My name is danah boyd and I'm a Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research and the founder/president of Data & Society. Buzzwords in my world include: privacy, context, youth culture, social media, big data. I use this blog to express random thoughts about whatever I'm thinking.

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masculine anger

I pulled into the parking lot at BestBuy. It’s a tight squeeze and i was pulling into a parking lot as the driver in Mercedes SUV threw his door open, into me; i put on the breaks but already the door has made impact. Given the SUV, the only damage is on my car. There’s a couple in the Mercedes. The driver jumps out and starts yelling at me. I’m totally taken aback, shaking. The passenger gets out and pushes away the driver after i already yell back that i’m calling the cops. The passenger and i talk, i give over driver’s license info and we exchange insurance info. I can’t fully guarantee what happened. I remember seeing the door opening as i pulled in to the space, not as it being opened. But alas, all damage to me; none to Mercedes. I decide not to deal with it, given that the only reason that my car doesn’t have any dents on it is because it has all new exterior panels from a multi-car collision a year ago (heavy raining + over-egotistical SUV going 75 down 101). But i was still all shaken up, not by the bullshit SUV, but because of the asshole SUV driver.

As i was chewing on what really bothered me, i realized how ill-equipped i am to handle masculine anger in a state of nerves. I’ve managed to acquire a lot of masculine traits over the years, in part as a coping mechanism. But i’ve never been able to master masculinity when i’m torn to shreds emotionally. All of my deep-seated femininity comes to the surface. For some, it’s so bloody natural – that masculine survival technique of absolute anger and dominance in the state of panic. I turn into a mushy ball of OMG what happened?!?!? Masculine anger allows all the blame to be externalized, while the feminine OMG internalizes everything. No doubt the driver spent the rest of the day damning me for being in the way, even though the SUV suffered no harm.

I’m often reminded that my femininity gets me a lot of attention, even in the working world. I’m not going to dispute this, but i do know that my lack of complete masculine coping mechanisms means that i’m never prepared to handle the privilege that i’m afforded. That said, i’m not sure that i want to even acquire all of the masculine coping tools. I don’t know.. it feels so confusing.

[Note: i’m addressing traits in a masculine/feminine form based on the gender performance with which they’re associated. One of the big misnomers about gender performance is that it is linked to sex. Masculine anger may be embodied by a male individual, but it may also be embodied by a female individual. Culturally, we are taught to follow male/masculine and female/feminine sex/gender role models. But this is not universally built into us, nor something that all of us can comfortably learn to do.]

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7 comments to masculine anger

  • danah, thank you for perpetuating the very stereotypes that we should be eliminating from our society. Even your faux feminist disclaimer, “i’m addressing traits in a masculine/feminine form based on the gender performance with which they’re associated,” attempts – without much success – to separate gender-named “performance traits” from actual gender. Splitting hairs down to the nanometre is beneath your usually cogent discussion and observation of societal effects.

    My view is that we should be promoting ignorance – literally ignore-ance of the sorts of biases with which we have all grown up. Of course there are differences between the sexes, some of which are biologically wired and some of which are environmentally/culturally conditioned. Association of irrational demonstrations of anger and lack of consideration with a particular gender falls in the latter group. As a matter of personal experience, in my small corner of the world, this particular unfortunate attribute of humanity is more often associated with women than men, but I certainly don’t ascribe irrational anger and lack of consideration exclusively with that gender.

    The point is, that such gender association – masculine anger and feminine OMG – is entirely not useful, and most certainly anti-feminist, at least in the sense in which I have come to appreciate the term “feminist” over the past almost 50 years.

    I empathize with your unfortunate encounter with the boorish driver – I have found myself in similar circumstances many times, but with rude, selfish and boorish drivers of both sexes and all sorts of vehicles, both affluent and not. I feel sad again for the cliche of the “Mercedes SUV driver,” and have to wonder: if the incident had occurred with a female driver of an old Honda Civic, would we still be reading a post on anger?

  • tony

    She’s not a machine. Everyone has biases and beliefs,no matter how hard one tries to eliminate such things. I am very quiet and passive in my ways and have encountered angst ridden men and women. As a male, I do note women do not become as overly aggresive w/ me as do men(gener.) Fear of males ,by many women? Most likely,as most women are smaller than males in the world.

    I have lived in Gary and Detroit and in hard crime ridden areas. Cartoons characters aren’t illusions on tv. In difficult and unfamiliar situations, it’s amazing how juvenile and simple people become(primal).

    I doubt we can ever delete such items from our genetics(check the chimps and human history).

  • joe

    Word up tony. I wasn’t there… but one thing I can attest to that is uniquely Californian: the strange tendency certain people have that requires them to throw their car door open without looking. This is most noticeable if you’re a bike rider… always having to be conscious of the freakin’ cars and buses while imagining that every parked car in front of you could harbor some brainless shithead about to open their door in a brainless flurry.

    This guy sounds like a typical macho asshole… driving an SUV in San Fran? Please. This sounds like one of those, “I want to feel safer” dorks who ends up killing everyone else on the road… and who wouldn’t be very careful opening their door in a crowded parking lot? Freakin’ SUV drivers, that’s who!

  • mike

    Danah…that sucks to be in that situation, I feel for you.

    That said…I’ll remind people of some very easy to understand facts. These facts, for today only, are free, and come complete with taking a deep breath:

    1 – Not all SUV drivers are assholes and careless.
    2 – Not all bike riders are level-headed and without agression, and
    3 – California doesn’t come close to having a monopoly on people who aren’t careful opening their doors.

    If anything, I see a tendency for Californians to think that any of these things being discussed only happen in California. 🙂

    Getting into any car/bike accident, no matter how much damage is done, is awful, even without attitudes clashing.

  • (Mark – you of all people should know that my disclaimer does not come from a feminist approach, but from a rhetoric, perhaps queer theory background.) I’m linking this anger to a gender performance as a way of situating the discussion. In this case, yes, it is linked with a man, but i’ve felt the wrath of that anger from ex-lovers who were female and witnessed it recently from a female shopkeeper on Telegraph. There’s an equivalent feminine anger that can be just as irrational, but does not have the same kind of acute directed, dominating attack; it’s just as primal, but comes from a different place. Part of the problem with this post is that i’m trying to tease out the difference that i can see and recognize but not articulate.

    As for whether or not differences in gender traits exist, i just have to outright disagree with you. You can try to wish them away or pretend that there’s no correlation with gender performance, but that’s fundamentally problematic and utopian. One of the things that i’m fascinated with is that our culture is doing a really good job of unlinking gender performance and sex, but it’s not doing a good job of getting rid of tightly tied gender performances. In other words, there are plenty of men who feel no need to perform masculine gender roles, but this doesn’t mean that they no longer perform gender roles… in fact, they primarily end up swinging across the continuum to a feminine performance.

    As for the SUV discussion… First, i’m generally astounded that no one in San Francisco can drive in the rain, SUV or not. But, just as on the East Coast where many cars with 4-wheel-drive thought that they could master an ice storm, many drivers out here forget that 4-wheel-drive doesn’t help you on slick roads. There’s an invincibility that comes with being larger, seeing farther and having more equipment at hand. The problem with SUVs in SF parking lots is that they just don’t fit. Thus, there is no way that an SUV can fit into a parking space and open its door without hitting a car. You can’t open an SUV door fully in any general parking lot in SF. The same is true of 1950s boat cars, although i saw a woman in Safeway try to fit into a compact spot anyway. Also, the way that SUVs are built makes it really hard to see out of the lower back left corner; the blind spots are quite different.

    Have you ever seen a very tall, big person in a club? They are often much more careful to not hit people, although they make mistakes. These people don’t fit into the small spaces in a club, but they try to dance without totally trashing everyone in sight. Of course, there are people of all sizes who are careless and disrespectful, but i’ve always been amazed at how conscientious bigger people are in tight spaces like that. This embodied consciousness does not apply to SUV drivers. While it would be really nice if they realized how much bigger they were and, thus, how much more dangerous for a small car (they could wipe the car to oblivion), that’s rarely true. In fact, driving in LA is like a hazardous warning zone.

    That said, i do not associate the anger to the SUV. In fact, the SUV was owned by the passenger. The driver was a secondary driver on the SUV (at least according to the insurance papers). What i do associate with the SUV is the lack of awareness of how bloody big the damn thing is and how much you can’t see behind you. There are inverse bits to a small car. When i’m parked next to two large cars, i can’t see as i pull out. Thus, i’m far more cautious.

    Anyhow, i’m not upset by the denting situation nearly so much as by my complete faltering under the anger that i felt.

  • danah, I apologize for my strong response. I have become overly sensitive of late to what I would call “genderists” and their visceral hatred of “the other” that I am seeing increasingly in otherwise academic discourse. (Up here, I’m seeing it in areas that self identify as gender studies, women’s studies and queer theory; it seems to transcend sexes and orientations. For instance, in a recent seminar on innovation in a non-business context, the discussion was nearly hijacked by a person who would have recast the presenter’s entire thesis as exemplary of historical gender-oriented oppression. But dealing with this sort of behaviour is the knee-jerk reaction that I have to work on. 🙂

    It takes a tremendous amount of self-awareness to find useful and appropriate responses to in-situ potential conflicts. Equally, it is an art to disarm someone whose first response is anger, even (especially) when they are at fault, as in your encounter with the SUVers. Anecdotally, it often seems to be that whatever is being hurled at you in anger is what the hurler is feeling about him- or herself. I’ve found that this insight can (but not always) provide a useful clue as to how to lead the person away from their anger towards righting the situation. It also helps me focus my own mind so as not to retreat to primal instinctive and protective responses (ie. the “fight or flight” thing) when confronted with blind rage.

    I think that there is an inverse relationship between the insolation of vehicle occupants from the outside world and their realization that anyone else exists outside of their vehicle. With sound dampening, luxury appointments, isolation from road “feel” (that also contributes to the lack of skillful driving), high-end sound systems and the like, the effect is more akin to being in one’s own living room, rather than on the road. (This also contributes to the “I own the road” attitude, unawareness of smaller vehicles, bicycles and pedestrians, and behaviours like eating/reading/shaving/applying makeup while driving.) To make matters worse, there are several series of car ads that contribute to this notion of luxury vehicle literally being the “home away from home.”

    The club analogy is a good one: allow me to share an experience that surprised me. I’ve been in clubs across North America and in several countries in Europe. In most places, there is, among the patrons, a great awareness of one’s space, even in crowded clubs. Especially when there is a good vibe, there is a flow in the room that allows everyone to express themselves in groove and movement (mostly) without bashing into one another. The exception I found was Sweden. There, the club experience was more akin to roller derby with the same sort of boorish, aggressive dance-floor behaviour that we often analogously experience on our roads. I asked my Swedish host about this, and she confirmed that this was typical for Swedish men, unique to Sweden in her experience (throughout Europe and North America.) She also expressed that this reflected a psychology of entitlement that manifested in various consistent behaviours.

    It occurs to me that it is this conception of entitlement that is at the heart of what we dislike most about inconsiderate vehicle owners and drivers.

  • Darth Tater

    There\’s a great blog conversation about this stuff at this site. Darth vader and darth tater are toys, action figures. star wars rocks.