Recently, I was at home working on homework when one of my roommates told me that one of her friends from class would be coming over soon. She told me a little bit about him beforehand–just that they became friends from a lab section they were both in, hitting it off well from their ability to engage in banter and a mutual distaste for the class. Twenty minutes later, he arrived. Sitting in our living room, he also narrated their experience in the class together and claimed that he mostly enjoyed talking to my roommate because it was “funny as fuck” when she got mad.
Now, don’t get me wrong–I think it can be fun to enjoy a mutual teasing, but this guy seemed to be implying that his main form of entertainment is to make the girls he interacts with angry–only saying things to get a rise out of them or spark emotion. Not only is this sentiment all too common in popular culture, but it’s also common in real life. Turn on a television, and you’ll be sure to find a girl displaying some form of anger toward a male counterpart, only to be followed by the response, “You’re so cute when you’re mad.”
A classic example of this can be seen in the John Hughes 1985 film, The Breakfast Club. After Claire (Molly Ringwald) shows some form of anger to John Bender’s (Judd Nelson) egging on, he responds with, “You’re pretty sexy when you’re angry.” This pairing has always bothered me since their primary interactions seem to be Bender taunting Claire and doing anything for her to show some negative emotion towards him. While, of course, a lot of his personality can be attributed to his socialization and bad home life, his treatment of Claire is seriously problematic. However, since I’m not trying to do an analysis of the characters in The Breakfast Club here, the point is, his character consistently discounts Claire’s natural reactions to his provoking comments. Feeling things is an essential part to our humanity, and by treating her reactions as some form of entertainment, he belittles her experiences in the world. By making fun of her, he dehumanizes her.
This example enforces the idea that women’s emotions are something that only exist for male entertainment. In this case, not only is Claire’s response a form of entertainment to him, but he also sexualizes her in the process, too. A quick Google search relating to the “cute when you’re angry” trope also results in comments on articles with men saying how sexy they find it when women display anger. Sexualizing women’s emotions is another way of discrediting the way a woman might be feeling and reduces her to an object for entertainment–something existing solely for men’s pleasure.
In addition to this belittling and sexualization, the underlying aspect to this feeling towards women’s anger is the idea that it can’t be taken seriously because women aren’t intimidating. Aggressiveness and anger are often associated as masculine traits. Because women are socialized to be always empathetic and cheerful, they’re limited to the gender roles prescribed to them. When we break these perceptions of what a woman should be, it causes this reaction that suggests the invalidity of our anger. Or even once our voices are finally heard, if we’re angry it’s because we’re “crazy”.
When someone gets angry, it’s usually because they have a reason to be. People are entitled to their feelings, and our gender shouldn’t limit us in our ability to express what we’re experiencing emotionally. If something makes us uncomfortable, we should be able to discuss what incites that reaction without feeling like our emotions aren’t valid. We should be encouraging honest discussions about emotion and fostering open spaces for everyone to feel like what they’re experiencing is valid.
Social Chair, What the F