Hi, my name is Michelle, and I am angry. But angry is not bad. Let me say that again, angry is not bad. As women we are taught from a young age that angry women are many things, none of them positive. Angry women are ugly, hysterical, crazy, irrational, overly emotional . . . bitches. I’m just calling it like I see it. There is an anger double standard. Angry men are passionate, confident, powerful, competent . . . leaders. You’ve seen this double standard before many times, and we watched it play out in the national media in the 2016 presidential election. The election was angry, Trump was angry, Clinton was angry, and that anger worked for Trump and destroyed Clinton.
Anger is not bad. Anger is an exuberant emotion, and it injects energy, urgency, and intensity into situations. Anger can be your super fuel; anger can become your super power. The anger of women fuels movements.
“What becomes clear, when we look to the past with an eye to the future, is that the discouragement of women’s anger–via silencing, erasure, and repression–stems from the correct understanding of those in power that in the fury of women lies the power to change the world.”
― Rebecca Traister, Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger
A few examples from history.
Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Caddy Stanton were leaders of the women’s suffrage movement. They were also abolitionists. They were willing to put aside their fight for women’s rights to partner their efforts with the abolitionists. In post-Civil War American, they asked the abolitionists to partner with them to fight for women’s rights and they were told no. Their abolitionist allies had abandoned them and their cause. They were angry. And they used this anger to continue to fuel their fight for women’s rights.
Sojourner Truth was a freed slave and abolitionist living in the north when her 5-year-old son was illegally sold to a man in Alabama. She took her anger and her fight to court. She sued the white man who “bought” her son and won. A black woman won in court against a white man. This was a HUGE victory for Ms. Truth and for women everywhere. She remained a staunch advocate of equal rights for people of color and for women.
Carmita Wood was an administrative assistant at Cornell who was sexually harassed by her boss for years. She reported the harassment to Cornell and was told that “a mature women knows how to handle these situations.” She requested transfer to a different department and the request was denied by Cornell. Ultimately, she quit. She filed for unemployment in the state of New York and the request was denied. She met with female activists and female attorneys and together they developed the concept of what we now know as sexual harassment.
Angry women fuel movements: Million Women March, Occupy Wall Street, Black Lives Matter, Women’s March. Our anger is valid and holds power. I want to encourage you to validate your anger and use it to your benefit.
I decided to use my anger to improve my leadership and communication skills. In my opinion, national leadership is a road to change. I consider myself to be a natural leader. I have held many leadership positions in my life – team captain, student body president, chief resident, etc. I knew that to truly impact change, I needed to push myself further. I was already involved in the Academy for Women in Academic Emergency Medicine (AWAEM) doing some committee work, and those I was working with encouraged me to do more. They encouraged me to run for President of AWAEM. I was nervous and anxious; feeling imposter syndrome rearing its ugly head. But in the end, I decided to run. I was elected President and served my term from 2018-2019. While serving as the AWAEM President, I was approached by a senior woman in Emergency Medicine who encouraged me to run for the Society of Academic Emergency Medicine (SAEM) Board of Directors. Again, the imposter syndrome, I thought she was nuts. There was no way I would win. I am too junior, too loud, and maybe too angry. But I did win and am proud to be a constant voice of gender and racial equity on the Board.
To be a national leader, I needed to become a more effective and impactful communicator. Through professional development courses and working with a coach, I continue to work on my communication skills. An angry woman must communicate effectively to be heard and taken seriously. Ruth Bader Ginsburg eloquently describes the type of leader I hope to become. “Fight for the things that you care about but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.”
Watch the full FIX19 talk below!