Monday, February 01, 2010

Angry Men.

I have been thinking about men and anger. Angry men. There is a difference there-- an angry man and a man who gets angry are different.

And for the record, I'm not thinking about this because I have any particularly angry men close to me.

This semester I have a full-time schedule at school, but I'm actually only taking one class that I show up for. My other six hours are thesis hours, and I get to work on this at home (which is a huge blessing, and sometimes a curse). The class I am taking is Southern Literature.

The first book we read was William Faulkner's As I Lay Dying and we discussed this last week. This was my first foray into Faulkner. I bought The Sound and the Fury years ago, but as with so many of my book-hoarder purchases, I have yet to actually read it. For some reason I was dreading and a bit trepidation about approaching Faulkner unguided. After reader the former, I am sad I haven't started reading Faulkner sooner.

But that is actually not the point of this post. I guess that is really to encourage you, if you haven't read him, to pick up old WF. I think starting with As I Lay Dying is a good idea because it is his self-proclaimed tour de force, and is also one of the two books he won a Pulitzer Prize for (and, oh yeah, a Nobel Peace Prize in Lit). It is also amazingly modern in the sense of the modernist movement, and also quintessentially southern. So anyway...

So in this book there are a slew of maddening characters, one of whom is named Jewel. He is fiercely angry. He has a hard time expressing himself at any point, and even the one thing he loves (his horse), he abuses. This is enclosed in an examination about the power or lack thereof of language, but even if that weren't present, the anger issue seems paramount to Jewel as a character.

My professor mentioned that when she was raising her sons, she read a book on parenting boys. One major thing that the book mentioned is that men turn to anger as an emotion because it is socially acceptable. This means that often we see men express anger in lieu of other emotions-- even happiness, excitement, and love. The point she was making was to help us see Jewel in that light, not singular and simply angry, but that perhaps his anger is a shield or a tool for other emotions.

I think this idea is really interesting. I happen to be married to a man who is not particularly angry, and is, on the whole, very good at expressing himself, even if it takes a bit of prodding from time to to time. I have brothers and a father who do this well too, at times. But I know I remember, particularly in their teen years, my brothers being angry. I remember feeling angry as a teenager too, so maybe that doesn't mean anything, but maybe it does. (and for the record, none of us really had any reason to be angry... we all had our issues, but I especially had nothing to be such a jerk about-- sorry mom!)

I wonder how real this is. I don't have children, and I don't really interact with little boys well enough to know whether anger is an issue at a young age. It seems like, if it is an impulse that grows out of being socially acceptable, it wouldn't exist in younger children unless their fathers are particularly angry. I buy into some of the discussion about gender construction, and I think this might be a place where we can see that in action. Girls can be happy, in love, ecstatic, sad, afraid, etc-- after all, we're overly emotional and uber-sensitive, aren't we? But men... if you express these things as a man-- are you less of a man?

I think we're moving away from this, but I want to know what you think. I honestly haven't read much about this, but I've been mulling over it. I know there is a difference in the way Matthew and I deal with just about everything, and we express emotion in different ways too. Is this because he's limited to socially acceptable ways of dealing with stress (play video games! have a beer! don't you dare cry!) as opposed to the ways I do (cry! cry! eat! eat! bake something! blog about it! cry some more! take a shower! exercise!)?

What do you think?

Still mulling...


amishwolf said...

I don't spend that much time with boys either, but I can tell you that based on my observation of the elementary school kids on the playground at school, the boys have shorter fuses, seem to think that throwing hard things at each other is a good idea, and resort to their fists to solve problems. There are a couple in particular who are "worse" than the others about this, too. So, I think maybe there's a tendency in that direction anyway and then things like experiences, temperament, and environment serve to strengthen or weaken the impulse.

M. said...

I just had a conversation with my husband the other day about this very thing. Anger is his go-to emotion even when it's completely unnecessary, even now that he has simmered down post-deployment. We were looking into his dosha tendencies (my idea, not his) and with him being a Pitta, he was spot on with the Pitta tendency to express all emotions through anger. I laughed at how accurate this suggested trait was for him in particular.

It's strange because he is really the first male that I have had close interactions with who has been that way. I was thinking it was an individual thing, although it's probably a socially constructed thing like you have pointed out. Men are strange beings. I think society amplifies their oddities :)


jules said...

I do think that boys tend to express anger or at least frustration much more easily than they express sadness or passion. it all comes down to how guys and girls process and communicate differently. i guess i have no answer or reason, other than it is something to be wary of when raising children (both boys and girls).
Also, loooooove The Sound and The Fury. I was so frustrated the first section, but by the end, that is the part of the book that brings everything together and gives great "objective" insight into the lives of the family. The book is terribly depressing. The failure of family and the American dream (the dream of that time period).

melissa oholendt said...

The experiences with the men in my life have been pretty atypical I guess. Matt tends to lead towards frustration but rarely anger. My dad is the same - when they do encounter situations that make them justifiably angry I've never felt like it was over the top or anything more than I would feel. I know I'm lucky because my typical male everyday interaction (work) is the exact opposite. Get angry first, figure out why later.

Whitney said...

Little men can definitely get angry! I have to teach them to "use their words" because their anger manifests itself physically. The men in my life have very long fuses but when they blow they reeeeeally blow. I remember being very scared as a child when my dad got mad. First, because it was so out of the ordinary, and second, be cause when he got mad, he got very mad. I think men need to know that anger is an appropriate emotion to feel, they just need to express it appropriately and not hold it in until it becomes explosive.