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Book Forum: Anger/Hostility/Violence   |    
Women’s Anger: Clinical and Developmental Perspectives
LAURA L. POST, M.D.
Am J Psychiatry 2002;159:688-689. doi:10.1176/appi.ajp.159.4.688-a
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By Deborah L. Cox, Sally D. Stabb, and Karin H. Bruckner. Philadelphia, Brunner-Routledge, 1999, 254 pp., $62.95; $25.95 (paper).

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In my work experience as a psychiatrist and life experience as a woman, I have found that, in general, women use approaches other than those involving anger to achieve goals and change the world. I have also found that anger does exist in women and that it can emerge in cryptically self-destructive ways. This book promised to be at least an interesting read, even if it did not seem to offer much new in terms of explanation beyond standard feminist theory, the innovative research on adolescents carried out by Gilligan, and the ground-breaking explorations of male-female interactions done by Tanner.

I was surprised to find that this volume does offer more, much more, than rehashed—and/or half-baked (to keep with the food metaphor)—personal-is-political rhetoric. There is truly little more powerfully and convincingly inspiring than examples of psychological liberation yielding confidence, competence, and conscious, spontaneous authenticity.

The authors summarize the existing literature on women’s anger and conclude that, without appreciation of the context of the affective expression, any discussion of the meaning, intent, and consequences of anger is meaningless. They argue that 1) anger in women may be a healthy manifestation of self-definition and self-identity, 2) anger in women is very much shaped by culture, and 3) anger in women is very much interpreted by culture. The ultimate conclusion is that, through the lifespan of a woman, there emerges an increasing tension between her own putatively angering experience and the societal expectations of her to repress and/or suppress those angry emotions. Obviously, in psychoanalytic terms, the latter could result in harmful diversion of anger into subjective psychological disorganization, dysfunctional family interactions, criminal aggressiveness, and/or general chaotic dynamics. At best, overt anger in women continues to be viewed as unfeminine, inappropriate, and off-putting.

Having succinctly presented all of the above in the introduction, the authors go on to substantiate their assertions in the following three chapters, which address theories of emotion, the socialization of anger, and clinical issues deriving from anger in women, respectively. The prefacing quotes from herstorically important women (Anais Nin, Elizabeth Cady Stanton) are lovely, as well as apropos, as are the case snippets, which are best represented in chapter 4, “Women Speak About Anger.” In the final chapter, “Synthesis and Conclusions,” the integration of traditional mental health paradigms with minority/feminist philosophies rang very true for me.

This is a thoughtful introduction to new ways of considering the role of anger and gender across various societies. Perhaps Gloria Steinem put it best, “The first problem for all of us, men and women, is not to learn but to unlearn” (p. 197).

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