Hi and welcome back! Recently, we’ve been talking about the anger of evangelical men. We talked about the sources of this anger and their absolutely ineffective method of managing it. But now, let us turn to the other side of the anger coin. Evangelical women might, if anything, be even angrier than evangelical men. And they face even more hurdles in managing it. Today, let me show you the vast anger of evangelical women.
The Anger That Devours Suns and Moons, and Incinerates Stars.
I was so, so angry at how I was being treated; how a woman in my position were treated by men in powerful positions in the church and the Christian music field. [. . .] I don’t want to sing in a church. It makes me feel I have to contort myself to say the right things to be heard and accepted.
When I was younger, I had one hell of a problem with anger.
My tolerance for frustration was never great. My sense of justice and fairness was razor-sharp. And when I got pushed even a little, I had no idea how to manage the ensuing waves of anger that washed me away.
Evangelicalism did not cause my anger problem, of course. But the teachings I absorbed there really didn’t help me. My then-husband Biff treated me as a second-class citizen compared to himself, just as our community treated all women compared to men. Worse, he was a narcissist who enjoyed taunting and frustrating me on purpose.
But I couldn’t accept injustice as just the price I had to pay for Living While Female. I refused to accept mistreatment as my lot. As a result, Biff and I fought often. I’d completely lose myself in rage, then come back to awareness hours later. I’d feel weak and shaky and ashamed — and unable to remember exactly what had happened at the height of that argument.
As a young adult, I had no idea how to handle my anger. In fact, it wasn’t till I deconverted from Christianity that I even realized I had any kind of problem with anger. Like a lot of really angry people, I thought I was the opposite! Yes, I thought I was this peaceful, placid, easygoing person!
So when a therapist brought it up in my mid-20s, I was actually offended. Yes, I got angry at the suggestion that I might have anger management issues!
It took me a little time to come around to the idea that I had a problem with anger. And today, I’ll show you why.
When Anger Is Considered Cute.
Most of us have likely seen that 2018 YouTube video of the kitten fighting the veterinarian.
Within that tiny kitten’s chest, a lion’s heart beats. And for the most part, the veterinarian isn’t taking the kitten completely seriously. Smiling, laughing, he tries to reason with the kitten — which does not work at all. This kitten is having none of it. Eventually, the vet’s assistant has to lend a hand to get the kitten the care she needs.
In a lot of ways, that’s how I felt evangelical men reacted to my anger when I was evangelical.
They thought women’s anger was cute. Like an angry woman was a tiny, spitting kitten and they were the vet just trying to deal with her, navigate around her, and move on with their day.
Aww, wasn’t I just so cute.
Women’s Anger: LOL SO FUNNY!
Maybe that’s a Southern thing as much as it’s an evangelical thing. In Jeff Foxworthy’s 1996 comedy book No Shirt, No Shoes, No Problem, he writes:
Southern women are different. [. . .]
Where else, when a woman gets mad, is the full impact of her fiery temper expressed as “I am so mad at yew”? True, it doesn’t have the same impact as a housewife from New Jersey screaming, “Get your ass in the car!” but it means far more. The image of Southern women may be all fluttery and delicate, but it’s just that steel magnolias get pissed with style. Instead of telling you to get into the car, she’ll wait until your back is turned and drive the car into you. The really tough ones do it when you’re looking.
And comedians like him play this murderous anger for laughs. Haha, y’all, it’s so funny that Southern women can’t talk out their conflicts like mature adults! It’s so funny that they’ll straight up try to murder someone for making them late!
If a woman’s anger gets too close to a man’s comfort in that culture, men label her as hysterical or — that evangelical favorite — bitter.
Bitterness is simply anger that the judging Christian doesn’t think is valid. It might be about the wrong topic. It might have lasted too long for the judge’s taste. Or it might demand the dismantling of a systemic injustice the judge happens to cherish or feel comfortable with. So these judges call this anger “bitter” and then dismiss it. Once men label a woman as bitter, they ignore her and her concerns completely forevermore.
Thus, women must navigate very carefully indeed around men for even a hope of being heard.
In evangelicalism, that navigation becomes even more difficult. Not even hothouse orchids are half as sensitive as evangelical men’s sense of their own dominance.
The Extra Walls Around Evangelical Women’s Anger.
In 2004, the Vatican declared that women’s “characteristic traits” were:
Listening, welcoming, humility, faithfulness, praise and waiting.
No wonder the Vatican hates women’s rights above all enemies.
When I was evangelical, it didn’t take me long to realize that women were second-class citizens in my world. We entirely lacked agency and rights. Men not only considered us incapable of running our own lives, but felt that we couldn’t be trusted unless they took complete control over us. First, our fathers controlled us. Then, husbands did. If we never married and our fathers died, our brothers stepped in.
Some man somewhere had to be in control of every woman everywhere.
All of the power men pared out of our lives belonged to them instead. They were supposed to use this power fairly and wisely, but that didn’t happen. And when (not if) it didn’t happen, no forces existed to help women gain justice and redress. Jesus sure didn’t care!
All of the power in a woman’s world rested in men’s hands. And evangelical men always circle the wagons to help each other. Without some force that makes men lift a finger to aid the powerless people who’ve been treated unfairly, well, they don’t.
Despite having very good reason to feel vastly frustrated and disappointed, though, women faced even more walls around ourselves emotionally than men did.
We were absolutely not allowed to show anger. Ever. For any reason.
What I describe would realistically anger anybody.
But along with our power, evangelical men also pared our voices away from us too.
The Performance of — And For — Women’s Lives.
Thus, women may not display even “righteous anger,” which evangelical men imagine mirrors that of Jesus himself. I sure never saw it, not even once.
A man may get furious on the pulpit while preaching. Sure. Coincidentally enough, his god is always just as angry as he is over exactly the same things. They label such anger as “righteous anger.”
But even a female preacher — in those rare evangelical churches that allow it — may not show anger even in the same scenarios. Men perceive their own anger as stirring, as Natalia Imperatori-Lee writes. But they perceive women’s anger as dangerous if not outright toxic.
No, evangelical men prefer that women be quiet, meek, subservient, peaceful, soft-spoken, and always smiling. Such performances reassure evangelical men and help them to believe, if only for a little while, that their power remains intact. For now.
The Sheer Anger of Evangelical Women.
By far, Evangelical women suffer the most emotional abuse. It is hard to imagine any Evangelical woman coming away from Evangelicalism without being emotionally damaged.
Despite having no voice with which to speak, evangelical women’s anger blazes and burns beneath their masks. I’ve spoken often about how angry I find evangelical men to be. And I do. Oh yes.
But for sheer pound-for-pound anger, nothing beats evangelical women. I saw it every single day I went to church.
For evangelical women, their anger tends to come out in peeks and stealthy asides. Often, this anger poses as barbed jokes about their husbands’ casual cruelty and thoughtlessness. (This “joking” runs both ways, but men’s vastly-greater power makes their “jokes” operate way differently.)
At other times, they release this anger within the safe environs of their closest friends’ circles or disguised as prayer requests for divine comfort and assurance.
But they must be careful. Turncoats aplenty flourish within evangelical women’s ministries and friends’ circles. They are very quick to label justifiably-angry women as bitter, as Theology for Women does, as this evangelical Mommy blogger does. And they’ll lay down that judgment perhaps even faster than evangelical men will, especially if it helps them to sell those chastened women non-solutions that won’t help them.
Reclaiming Our Anger.
Starting in childhood, women learn that our anger isn’t legitimate or permitted. In this podcast excerpt, Soraya Chemaly, the author of Rage Becomes Her: The Power of Women’s Anger, talks about it:
So if you’re a Black woman, you don’t have to even do anything. It’s there’s sort of just this assumption that you’re going to be angry and aggressive, and sort of difficult to deal with. If you’re a white woman, and you’re angry, you’re on hinge [unhinged?], you’re crazy. If you’re Hispanic or Arab, you’re spicy and hot. I mean, the list of stereotypes goes on and on. But those are kind of silencing techniques.
And so girls learn really early to not feel that their anger is their own to use. And that’s a very corrosive message. Because anger is a survival emotion, right? It tells you when there’s injustice, or when there’s a problem, or when you’re being threatened, like your daughter, right? Like, here’s a person who’s destroying something that she created and transgressing all kinds of boundaries and controlling the environment. Yes, even in kindergarten, and a girl’s anger isn’t perceived as legitimate.
As a result, women — particularly in evangelicalism, which skews even more misogynistic than American culture generally — must battle not only the men in their tribe but their own lifelong indoctrination to reclaim their anger. One female pastor writes about that difficulty in moving terms:
It has been a journey for me to accept and claim my anger, to realize it is a valid emotion just like any other and to know I am not wrong or bad for feeling it or expressing it in healthy, appropriate ways.
And I’m sure at every single step, that pastor faces the outrage of men who don’t like to see a woman refusing to perform to their liking.
When Anger Leads Women to Leave.
But things may be a-changin’ in evangelical-land.
As Rebecca Solnit points out in New Republic,
Women no longer obliged to please men may finally be able to express rage, because we’re less economically dependent on men than ever before, and because feminism has been redefining what’s appropriate and acceptable.
Nowadays, thanks to the very feminism that evangelical men despise and fight against with all their hearts, evangelical women do have a trump card: they can leave evangelical men and their culture behind.
Indeed, that is what more and more of them are choosing to do. For some, that means divorcing husbands who mistreat them. For others, it means never marrying evangelical men at all and walking away from evangelical culture. We already know that when states permit no-fault divorce, domestic abuse statistics improve significantly after these laws pass. That improvement happens because male abusers know that the women they abuse have options now. Their victims can leave. So husbands can’t just abuse their wives with impunity.
The same thing happens in evangelicalism on the grand scale. Evangelical men act the way they do toward women because they think they can. So it’s possible that as women exercise their option to leave, evangelical culture might shift.
What’ll Probably Actually Happen.
Biff was floored when I eventually dumped him and fled the country to escape him. It hadn’t even occurred to him that I might not put up with his antics forever. His rage reached full flower when he realized I was gone for good and that nothing he did mattered to me anymore. Once he realized that, he got angrier than I’d ever seen him. I reckon he hadn’t ever felt helpless and frustrated like that, like I had for so long. And he was even less equipped to handle it than I’d been.
But instead of changing for the better so as not to drive off another mate, he got enraged and drilled down on his misogyny.
In similar fashion, once Christian leaders realize that their servants have flown the coop, they might just have to revise their philosophy around women. They might have to take women’s anger just a teeny bit more seriously. We’ve talked a lot about evangelical men’s rage and anger here over the years, but b-b-b-b-baby, we ain’t seen nothin’ yet.
Similarly, however, I don’t expect improvements in evangelical men. Instead, I fully expect these men to just drill down even harder on their misogyny and institutionalized sexism.
Evangelical men would rather rule over a shrinking and tiny fiefdom than not rule over any fiefdoms at all. But at least fewer and fewer women will be hanging around to perform for these aspiring lords and gods.
NEXT UP: LSP! Then, next week, the Anger Chronicles continue. See you tomorrow! <3
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I liked this doctoral thesis about anger as discussed in the Book of Matthew.
Also, I told Mr. Captain while writing this post that it had me feeling a certain way today. He gathered me up immediately and told me my feelings matter. There’s something so healing in that affirmation. So my friends, let me tell you this, if today’s post got you feeling a similar way: your feelings matter.
Whoever needs to hear this today, your feelings matter.