Why women can't afford to be angry

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Anna Brech
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Men are allowed to own their anger, says author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: why can’t women, too? 

Speaking at Cheltenham Literature Festival earlier this week, best-selling author and feminist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie made an excellent point.

Women, even now, she said, “can’t afford to be angry”.

Adichie pointed to Serena Williams, who was widely pilloried recently after remonstrating with the umpire during the US Open final.

Williams’ integrity was called into question after she was handed a court violation for apparently receiving hand signals from her coach. After she had another point taken away, she called the umpire a “thief”, leading to a penalty for verbal abuse, and her eventual defeat.

The novelist compared this situation to that of US Surpreme Court judge Brett Kavanaugh, whose angry defence against sexual assault allegations during a Senate hearing a few weeks ago was applauded by many.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: women cannot afford to be angry

Both people were defending their reputation, said Adichie, and yet Williams was portrayed as irrational and as out of control while Kavanaugh’s rage was widely seen as justified: the righteous rage of a man safeguarding his good name.

The novelist, whose 2012 Ted talk We Should All Be Feminists went viral,  also noted the measured and reasonable way that Kavanaugh’s accuser, Doctor Christine Blasey Ford, delivered her testimony before the Senate hearing.

In a discussion with host Ellah Wakatama Allfrey, Adichie said she believed Dr. Ford but added that her careful testimony is an example of the way in which women are not allowed to own their anger.

In a hearing that has been dissected over and again, it’s a powerful observation.

Men such as Kavanaugh and his ally, President Trump, wield their anger like a moral rallying call. It is, seemingly, a symbol of their deep-rooted sincerity and honest outrage. 

But for women to behave in the same way - to be raging, frothing over with personal fury - would be unacceptable. 

If Dr. Ford had become angry, she would have been cast as emotional, possibly hysterical: as so many women before her (including Williams) have been.


The anger of men such as Brett Kavanaugh is seen as righteous 

As women, we must retain our self-composure at every juncture

It doesn’t matter how justified our fury; it must be censured or, as countless studies show, we are labelled “irrational”. 

Partly this is comes down to centuries-old conditioning for girls to “play nice”: to be the more pliable and compassionate people. Traditionally, we please and comply (or face the consequences).

In a searing essay titled What the world would look like if we taught girls to rage, feminist author Mona Eltahawy urges us to bring up our girls in a new way, to “imagine a curriculum that includes lessons on the importance of rage, the various ways to express it and lessons on how to use it”. 

“I want to bottle-feed rage to every baby girl so that it fortifies her bones and muscles,” she says.

It’s something we could all learn from.

Young girls are taught to play nice

In a world where women are disbelieved and suspected at every turn, anger does us no favours.

And yet, it’s an emotion that can propel us forward, too. On a personal basis, anger lets you own your feelings, and on a collective level, it can move mountains.

Right now, society rewards angry men and punishes angry women: that alone is infuriating.

Let’s bottle that fury and use it as an influencing force, until our “instability” rises up and transforms into a power of its own.

Together we can move from not affording anger to making it our currency. It’s happening as we speak.

Images: Getty


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Anna Brech

Anna Brech is a freelance journalist and former editor for Her six-year stint on the site saw her develop a vociferous appetite for live Analytics, feminist opinion and good-quality gin in roughly equal measure. She enjoys writing across all areas of women’s lifestyle content but has a soft spot for books and escapist travel content.