Aggression as a Career Stopper?

Are women as agressive as men, or even more?
ByAoiffe Stuart-MadgeWednesday , 17 September 2014
Aggression as a Career Stopper?
Don't let anger take over

Hands up who watched the viral video of Solange Knowles earlier this summer? Unless you’ve been living under a rock, then you probably watched the clip of Beyonce’s sister violently attacking her brother-in-law Jay-Z in a hotel lift. And like the six million other people who watched the video of her lashing out, wildly throwing punches and kicks, you most likely laughed and forwarded it to your friends. But while the Solange incident was the butt of thousands of Internet jokes, it highlighted the serious issue of female violence – and the need to take it more seriously. 

Another viral video by UK domestic abuse charity Mankind Initiative hit on the point directly when it filmed a young couple arguing in two different scenarios. The first video – which showed the guy verbally and physically abusing the woman – led bystanders to intervene, warn the guy off and check the young woman was okay. But when the exact same scenario was replayed with the gender roles reversed – this time the woman physically and verbally abused her boyfriend – onlookers laughed and left them too it. 

Serious issue
But female violence is nothing to be mocked. In fact, the rise in female crime and female violence suggests that women can be just as enthusiastic about violence as men. The latest figures from the Home Office in the UK reveal that in 2013, one in three arrests of girls and women were for violent attacks; and one in six arrests for violent attacks are now women. Jeanie Knight*, 35, from Surrey in the UK, knows just how easy it is for anger to spiral into violence. Under stress from her hectic job in finance, she began physically lashing out at her long-term partner, Ben. It was only when Ben called off their engagement saying he could no longer put up with Jeanie’s tantrums and aggression that she sought help. “I read everything I could find, that related to dealing with stress and curbing anger, and although I followed the ideas and suggestions they only seemed to provide a very short, temporary solution,” admits Jeanie.

Eventually, Jeanie threw herself into an exercise regime which helped to vent her anger and restore her relationship. “In order to help me de-stress I went running late in the evening, instead of slumping in front of the telly, which is what I would always end up doing,” she says. “I will admit that fitting it all in was difficult in the beginning, but after week four my mood was so much more relaxed that the exercise sessions became something to look forward to. All my friends kept asking me what I was on because they noticed such a change in my reactions and actions.”

Culture of confusion
And Jeanie is not alone. As women juggle stressful jobs with relationships and a social life, it’s no surprise that the pressure valve can blow. It’s true that women have become more assertive; there are now more female solicitors under 30 than male, and gradually women are ascending to the top positions in their professions… And hey, we can travel, rock climb and bungee-jump just like the boys - there’s no doubt that feminism has brought the millennial generation equality in all aspects of life, but along with the top jobs and big paychecks, young women are inheriting the darker aspects of stress, like aggression, says Sue Parker Hall a psychotherapist and author of Anger, Rage and Relationship: An Empathic Approach to Anger Management  (www.sueparkerhall.co.uk). “A growing sense of equality with men and the ‘ladette culture’ has meant that this generation of women are expressing the darkest aspects of human behaviour, which female conditioning has kept suppressed in previous generations, making violence part of their response to their frustrations and fears,” says Sue.

Young women are also getting a confusing message about what it means to be independent, and are blurring the lines between assertiveness and aggression. “As women we have been taught that we have to fight harder, particularly in male-dominated fields, to climb the success ladder. This rationale often leads to aggression and people will do anything to be successful; even if what they do harms another person,” says Raychelle Cassada Lohmann, counsellor and author of Staying Cool...When You’re Steaming Mad.

In reality, true power comes from knowing the difference between assertiveness and aggressiveness.  “Young women may not understand that they don’t have to lash out aggressively to get what they want. Through the use of assertion, they are free to articulate their concerns, state their opinions and express themselves without hurting others in the process,” says Raychelle.

Violent role models
Compounding women’s propensity to violence is the fact that many TV shows and films, like Kick-Ass and Orange is the New Black, depict strong female protagonists as violent. “Media is a powerful outlet to influence and support societal stereotypes. And this modern-day female version of Rambo may seem appealing,” says Raychelle. 

The message to women is that you can be emancipated through violence, which is not how you gain independence, warns Professor Raymond Chip Tafrate, a clinical psychologist and author of Anger Management for Everyone: Seven Proven Ways to Control Anger and Live a Happier Life. Not only that, but reality shows like Jersey Shore not only glorify women who solve issues with violence, but their cat-fighting turns them into celebrities. “People are often selected to participate on these shows because of their extreme behaviours. Even worse, some of the reality show characters go on to achieve a certain degree of celebrity which seems to suggest that being out of control is an effective approach to dealing with life’s problems. These shows minimise the damage that angry and aggressive reactions can cause to one’s life,” adds Professor Tafrate.

And while men are taught about the consequences of violence from a young age, women are not as educated about the repercussions of violence, as it is traditionally seen as a male issue. “From an early age, children are told what is expected of each sex,” explains Raychelle. “Nursery rhymes such as ‘What Are Little Girls Made Of?’ and ‘What Are Little Boys Made Of?’ plant the early seeds of girls being sweet as “sugar and spice” and boys being up to no good with “snakes and snails and puppy dog tails.” These stereotypes get ingrained in us at an early age, so the thought of a woman committing a violent act, well that’s preposterous” But we need to realise that anger and violence is a human condition, not a male one, adds Raychelle. “It’s time to break down the walls of the stereotypes and realise that women can be violent and have just as many  anger issues too.”

Using your anger
Not that anger is always a bad thing – when it doesn’t lead to violence, it can even be productive. “Anger is not a bad emotion; it’s natural. It’s how it’s handled that causes the problem. Just think: we wouldn’t have the right to vote if someone didn’t get angry about injustice. Many great things have occurred because someone used their anger for positive rather than destructive purposes,” says Raychelle. “However, for some people, anger becomes too frequent, too intense, lasts too long, results in violence and affects your relationships, work and also family.” 

So what do you do if your anger is driving you towards violence or you feel out of control? “The trick is to get off autopilot,” says Raychelle. “Take a moment to stop and ask yourself the question, ‘Where is my anger taking me?’ Then try and search for a solution that will not make the problem worse. With practise, this becomes easier.”

Sue adds, “The key is to learn how to process your emotions, how to verbalise what you are feeling, to identify your needs, and to get those needs met.

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