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By Stephanie Hegarty-Population correspondent
An annual poll by Gallup suggests that women, on average worldwide, have been getting angrier over the past 10 years. Why might this be?
Two years ago Tahsha Renee was standing in her kitchen when a deep, dark, hollow scream emerged from the depths of her lungs. It took her by surprise.
“Anger has always been an emotion that’s easy for me to tap into,” she says. But this was like nothing she had felt before.
It was in the midst of the pandemic and she had had enough. She’d spent the previous 20 minutes walking around her house listing aloud everything that made her angry.
But after the scream she felt an intense physical release.
Tahsha, a hypnotherapist and life coach, has since been gathering women from all over the world on zoom to talk about everything that gives them rage and then scream it out.
According to a BBC analysis of 10 years of data from the Gallup World Poll, women are getting angrier.
Every year the poll surveys more than 120,000 people in more than 150 countries asking, among other things, what emotions they felt for a lot of the previous day.
When it comes to negative feelings in particular – anger, sadness, stress and worry – women consistently report feeling these more frequently than men.
The BBC’s analysis has found that since 2012 more women than men report feeling sadness and worry, though both genders have been steadily trending upwards.
When it comes to anger and stress however, the gap with men is widening. In 2012 both genders reported anger and stress at similar levels. Nine years later women are angrier – by a margin of six percentage points – and more stressed too. And there was a particular divergence around the time of the pandemic.
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That doesn’t surprise Sarah Harmon, a therapist in the US. In early 2021 she got a group of female clients together to stand in a field and scream.
“I’m a mom of two young kids who was working from home and there was just this intense, low-grade frustration that was building to complete rage,” she says.
A year later she took to the field again. “That was the scream that went viral,” she says. It was picked up by a journalist in one of her online mum’s groups and suddenly reporters were calling from all over the world.
Sarah believes she tapped into something that women everywhere were feeling, an intense frustration that the burden of the pandemic was falling disproportionately on them.
A 2020 survey of almost 5,000 parents in heterosexual relationships in England, by the Institute for Fiscal Studies, found that mothers took on more of the domestic responsibilities during lockdown than fathers. As a result, they reduced their working hours. This was the case even when they were the higher earner in the family.
In some countries the difference in the number of women and men who say they felt anger the previous day is much higher than the global average.
In Cambodia, the gap was 17 percentage points in 2021 while in India and Pakistan it was 12.
Psychiatrist Dr Lakshmi Vijayakumar believes this is the result of tensions that have emerged as more women in these countries have become educated, employed and economically independent.
“At the same time, they are tethered down by archaic, patriarchal systems and culture,” she says. “The dissonance between a patriarchal system at home and an emancipated woman outside of home causes a lot of anger.”
Every Friday evening at rush hour in Chennai in India, she witnesses this dynamic in action.
“You see the men relax, going to a tea shop, having a smoke. And you find the women hurrying to the bus or train station. They’re thinking about what to cook. Many women start chopping vegetables on their way back home on the train.”
In the past, she says, it wasn’t considered appropriate for women to say they are angry, but that’s changing. “Now there is a little bit more ability to express their emotions, so the anger is more.”
Progress for Women?
The BBC 100 Women list each year names 100 inspiring and influential women around the world. This year it is honouring the progress made since the first list, 10 years ago – so the BBC commissioned Savanta ComRes to ask women in 15 countries to compare the present with 2012.
- At least half of women surveyed in each country say they feel more able to make their own financial decisions than 10 years ago
- At least half in each country except the US and Pakistan also feel it’s easier for women to discuss consent with a romantic partner
- In most countries, at least two-thirds of women surveyed said social media had made a positive impact on their lives – though in the US and UK the figure was under 50%
- In 12 out of 15 countries 40% or more of women surveyed say freedom to express their views is an area where their life has progressed most in the last 10 years
- 46% of those surveyed in the US feel it’s harder for women to access medically safe abortion than it was 10 years ago
The pandemic’s effect on women’s work may also be having an impact. Before 2020 there was slow progress on women’s participation in the workforce, according to Ginette Azcona, a data scientist at UN Women. But in 2020 it stalled. This year the number of women in work is projected to be below 2019 levels in 169 countries.
“We have a sex-segregated labour market,” says US-based feminist author Soraya Chemaly, who wrote about anger in her 2019 book, Rage Becomes Her.
She sees much of pandemic related burn-out happening in female-dominated industries like care.
“It’s pseudo-maternal work and poorly paid. These people register very high levels of repressed, suppressed and diverted anger. And it has a lot to do with being expected to work tirelessly. And with no kind of legitimate boundaries.
“Similar dynamics are often found in heterosexual marriage,” she says.
In the US, much has been written about the burden of the pandemic on women but results from the Gallup World Poll don’t indicate that women there are angrier than men.
“Women in the US feel very deep shame about anger,” says Soraya Chemaly, and may be more likely to report their anger as stress or sadness.
Perhaps significantly, American women do report higher levels of stress and sadness than men.
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That’s true in other places too. Many more women than men said they were stressed in Brazil, Uruguay, Peru, Cyprus and Greece. In Brazil almost six in 10 women said they had felt stressed for much of the previous day, compared with just under four in 10 men.
But Tahsha Renee thinks many women in the US and elsewhere have now reached a place where they are able to say, “No more!”
“In a way that’s actually facilitating change. And they’re using their anger to do it,” she says.
“You need rage and anger,” agrees Ginette Azcona at UN Women. “Sometimes you need these, to shake things up – and have people pay attention and listen.”
Data journalism by Liana Bravo, Christine Jeavans and Helena Rosiecka
Additional reporting by Valeria Perasso and Georgina Pearce
Gallup annually surveys over 120,000 people across more than 150 countries and areas, representing more than 98% of the world’s adult population, using randomly selected, nationally representative samples. Interviews are carried out face to face or by telephone. The margin of error for the findings varies by country and question. When sample sizes are smaller, for example when dividing a set of answers by gender, the margin of error will be higher. Full data tables for the 2021 Gallup poll can be downloaded here,
Savanta ComRes surveyed 15,723 women aged 18+ online in Egypt (1,067), Kenya (1,022), Nigeria (1,018), Mexico (1,109), USA (1,042), Brazil (1,008), China (1,025), India (1,107), Indonesia (1,061), Pakistan (1,006), Saudi Arabia (1,012), Russia (1,010), Turkey (1,160), UK (1,067) and Ukraine (1,009) between 17 October and 16 November 2022. Data were weighted to be representative of women in each country by age and region. The margin of error for each country’s results is +/- 3. Full data tables can be found here