Paying Attention
Bill McDonald’s Website Newsletter
May 2011 - Volume 11, No. 5
Subscribe to this blog

Enter The Bitch

A Topography of Female Anger

Men in general have trouble with angry women. Women in general have trouble with angry women. Everybody seems to agree that angry women are a problem. They must be bad. Pure and simple, they must be bad.

A popular t-shirt among the biker crowd says “Zero to BITCH in 2.1 seconds.” I saw a woman wearing one, and she wasn’t referring to any bike.

First, a comment about anger itself. I like to consider that anger has a purpose, a positive purpose. It’s a signal , a signal to trigger an awareness that something is out of balance, then to access energy needed to respond to that imbalance. Ideally, when that purpose is satisfied, then anger can retreat, it’s done its work.

Frequently the response to the signaled imbalance is itself accompanied by anger - the woman sounds angry when she speaks from her anger. Often she’ll do this because nobody listens to her when she speaks calmly. But then many women know the experience of not being heard no matter what tone or energy of voice they choose to employ.

Now let me get back to that “B” word. It’s an unpleasant word, representing an unpleasant experience. Women speak to me about it with a ready apology. Men speak of it as a horrible and sonically grating experience. And yes, when a women gets upset, her voice often goes into a most unpleasant tonal quality, which can pain the ears of everybody around.

So what’s a woman to do when she is angry? Swallow it and try to be nice ? That’s what many prescription drugs are designed to accomplish. Voice her discontent and see everybody (even the pets) distance themselves from her? Here is a common sequence: 1) she gets upset, 2) she is ignored, 3) she gets angry, 4) she is ignored or scolded for being angry, 5) she retreats into herself, 6) she gets depressed, 7) she decides/feels she must be crazy, 8) she gets a prescription from her helpful family doctor, 9) she no longer feels angry, 10) she no longer feels anything, 11) everybody around her is now ‘happy’.

I have another suggestion. How about the woman trust that her anger is important, and even better, have a partner that believes it must be important, and who will listen to whatever is behind or within the anger. A few years ago a woman proudly told me that Bitch is an acronym for “Babe In Total Control Of Herself.”

If only men and women were not afraid of anger (or of women in total control of themselves).

But here’s what happens instead.

Women feel guilt, they want to apologize for or swallow their anger. It’s bad to be angry. It’s bad to lose it. And, of course, part of our training in childhood is to restrain such feelings in the name of learning to get along with others. It's like toilet training, what once felt so natural now becomes an experience of shame.

Men often go to fear - though not admitting it. We’d rather canoe up the Mississippi River in floodtime than face an angry woman. Maybe it’s a regression on our part - when we were infants, and if Mother was angry, we could easily die. (Women can have the same regression anxiety, but for them, it’s not complicated by being with the opposite gender.) So for us men it’s a fear within our vulnerability - and we don’t like to be vulnerable. So we easily make the woman “wrong” for being angry. When a woman says to a man, “We need to talk” it’s completely counter-intuitive for a man to immediately welcome the experience. But....

Here’s what I recommend: For women, consider that that “bitch” within you is a loyal servant, who is free to lelt you know when something important is out of balance. And if you’re blessed with a partner who isn’t put off by your anger, but is willing to listen, then you don’t have to speak in anger - no “bitch” vocals necessary.

For men, LISTEN. But don’t listen from your fear, listen from your caring. Of course, our first wired-in response is to retreat. But pass through that initial reaction quickly and move to a better here and now place. Don’t be afraid - which means don’t go to defending, justifying or even explaining. Don’t get angry back, don’t retaliate. In a sense, don’t take your initial discomfort seriously.

A gynecologist once told me that women have seven hormones coursing through their bodies, each with a different schedule and purpose. We men have only one, and we have enough trouble with that one. Our gift is to be considerate, as well as trust that at some level she’s probably right. Trust the Bitch to be a faithful ally to her, and to us men as well. Really!

Women change. Relationships change. People and relationships grow and mature. Women who weary of needy men, needy friends, of constantly being taken advantage of - find themselves wanting to say “no” more often. Let them speak it. And if it’s the “Bitch” who’s speaking, give her room to speak. Trust her. In the long run, she’s usually our own ally as well.

Pay attention.

Comments (10)

  • Very interesting piece with some good advice and insight. However, in my own experience, a woman doesn’t need to be angry to be a “bitch.” All she needs to be in some situations is strong.

    — Jane Cassady, 5/1/2011
  • Not bad for a “male” trying to describe the “female”!

    — Alice, 5/1/2011
  • Insightful comments! Generally speaking if a man is assertive he is being “forthright”, whereas a woman being assertive is assigned the b word.

    — Mickey Sperlich, 5/2/2011
  • Finding your voice

    Finding one’s voice may not be easy for most women. It may begin with
    a dramatic start and then develop into a more acceptable tone. The real
    issue is listening to each other. If it takes a loud and continuous
    complaining voice, so be it. If it takes sending multiple pots & pans
    flying through the room, so be it. The key is "Paying Attention"
    and respecting each other. Perhaps in this instance, the means
    justifies the end? This applies to the home, business and corporate world.

    — Dawn, 5/2/2011
  • My favorite newsletter so far!! Very well written and so true indeed.

    — Colleen, 5/2/2011
  • Everyone's happy - but me

    This is a wonderful article, I wonder how many men will read it and accept it’s wisdom. I am one of those medicated women who’s been told to “calm down” and been given the proverbial “there, there” so often I’m just a rumble away from a volcanic explosion. I admit to being intimidated by “angry” women as well, being raised in a repressed household (sometimes violent), it’s hard to let loose, even surrounded by long term women friends. I do feel a division of thought regarding whether a woman is being a bitch or being angry, I have a much easier time dealing with someone who’s just being “bitchy”, and I think that applies to my own self. Lots of work to be done, thank you for some good food for thought.

    — Diane, 5/6/2011
  • Being a Bitch

    I have recently been encouraged to be more of a Bitch to get in touch
    my strength. It has been fun, altho, somewhat tiring. It takes a lot
    of energy to be a bitch. I know some women who are bitches, most of the time, and that gets tiring, too. I want to tell them to “Chill Out” Granted, there’s a lot in this world to “bitch” about, but we need to pick and choose our battles and also learn how to speak our truths in an effective and confident way.

    Some women are still “bitching” about the same old thing that happened years ago. “Get over it” and move on. I like the Serenity Prayer that says, “God, Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change and the Courage to change the things I can.”

    — Cathy, 5/9/2011
  • Great description of the dynamics! A very helpful concept here is recognizing anger as only a signal, whether it’s in a man or woman. Being able to look past the anger and see what the signal is about is a useful path around anger to something more productive.

    Marsha Traxler, 5/9/2011
  • I have been hushed for years when I go to being vocal. I hear “I don't want to argue” when all I want to do is voice my opinion. Very frustrating. I am listening to my inner voice and its telling me its time to move on. Leave the one that betrayed me behind and move forward. Though that is easier said than done. But I’m working on it. Loneliness is Lonely! No one likes it and that is why I’ve stayed in bad relationships.

    — Suzanne, 5/11/2011
  • Great article!

    — GemGirl, 8/18/2014

Add a Comment

will be kept private

Bill McDonald
Fenton, Michigan

FREE Monthly Newsletter

Whether you are a client or not, you can always benefit from some free monthly words of wisdom:
Your e-mail address: