Why Are Modern Women So Aggressive?
For relaxation, Jo Scott loves nothing more than curling up with a good novel. Attentive to her health, she makes sure she swims regularly and eats well. Cosy nights in with her beloved partner are sacrosanct.
So seemingly serene is the 51-year-old that she even soothes others in the course of her career as a reiki therapist. But, like an increasing number of respectable women, Jo has become so consumed by rage that even a simple trip to buy the weekly groceries can lead to frighteningly aggressive outbursts. Recently, she completely ‘lost it’ when another driver tried to take the space she wanted in a Tesco car park.
Jo’s response was instant, and utterly disproportionate. ‘I was there first. So I got out of my car as he approached and shouted: ‘F*** you, a*******, I’m staying here until I get this space.’
Jo Scott, 51, from Sussex, has become so consumed by rage that even a simple trip to buy the weekly groceries can lead to frighteningly aggressive outbursts
‘The driver was a man much bigger than me, but I wasn’t intimidated. I told him we’d be stuck there all day if he didn’t move — which eventually he did.’ It was just another explosion among many for Jo, whose slender size ten frame belies her steely aggression. And despite the fact that her career relies on her being positively zen-like about life, her dark side is on show almost daily.
‘Once I’m riled it’s as if a switch is pressed and my temper turns me into a completely different person,’ says Jo. ‘I swear, slam doors, shout and throw things.’
Worryingly, it would seem this is a dangerous trend, seen by many as yet another dark side of equality. Stories of professional women drinking themselves into ill health, trying to keep up with male colleagues are well documented.
But they are now matching men on the aggression front, too, putting themselves in physical danger — risking their good name, career prospects and relationships. In 1957, men were responsible for 11 violent offences for every one perpetrated by a woman — today, that is four to one.
Jo says: ‘When I’ve calmed down, I apologise if I’m in the wrong’
Add to the mix long hours, pressure juggling work and family life, plus fluctuating hormones caused by the menopause, PMS or childbirth and it’s no wonder so many women are exploding with rage.
Indeed, earlier this month it was reported that Oxford-educated Jocelyn Robson, a company director, 40, etched the word ‘c***’ in capital letters on two of her former boyfriends’ cars after they broke up.
And last month BBC presenter Jeremy Vine released footage of a woman — smartly dressed and driving a top-of-the-range car down one of London’s most expensive streets — who swore at him to ‘get the f*** off the road’ and allegedly kicked his bicycle.
Research has also found that women are significantly more likely to be verbally and physically aggressive to men than vice versa — something physicians are seeing more of in their clinics.
‘We are treating more women than ever who are struggling to regulate their emotions and express themselves appropriately,’ says Dr Monica Cain, a counselling psychologist at London’s Nightingale Hospital.
So what is causing the red mist to descend for so many women? And why is this anger afflicting so many upstanding women, the sort you might hope would be immune to, or too ashamed of, having outbursts?
Some experts suggest women believe that such outward displays of aggression allow them to seize the initiative from traditionally dominant men. Whether it’s in the workplace or around the dining table, shouting, swearing or throwing things are increasingly viewed as valid methods for women to assert themselves.
Dr Elle Boag, social psychologist at Birmingham City University, says: ‘Women feel aggression is a form of empowerment. It has become so commonplace that it’s not even shameful.’
Worryingly, it would seem this is a dangerous trend. Stories of professional women drinking themselves into ill health, trying to keep up with male colleagues are well documented
Indeed, Jo insists it’s her right to shout at family and strangers alike. ‘When I’ve calmed down, I apologise if I’m in the wrong. But if someone has been rude or disrespectful, I feel my temper is justified,’ she says.
‘Lashing out is just a way of expressing myself.’
As well as this sense of entitlement, there’s the ever-present, age-old pressure to ‘have it all’. With competitive streaks accentuated by demanding careers and the seemingly perfect lifestyles displayed by celebrities, women are cracking under the pressure.
‘There is a perception that women have to have the perfect home, raise children and have a career that’s fulfilling and brings in an enviable lifestyle and income,’ says Dr Cain.
‘We are driving ourselves to the limit and a build-up of internal pressure over time can lead to us getting very frustrated over issues that would normally cause no more than a niggle.’
Such outbursts can also become addictive, a form of almost animalistic release. The burden mounts, tension builds and the almost exquisite joy of letting it all out becomes almost compulsive for some women.
It’s a feeling that Jo, who lives in Brighton with her partner Steven, 50, and his two children Jane, 21, and Tommy, 17, can identify with.
‘While I don’t feel proud of myself there is a cathartic release in letting my emotions out,’ says Jo.
But as well as this rush, Jo also admits to feeling under constant pressure to provide for her family.
After quitting a lucrative but exhausting career as an IT consultant to retrain as a therapist a decade ago, the increase in financial pressure has been almost intolerable.
Add to this the post-menopausal mood swings she has suffered since 2013 and it’s a toxic mix. The targets for her anger are many and various. Call centre customer service operators are prime targets (she told one to shove their internet connection where the ‘sun doesn’t shine’). Drivers who hog the middle lane prompt a storm of furious beeping. Litter droppers are screamed at.
Her near daily outbursts follow a similar trajectory. ‘First, I get heart palpitations and shake. Then I open my mouth without engaging my brain. I shout and use foul language I regret afterwards. It takes me a couple of hours before I can calm down.’
Her anger isn’t limited to verbal assaults. Last week, after a hard day at work, she slammed her front door so hard the handle fell off.
Thankfully Steven who works with disabled children, has learned how to cope with her outbursts. As mild-mannered as Jo is volatile, he’s found that the best thing to do is to walk away and let the tantrum burn itself out .
Two in five victims of domestic violence in the UK are men. The number of women prosecuted for it rose from 1,575 in 2004/5 to 4,266 in 2008/9.
He first fell foul of her temper three months into their relationship when she smashed every bottle in her bathroom after a minor disagreement.
Once, when Jo wanted to eat out and Steven didn’t, she kicked the air conditioning in her car so hard that it broke.
‘I apologised profusely and promised I would never lose it with him again. But I obviously did.’
Her stepchildren, too, have learned to walk away from her outbursts. ‘They usually react by storming off. Jane didn’t speak to me for three days after an argument about tidiness.
‘Our relationship is still strained, which is a shame, but I feel convinced she is as much to blame as me.’
According to Dr Cain, anger is a surface emotion that masks hurt, frustration and fear. ‘It’s part of the body’s fight or fight response,’ she says. ‘It works as a form of control and can make us assert ourselves better.’
However, Dr Cain says, once anger escalates we are incapable of rational thought.
‘We lose our cognitive functioning and are less likely to see things objectively and communicate healthily. It can lead to us hurting or attacking someone else, either verbally or physically. It can corrode relationships.’
It’s rare that a day passes without Annmarie Fisher, 32, descending into an all-out rage. From long queues to bad drivers and noisy neighbours, it’s almost easier to list what doesn’t make her angry.
A rare day passes without Annmarie Fisher, 32, from Iver, descending into an all-out rage
Her rage is fuelled by an endless quest for perfection, as she admits: ‘I see red when things aren’t done in a certain way.
‘Anger also masks my insecurity. I take everything personally and if I didn’t get angry I’d burst into tears.’ Interestingly, it was her pregnancy with son Frank, now six months, which led to her temper escalating. An otherwise quietly spoken sales manager, Annmarie says she has always been someone to ‘stand up for herself if something seems wrong’, but suddenly she became easily infuriated.
‘I got into shouting matches with doctors’ receptionists and threw a shoe at my neighbour’s wall when their building work disrupted my Sunday morning.’
Though she makes a concerted effort never to shout in front of her baby son, she can pinpoint the time her fuse became short to the day she gave birth in February.
From long queues to bad drivers, it’s almost easier to list what doesn’t make her angry
Psychologists say this is probably due to testosterone levels — the same hormone associated with aggression in men — which remain low during pregnancy and then rises after a woman gives birth.
So extreme are her moods that her husband Stephen, 36, an office team leader, has nicknamed her ‘hormones’.
‘Thankfully, he is easy going. I might snap at him if he hasn’t done the washing up but, if anything, his support for me has made our marriage stronger.
‘If he hears me being rude to someone he’ll put a hand on my shoulder and remind me it’s not worth getting angry about.’
But despite his patience with her, even Stephen can foresee trouble ahead if his wife doesn’t attempt to temper her moods.
‘He warns me that one day I’m going to get angry with the wrong person and they will be provoked and I will be physically hurt. You read these horror stories about people carrying knives, especially in incidents of road rage.’
Despite her husband’s advice, it hasn’t stopped Annmarie swearing impatiently at fellow drivers who don’t allow her adequate time to reverse her 4×4 into the drive of her three-bedroom London home.
And when, last year, she decided a driver was too close behind her as she kept to a 30mph speed limit, she braked suddenly and got out of the car. ‘I asked the driver, a young man, what the hell he thought he was doing driving up to my bumper,’ she says. ‘My heart was pounding as he called me a bitch and drove off.’
Despite her husband’s advice, Annmarie hasn’t stopped swearing impatiently at fellow drivers
Targets for her ire are wide- ranging. The elderly, for example, do not escape.
‘Old people can be so rude. They don’t open the door for me when I’m wheeling Frank in his buggy. I mutter ‘For Christ’s sake’, but make sure they can hear me.’
When a childless woman took the last mother and baby parking spot at her local supermarket, Annmarie followed her inside ‘like a fox chasing a rabbit’.
‘I said ‘I have a new baby and it’s selfish of you to park there when you have no children and could have parked anywhere.’
‘The woman didn’t stop apologising and moved her car immediately. Afterwards, I felt awful for intimidating her.’
Perhaps unsurprisingly, she has upset family and friends with her behaviour. In restaurants, she has embarrassed loved ones by high-handedly sending back food she considers isn’t good enough.
And, as she confesses: ‘Some feel wary of me and I have started avoiding others in case I alienate them more.’
Despite her guilt at her bad behaviour, Annmarie, whose GP referred her to a counsellor six weeks ago, insists she ‘only gets angry at things when it’s justified. In some ways I’m only behaving in the way men have for years’.
Frustration at not being able to live up to modern society’s high standards is also making many women angry, says Dr Cain. ‘Women today expect to have everything, and have it quickly, which results in anger,’ she says.
Gemma Dawson, 27, a mature business studies student from Wakefield, Yorkshire, found herself becoming so furious at her failure to keep up with her friends’ polished lives as seen on social media that she gave up using Facebook altogether.
Gemma Dawson, 27, a mature business studies student from Wakefield, Yorkshire, found herself becoming furious at her failure to keep up with her friends’ polished lives
‘It was so competitive and fake and made me feel bad about myself,’ says Gemma. ‘I would look at pictures of friends’ perfect lives on Facebook and feel so angry that mine wasn’t as good.’
But despite curbing her internet activity, she still struggled to control her temper throughout her previous relationship.
Nearly every day with former partner Chris, 36, a customer services representative, was filled with shouting matches.
‘If he didn’t want me to go out and I did, I reacted by screaming and storming out anyway,’ says Gemma. But, as she confesses, her attempts to seize control by showing such aggression led to more problems.
‘I’d look at pictures of friends’ lives on Facebook and feel angry that mine wasn’t as good
‘Yelling didn’t solve anything. It just made me feel more wound up. I shouted at friends if I felt they weren’t paying me attention — even my mum because I thought she favoured my brother.’
As her seven-year relationship broke up in 2014, Gemma saw a counsellor. ‘She suggested ways to deal with my aggression other than screaming — that I should listen to the other person finish talking before I started and write letters to people to articulate my emotions.’
And it’s this process of stepping back that is the best way women can conquer the plague of rage, says Dr Cain. ‘If we wait until the anger subsides, we can get to the underlying emotions of hurt, frustration and fear, and communicate from that position.’
It is advice that Jo is unlikely to heed any time soon: ‘I know deep down that lashing out isn’t the best way to handle life, but I can’t seem to help it.’