get angry. This, of course, is because she does not actually come from the Planet Earth. I don’t know where she is from–maybe your planet. But we earthlings tend to like to group people in categories, or “types”–and for reasons that we can go into in a full-semester course sometime, there we have a lot more of these types for male humans than we do for female humans–even though, in actual fact, there is the same amount of variation in both groups of human beings.

    What this means practically is that we–all of us, both male and female–are more likely to frame a woman’s anger as evidence that she is an “angry woman” as opposed to “a woman who is angry.” Men “get angry,” while women “are angry.” This is not something that most male humans even notice, because they are so used to thinking of women as different kinds of creatures then men. To take an example from a recent human political situation, one of our presidential candidates (who happens to be a male human) recently interrupted his opponent to say, “what a nasty woman.” Most men, I suspect, did not get the significance of this kind of totalizing remark. They thought it was the same as “what a woman who is being nasty.” But it wasn’t. It was an attempt to place the female presidential candidate into one of the very limited number of categories that our culture has for women humans: the “nasty woman” category, which is the same as the “angry woman” category and not at all the same as the “nice woman” category, which is where all of our mothers belong.

    As a fellow human person, I really get what Tracy is trying to say. She is not defending her anger or trying to justify it. Nor is she confessing it in the hopes that we will forgive her. Rather, she is saying something like, “I got angry in public, and I would like to talk about that, but, when I try to, I find that the general cultural discourse around women’s anger is plagued by a stilted vocabulary.” Her point, then, is precisely that if she, as a woman talks about her anger, other people (who probably aren’t women) are going to misunderstand her point and police her behavior. And, in the mean time, any women watching will get the message that they had better not talk about being angry or they will get the same treatment.

    So, enough about me. Tell me how it works on your planet.

  75. There are some really really good comments on this thread. But can we just end it now after Michael Austin’s comment? “Men ‘get angry,’ while women ‘are angry’ – A FREAKING MEN.

  76. Indeed. Everyone should read Michael Austin’s comment. Amen.