Saturday, May 5, 2007

Self-Indulgent Question: Females, Anger and Aggression

Update: Like him or not, Sarkozy is the victor in the French presidential election by a margin of 53% to 47%.

His acceptance speech reached out to all sides, so let's hope that he'll follow through on those ideas.



I frequently deal with people in (what I think) is a civil yet firm and, if I feel it's necessary, aggressive manner. I simply tend to speak frankly and take no prisoners in a debate or disagreement. I'm also that person to speak up when no one else will. However, on my blog that tone shifts. I can be aggressive, but most of the time, I try to be balanced simply because I don't want to be known for a lack of objectivity.

However, on issues I feel strongly about, I don't mince my words in person or in one-on-one discussion. I'm forceful, and I don't deny it. I wonder if it's because I happen to be both female and black, or maybe just female, that I get a range of critical comments which have nothing to do with my point when I'm firm and aggressive about my point.

Frequently, people point out that you're angry. They'll call on you to be graceful or to be a lady.

I've yet to hear people point out to men that they're being angry in the same way. It seems that if a man gets worked up during a discussion, it's okay. His anger, for whatever reason, is not questioned and is taken to be valid. The only extreme would be if he's angry and he's turning violent. Even then, anger or aggression in men tends to be tolerated because men are "supposed" to fight or even get physical. Also, the male equivalent of "grace" or "being a lady", I guess, "being a gentlemen" is usually only brought up when a man is dealing with a woman.

I'm in a virtual brawl right now where it's me and another female. Actually, for me, I know what I'm saying is spot on, but the main criticism I've gotten is my tone. Guess who told me I needed to be a "lady"? Yep, you got it, a man. Here is a virtual middle finger to you guy.

Also, for those of you who are familiar with the movie Gone With The Wind. I'm always nodding when Scarlett is critical of Melanie in the scene where she learns Ashley is going to marry Melanie. BTW, Melanie is a character I love for she has that quiet reserve I'll just never have. It's just that quiet reserve is always admired in women, but spirit isn't admired quite as much as a positive virtue. When Scarlett hears this news she says what's on her mind. I feel this way when people try to be critical of me.

You'd rather live with that silly little fool who can't open her mouth except say "Yes" and "No" and raise a patch of mealy-mouthed brats just like her!
Of course, she's shushed. There is a long history of spirited women being shushed. Now Scarlett is a fictional character, so let's talk about someone real.

Here is another example, take the recent debate between French presidential candidates Ségolène Royal (Allez Royal!) and Nicolas Sarkozy faced off for a debate.
Sarkozy, Royal battle on after heated TV debate

Centrist Francois Bayrou said he would not support right-winger Nicolas Sarkozy in Sunday’s runoff.

French presidential rivals Nicolas Sarkozy and Segolene Royal traded fresh barbs yesterday after neither delivered a knock-out blow in a heated television debate seen as a last chance to swing undecided voters. The socialist Royal went on the offensive during the debate watched by more than 20 million viewers, challenging her rightwing opponent on his record as a member of the outgoing government and angrily accusing him of “political immorality.” Sarkozy, who leads in opinion polls, said he was “surprised by the degree of aggressiveness” shown by his rival during the exchange that lasted two and a half hours, saying it showed “a form of intolerance.”

Both candidates sought to address their weaknesses during the debate: Royal had to dispel doubts about her presidential stature while Sarkozy faces concerns over his hyper-active personality. Royal, who wants to become France’s first woman president, said Sarkozy “did not dare” repeat during the debate some of the accusations he had directed at her during the campaign. He “reminds me of those children who kick and then cry out to make believe that it was their playmate who hit first,” Royal told French radio.

The most fiery outburst came in an exchange about places for handicapped children in ordinary schools. Royal accused Sarkozy of “becoming teary-eyed” over the plight of handicapped children when it was his government that had dismantled Socialist measures guaranteeing a place for the disabled in ordinary schools. “This is the height of political immorality,” said an outraged Royal. Sarkozy retorted: “I don’t question your sincerity, don’t question my morality. You lose your temper very easily.” “To be president of the republic, you must remain calm,” Sarkozy insisted.

“I have not lost my cool. I am angry and there is anger that is perfectly healthy,” Royal hit back, waving an accusatory finger.

Commentators said Sarkozy scored points for keeping his cool while Royal won kudos for her combativeness in the face-off ahead of Sunday’s vote. “Nicolas Sarkozy did not lose. But Segolene Royal won,” wrote the left-leaning Liberation newspaper, whose front page featured a closeup of Royal’s face, with clenched jaw, and the headline: “Combative.”

But the rightwing Figaro daily said Royal had been “often vague, at times aggressive” and that “at the end of the end, Sarkozy’s self-control shone through.” “She won in terms of style, he won in terms of substance. They both held their ground,” commented pollster Roland Cayrol. The encounter could be decisive in determining the choice of nearly seven million voters who backed centrist Francois Bayrou in the first round on April 22, and who now hold the key to victory. Bayrou was quoted in Le Monde as saying that Royal “had done rather well” in the debate and announced “I will not vote for Sarkozy” even though he did not explicitly throw his support behind Royal.
What's good to see is that the French have responded well to her anger and aggression in the debate. I like the French, sue me.

However, while France isn't going after Royal for her aggression and seem to see it as a positive, I fear that Sarkozy will benefit more because he'll be painted as a man with self-control.

In the latest reports I've read on the French presidential race Sarkozy keeps harping on her aggressiveness. I don't like this guy now, before I had no feeling one way or the other, but who cares that she's aggressive? There have been many aggressive heads of state in history and many have been very effective leaders.

It's just interesting that men are allowed to be passionate and forceful, but when a woman is they have to be told they're upset (like we don't know this already) and she's told to calm down or to otherwise change her behavior.

So to anyone with the gumption to tell me how to handle myself in a disagreement, I'm going to tell you right now to stuff it. I'm just glad I have such good company as Ségolène Royal.

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  1. I guess the comment from Sarkozy comes from the fact that he is the one who as always been portrayed by Royal as quite "unstable" and aggressive.
    And when the debate took place he remained calm while Royal was the "turbulent" one.

  2. Thanks for your input Greg!

    I don't claim to be any kind of expert on French politics or on this presidential race. I figure him coming after her for being "unstable" and aggressive has been one of his campaign tactics all along.

    What I'm pointing at is the cultural subtext that allows that kind of tactic to be fine when the target is a woman.

    There have been many male heads of state who those adjectives would apply to, but I think if his opponent was a man, he'd be hitting him with more substantial critiques.

    For a man to get the same critcism thrown his way he has to be one big jerk. It seems that Royal states her views strongly. When a man does it it never seems to be a problem or an issue that's worth exploiting.

  3. Jane,

    I can't agree more. There are indeed double standards as to how males are judged with respect to aggressiveness versus females.

    With males, it's just being an aggressive male. With females, it's being a bitch.

    The one case I can think of in Korea is where a high-ranking woman in a Korean company is constantly demeaned for her aggressive behavior behind her back while similar behavior from her male counterparts gets no such harsh judgement.

    My belief is that most people are comfortable with women being passive and submissive, and are not comfortable with them standing up and being strong. Indeed, "wearing the pants" and "wearing the/a dress" are two phrases that evoke completely different meanings.

    Until people are comfortable or at least accepting of women being in power, they will continue to judge assertive and aggressive women in a sexist light.

  4. Thanks for your comment.

    Well, it's nice a guy "gets" it. But your agreement actually makes this particular "bitch" want to cry. Yes, we cry too. I know Scarlett did ;-)

    It's frustrating to have to maneuveur that cultural bias that present not just in Western culture but here in the East too.

    I definitely tone down my approach when dealing with Koreans. It's honestly not worth the conflict. Because I know they're viewing it from the Korean perspective, I just tone it down. It's not worth the cultural differences and all that goes with it.

    However, with Westerners, it does ruffle my feathers because, in general, there is such a smugness that goes on when Westerners view other regional cultures such as Asian or African ones. There is usually a high and mighty perspective about being progressive and sophisticated. Sarkozy's digs on Royal just show how far Western cultures really have to go on this issue.

  5. I like the way you think, its so sad that my english is so poor..... i will love to write you a big comment :(

    Kisses from Spain, and always continue thinking the way you do!!

  6. Thanks for the comment M.

    You know what? Your English is much better than my Spanish, so you've got me beat.

  7. I liked your comment on this, say it loud, say it proud! I used to teach in Korea but teach in the US now. I'm a white guy who feels for my black students, especially the women, when they have to negotiate these unconscious expectations of them as speakers. By the way, if you didn't know, ZZ Packer has a good story dealing with this in her book Drinking Coffee Elsewhere.

    Best of luck with all that "code switching." I think you should credit yourself with speaking multiple languages in more than just the usual linguistic sense.

  8. Thanks for your comment Willie.

    Yeah, code switching comes up a lot when I have discussions about how "we" speak. I primarily speak standard English as that's what my mother beat into me to do. However, I picked up other things like cultural bits where blunt candor is respected more than peservation of the status quo just for the sake of it or for the sake of someone's feelings.

    People don't get that like the "saving face" phenomenon, my approach is also culture bound. I switch codes maybe not as much as most black women, but I definitely do it quite a bit.


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