The other week a man that I once trained gave me a piece of paper citing exactly what I once trained him about. He presented it to me like it was brand new information.
He handed this piece of paper across a table where I was surrounded by my colleagues who all know that I had explained to him what he was now preaching to me and he did it as if I’ve never heard any of it before.
I stared at that piece of paper one moment too long.
He then proceeded to mansplain something to me that I trained him about less than a year ago.
And I said, “Yes. We’ve made a conscious decision not to do that here for multiple reasons. Would you like to hear them?”
And everyone at the table sort of flinched. But nobody said anything. Nobody usually does. Except the mansplainer who didn’t want me to say our reasons. He just jumped to a different topic instead of taking that moment to maybe learn something, which is sad. It’s sad for him.
Afterwards, someone said, “You had your voice. That voice you get. The angry voice”
And someone else said, “I was ready for you to go crazy.”
But I didn’t. Because in that second I was too tired to care. Instead I thought, “Hey, at least he listened the first time when I taught him about the exact same thing he’s shoving in my face today.”
I regret that now.
In a New York Times article, Leslie Jamison wrote, “For years, I described myself as someone who wasn’t prone to anger. ‘I don’t get angry,’ I said. ‘I get sad.'”
Women and girls? Sometimes we have a hard time realizing that what we’re feeling isn’t sadness, but anger.
And Jamison goes into that a bit in her article writing, “If an angry woman makes people uneasy, then her more palatable counterpart, the sad woman, summons sympathy more readily. She often looks beautiful in her suffering: ennobled, transfigured, elegant. Angry women are messier. Their pain threatens to cause more collateral damage. It’s as if the prospect of a woman’s anger harming other people threatens to rob her of the social capital she has gained by being wronged. We are most comfortable with female anger when it promises to regulate itself, to refrain from recklessness, to stay civilized.”
After I gave a training last week, a disruptive, older man told me afterwards that I would get paid for talking if “You weren’t nervous.”
“I wasn’t nervous,” I said, pretty calmly. “I’m high energy.”
“You were nervous,” he insisted, stepping closer. “That’s why you move around a lot.”
“No. I move around a lot because I have a lot of energy. I like my trainings to be inclusive, to involve the people and engage them instead of me standing up there and preaching,” I insisted.
Another man, same demographic, came over and said, “Carrie’s authentic. She’s passionate. That’s what you’re supposed to be.”
“Maybe you should sit down,” the first man said to me, inching even closer, “that would contain your energy.”
“No,” I said, literally standing my ground. “I’m not as good a speaker when I sit down.”
And the man with us (Nice Man) said, “Carrie’s a great speaker. You wouldn’t want to change anything she does. Everyone was rapt. You were enraptured. There’s magic in what she does.”
I can not tell you how much I appreciated Nice Man aka Second Man. I jaunted off and first man actually yelled after me, “You could get paid for this if you weren’t nervous.”
I basically had enough. I whirled around and shouted from the doorway of the room, “I wasn’t nervous. Think of it this way. I’m like Janis Joplin. You can’t help but watch me because you’re constantly worried I’m going to fall of the stage. Okay?”
I did a speed walk sort of thing down the hallway and this other facilitator told me she was going to buy me a beer. She did. I deserved a keg honestly, but I got something better:
- A nice man who knew exactly what to say and when
- A female friend who has had similar things happen to her
- Self respect because despite my conflict-averse nature I stood up for myself over and over again even as a rich white man, older, in a position of power, wouldn’t back down.
Over that beer, the same woman told me how she walked out of a training once because the man in charge of the event didn’t want her to use a projector because when she walked in front of it, the lights flashed on her breasts.
When she told me that story, I was so proud of her because she didn’t back down.
I’ve been thinking a lot about anger lately and how so many women relate anger to powerlessness and how men relate anger to power and how our society consists of so many of these binaries.
Author and activist Soraya Chemaly talks about this in her just released, “Rage Becomes Her: The Power of Women’s Anger.” There’s an excellent interview with her here at WBUR.
But my favorite thing that she says is this, “When we shut down somebody’s anger we are literally silencing the knowledge they have and saying it’s not valuable to us as a social resource.”
I did that to myself during that first exchange with the mansplaining. I could have taught him more, but I shut down my assertiveness before it got ‘out of control,’ and I silenced the knowledge I had and didn’t share it. Not that he deserved it, but the other people at the table did.
That’s a big deal. It’s so hard not to let others shut down our anger as women.
Anger has meaning. There are reasons people are angry. And when we shut down their anger, we also shut down their voices. This is so important when we’re talking about bias and oppression. By shutting down angry voices, we shut down the opportunity to make ourselves better as people and as a country.
Anger isn’t this one-size-fit-all thing. Anger is used to stereotype an entire race of women into a trope. Think about all the pejoratives used for black women in America.
Anger and sex combined is used to defame people implying their emotions are out of control, ie calling Kamala Harris and Corey Booker “hysterical women” during the Kavanaugh hearings or Serena Williams “hysterical” when she was arguing with the tennis judge. But it’s also the all-encompassing term that doesn’t cover the nuances.
There are so many nuances. Me speaking about human trafficking isn’t the same as a man raging at his wife because she texted another man. Me getting annoyed at someone teaching me what I’ve taught them isn’t the same as someone screaming at their colleagues because of a newspaper article. Me being annoyed at a man cornering me and insisting that I was ‘nervous’ isn’t anywhere near the same as a woman’s anger and frustration when she’s been systemically oppressed because of both her race and her sex, and possibly also her sexuality or religion or economic class.
All anger isn’t the same. Anger has degrees and nuances.
When one of my friends was talking about me getting “that voice,” that voice isn’t me actually angry. It’s me assertive. It’s honestly just me not being simpering. And whenever I use that voice? People listen and they bristle and some of them rub their hands together because they expect a fight and unlike me – they like fights.
But why does that assertive voice equate to being angry? Why is me being passionate and assertive the same thing as me being enraged?
I’ll give you a hint. It’s because I’m a woman.
I talk about this with my male friends and family all the time, how if my tone isn’t absolutely loving and placating people get offended or think I’m being angry. And how their every-day tones are so much harsher that the one I have which sets people off.
I’ll give you another hint. I’m not actually angry when I talk that way. It just means I care. It means I want to be heard. And that’s the scary thing. Why is being heard threatening? Why is it so scary to see women, to listen to women, and to hear them? And when we do listen to them, and hear them in a place like a training, why do we feel compelled to tell them to change?
I’m heading to Freeport, Maine on Sept. 28 and then Houston and Virginia Beach pretty soon to promote my picture book biography of Moe Berg. It’s called The Spy Who Played Baseball.
ENHANCED and FLYING are here! And they’re out of this world. Please buy them and support a writer.
The last TIME STOPPERS BOOK is out and I love it. You should buy it because it’s empowering and about friendship and bias and magic. Plus, dragons and elves.
How to Get Signed Copies:
If you would like to purchase signed copies of my books, you can do so through the awesome Sherman’s Book Store in Bar Harbor, Maine or the amazing Briar Patch. The books are also available online at places like Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
For signed copies – email firstname.lastname@example.org for Sherman’s or email email@example.com let them know the titles in which you are interested. There’s sometimes a waiting list, but they are the best option. Plus, you’re supporting an adorable local bookstore run by some really wonderful humans. But here’s the Amazon link, too!
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