Anger and Men

(A note in 2020: You can see here that I had no notion of my own extraordinary male privilege as a male back in 1998. I was also blind to the trauma driving many of my responses.  Yet I had begun the journey to seeing these things.)

 "You're not allowed to be angry." I reckon that's one of the earliest lessons I learned. Angry response to parents was dealt with swiftly. To get angry with a teacher at school was to invite instant retribution.

If you want to make a church meeting really uncomfortable, and fast, how do you do it? Talk about sex? Big deal! People will join in with you. Just let someone get visible angry. The discomfort is palpable!

There's an odd difference between woman and men. Women are allowed to be angry. We often don't call it 'angry', though. I remember school girls bitching and back stabbing. Catty and angry as hell. Us blokes looked down on them- boys didn't do that sort of thing. But we accepted it- as did the teachers.

Boys intimidated each other. If that overflowed into fights we were immediately, (angrily?) and harshly disciplined.

As a bloke I am supposed to accept my partner screaming at me. PMT, or some other reason makes it OK. A modern man is supposed to be sympathetic and listen while she sounds off and sometimes says the most outrageous and deeply hurtful things. To answer back, or to seek to explain, is 'being defensive' or 'not listening.' You just have to take it, and not feel it, or at least not let it stick.

It always strikes me that 'being defensive' is the most natural thing in the world when our beloved has turned into a shrieking harpy, or is more quietly, but just as effectively verbally clawing us. Fair enough, she needs to be heard, and often we have not been listening. But mate- the things a woman will say, and expect you not to be upset about!

The last thing one should do is get angry back. If my friend whose wife verbally 'nails him to the wall' starts shouting back, he is liable to be told he has a 'problem with violence.' Again, fair enough. A woman who grew up in a violent atmosphere where she could never be herself, is often terrified of angry men. Who could blame her, it's a hard thing to be free of. We just seem to forget that the bloke had a 30% chance of having the same sort of background, and that her shouting tears him apart!

Oddly enough, men are allowed to 'rage.' They can go right off their nut. We punish them- women are beginning to leave such relationships. Here in Australia they initiate most of the divorces. The police are getting their act together about domestic violence.

But, for all that, we accept it! Our prejudice expects men to rage "What else would you expect of a man?" I have heard people say. My sense is that we may write a raging man off- what would you expect, after all. And in that expectation there is a weird (and deeply offensive) kind of acceptance. But to be an angry man is something to be ashamed of.

This is an odd contradiction! Anger is a lot safer and more sensible. Anger is the feeling of being wronged or hurt. It's a natural, basic reaction. Rage is repressed, built up anger, bursting out of control, and it's bloody dangerous. It seems to me that men are greatly demeaned by saying anger is wrong, but perversely accepting, or at least, being resigned to rage because that's just how men are.

Women contribute to the problem of rage by forbidding men to be angry. (This does not excuse male rage.) We all make the mistake of trying to prevent anger by not seeing it is the positive escape valve and everyday response to life which prevents rage. In our often justified fear of violence, we confuse anger and rage.

Men have a huge amount to be angry about. This is not to say women don't! But they have had some 20 -30 years where it has become increasingly popular and acceptable to tell the world, and men about their anger, and tell men what a pain they are. To suggest to women in this context that maybe they are not alone in their frustrations, or that not only they suffer discrimination, is often to invite derision.

There is much for men to be angry about. Man is supposed to work harder and give his job his all; this is the call of the corporation. Yet he is supposed to cook, clean, and help raise the children. She who is beginning to demand this, often still requires the money from the promotions. The struggle of being both things is exhausting. Man may also be getting the message that "he should be working on himself." Where is the time for that? In his mid forties or earlier, he may find he is unemployed, and too old!! to get more work. Try a few weeks on Social Security, and learn what it feels like to be treated like shit. But don't be angry!

Older men who have given a life to working their hearts out- often literally- find the whole social contract has changed while they were not looking. Wives, daughters, newspapers and TV suddenly tell them they are Neanderthals.

What anger Man feels at a daughter of 25 earning what it took him 30 years to reach, and who got there off his sweat, who tells him he's an emotional cripple, or a slob! What anger he feels at a wife who got to choose her committees, and played tennis, while he paid for it with years of shit kicking and slowly closed down his soul because the pain was so great, but life had to go on, and the family had to be fed. Only now these women say he was wrong, and exploited them! And the wife complains he is insensitive and unfeeling. How else could he survive and get all that stuff she was only too glad to take!

But don't be angry about it! In some convoluted, weird female logic, that will only prove to them they are right.

Somehow we men have to learn how to be angry, if only to short circuit the rage that is so destructive to us and those we love. Many of us have a stockpile of years of anger somewhat akin to the Russian nuclear arsenal. Being older and often forgotten, makes it all the more dangerous.

The thought of dealing with angers which rise unbidden even after decades gives me brain fade! My God, how can I begin to approach this?

Analysis is easier than answers! But there are some areas that bear fruit, especially in partnerships.

One: Women could listen! I have been listening to the anger of women since I could feel! In many families women use the men- or some of the men- as a vent for their anger. The strong man is there to listen. And that is absolutely OK. It is a partnership after all! But maybe the bloke should be allowed to express some of his feelings, too.

So many women who tell him to 'shut up, and listen, and don't give me answers, JUST LISTEN!' then silence the guy before he gets started! Either they refuse to listen, or frustrated with his stumbling and hesitance, they roll out Their ANSWER. There is something deeply hypocritical and unfair here, which only adds to the anger problem.


Woman, while you have spent your life learning how to feel, and how to express your feelings, he has been doing something different. Guys have to hide their feelings, even from themselves, or the other guys will tear them apart. I think it's Steve Biddulph in Manhood who writes of seeing his small son visibly change from carefree animation to a kind of survival toughness on the walk to school. You have to shoulder the armour of not feeling to survive. The day I began school, I began to learn not to trust other boys. No one cared about bullying, sometimes not even when blood flowed. Any weakness was exploited and made a tool to inflict misery. I could not afford to feel. You have been developing high speed intuition lifelong, your motor runs on the petrol of feelings. He has made himself non-flammable, so he can always keep going, no matter what is flashing and sparking around him. When you call him into your natural realm of feeling, you drag a non-swimmer into deep water. I hear it drives women mad that their man can not swim. Know that he would weep about it if he could! Don't scorn my inability to swim. Don't you remember that when you were being consumed by feelings, I did not burn, and carried you through the fires?

Two: If women should learn to listen, then men should learn to bitch!

The rules of the game are that this is not for gossip: "What is said here is not for passing on. It's not even half true- I'm belly aching and letting go of a gut full."
Women seem to do this very successfully. We men could take a few lessons. I reckon we could bitch without descending into the misogyny of the front bar, which seeks to demean women because it is afraid of them, and of its own feminine side.

Bitching and being angry amongst men makes it safe. Angry men scare women, and with good reason.

We men need to learn the distinction here between fostering outright hatred- which is harmful,
and the half loving, half poking fun, half angry comments, that women make about their men. And you're right. It doesn't add up! It's the female response to the difficulty of living with a man, and living life generally. It's got female rules, and we ought not listen, because what is simply sounding off for her, and not even remembered after half an hour, can cut us to the quick. This odd jokey-bitchy thing they do together lets them live with us! And believe it or not, it makes them a lot easier to live with!

What we need to do is develop that among ourselves. A good bitch/grump/sound off/whinge about the wife releases a hell of a lot of tension from the marriage relationship! Oddly enough a lot of men feel quite bad about doing that, and see it as a betrayal of their partner. It is a betrayal, if we sound off to someone who uses it for gossip. That's the bad side of female bitching that we see and react about. If we knew about the 'good' conversations she has about us with bosom friends who keep quiet, and still like us, our hair would stand on end!

Choose someone who will understand what you are doing and keep their gob shut. Bitching etc. turns to nastiness and danger when it gets passed on.

Three: It would help a lot for a woman to know absolutely that her man may go ape, shout, scream, beat the crap out of the side of the shed, and even tip over the kitchen table, but never even move towards her, let alone hit her or throw stuff at her. I worked once for a guy who could handle the farm burning down without a murmur, but would lose his nut if he dropped a spanner in the dirt. It was never a threat to me; I used to have trouble not laughing. Too few women feel like that near their man when he loses it.

A final thing would be for women to seek to listen to what men live with in the tension between home and work. Really listen, at length, and shut up through it. Some guys are lazy and just want the sex and the food. But many, even the ones who look like they only think of their stomach and what's below, suffer an immense pain, guilt, and sense of being trapped between competing demands they cannot fulfil. It would make anyone angry.

Along with this, it sure would help for men to really talk honestly and openly about that struggle. (It takes a lot of courage on both sides.) It is extraordinarily hard for a man to talk about what he really feels. Often he does not know: if you knew, you couldn't keep going. but you have to keep going, or at least that's how it feels, so you don't let yourself feel. The reason so many of us struggle in our expression of feelings is that we are exploring them for the first time!

Yet this kind of honesty is extraordinarily fruitful. When my wife really hears my struggles, she is unbelievably understanding. Often women are moved to tears when they discover what burdens the man is carrying. After all, just as we don't really understand what it is to be a woman, most women have no real idea of what a bloke lives with. And as we men are horrified when we really hear them, and often change our attitudes, so do they.

Of course, this is only a beginning. But some understanding of where each other is coming from can do a surprising amount to lower the resentment and rage quotient in the male of a relationship. But he has to be angry.

Somewhere I got the message that talking about my pain and frustrations was wrong. Indeed, the worst of the backbiting and bitching I saw in my school girl friends would be well avoided. But men would do well to talk together. To sound off and bitch privately among ourselves is a good thing.

A note to the woman who feels this crap ought to be deleted yesterday.

I find when listening to women who hurt and are angry, there is a lot of stuff that is absolutely true. There is a lot of ranting and raving that may not actually be true. And there is a lot of both truth and rant that the bloke will not understand for a long time, if ever. If the relationship is ever going to flourish, then he has to listen, and act accordingly, even if it seems crazy. Some of it he will learn, to his surprise, is true and he will grieve for the pain he and other men have caused her. Some he will never understand, but will live with it because he loves her. You have always been better at telling him these things. If he is a moody grumpy bastard and talking about the men's movement, then a wise woman will listen and not stand on her feminist principles. Some of what he rants about will be true, and it will be better for both of you if you find out- even if it seems weird, outrageous, crazy etc. right now.


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