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Niamh O'Reilly I looked around the rage room I'd just trashed and had the urge to tidy up

The writer and journalist says women the world over, like her are getting angrier so she decided to try out a rage room.


WHEN GWYNETH PALTROW recently revealed she likes to smash things with a plastic bat when she feels angry, it didn’t strike me as that odd.

Unlike her other outlandish wellness claims about steaming her vagina or using bee stings for skincare, this seemed quite rational. In fact, as I stood at the countertop rage cleaning the surfaces for the umpteenth time that day, I wondered if hitting things with a plastic bat might in fact be a healthier way to express my pent-up frustration and anger?

Expressing rage as a woman is a minefield. Most of us are taught from a young age that anger is not a desirable female emotion, so we learn to channel it in other ways. Many women grow up directing these emotions inward and have them manifest as stress, worry and anxiety. “These are often perceived as more digestible emotions,” explains Cady Walker Psychotherapist and founder of Mynd. “It can take time to remove the layers to allow someone to be angry and this is why it can be confusing and complex.”

Permission to express

These days, I seem to express anger by passive aggressively rage cleaning. For the uninitiated, I scrub the surfaces, or the sink, or get out the black bags and do a ruthless toy clear out, much to the protestations of my four- and seven-year-olds, who cannot fathom me throwing out that broken hot wheels car with no wheels they haven’t played with in about six months.

Diverting anger has become second nature for many women and on those rare occasions when you do let it out, you’re often labelled as ‘hysterical’ or ‘crazy’.

Historically, an angry woman was perceived as an out of control or even dangerous woman. Not so for the men. Anger is often a quality to be admired in men. In fact, studies show that angry men gain influence, while angry women lose it. A point well illustrated in political debates, such as those between Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump in 2016. Despite Trump’s questionable behaviour, if Clinton had lost her temper, it would have been game over for her on the spot.

The rebranding of female rage begins in childhood. Soraya Chemaly, the author of Rage Becomes Her, sums the phenomenon up perfectly in her 2018 Ted Talk. Little girls who do express anger are often called spoilt.

As a teenage girl, you’re not angry, you’re just hormonal. As a woman in your early twenties or thirties, if you’re angry, you are high maintenance or difficult.

When you reach middle age, you’re just angry because you’re menopausal and beyond that, you’re a bitter old hag. It often feels like there has been a consistent effort to delegitimise women’s anger and turn it into a negative.

Permission to anger

This might be changing, however. “There has been a shift with gender norms,” says Cady, “but we still have a long way to go in society when it comes to stereotypes, this can be from our unconscious bias to belief systems.”

Screen Shot 2024-02-20 at 14.10.22 Gwyneth Paltrow smashes objects with a bat when she's in a rage. Niamh O'Reilly Niamh O'Reilly

Still, collective female anger can lead to major social change. The #MeToo movement, the anger over the death of Savita Halappanavar and the effect it had on the repeal of the Eight Amendment in Ireland and more recently the demonstrations against gender-based violence after the murder of Ashling Murphy.

There is growing a sense that younger women are feeling more comfortable outwardly expressing their anger. Maybe Beyonce triumphantly smashing cars in her Lemonade video is more empowering than redirecting or internalising rage.

My relationship with anger remains complicated. When I was younger, I played a lot of physical sports, like rugby and horse riding which helped me release frustrations when they arose. Fast forward to today, and I’m a 41-year-old mum of two. I’m often tired and mentally overloaded most of the time. I’ve got one eye on perimenopause over in the corner, while I try to keep too many plates spinning in the air.

Screen Shot 2024-02-20 at 14.10.07 Niamh at The Rage Room. Niamh O'Reilly Niamh O'Reilly

“As a woman a lot of emphasis is still on being the caring, compassionate and sensitive person,” explains Cady. “This leaves no room for anger or rage, especially when it comes to motherhood or the workplace.”

My life is fairly typical of many women my age, but I feel as though I’m getting angrier. According to a BBC analysis of 10 years of data from the Gallup World Poll, it’s not just me. Women all over the world are getting angrier. Anger, sadness, stress and worry are among the feelings reported much more frequently than men. 

“Let’s also not forget, a lot of middle-aged women are going through a hormonal shift,” says Cady. “As this happens, anger can be one of the emotions that is triggered and can be confusing. If we talk about it, remove the stigma, and help support women in knowing it is okay to be angry or even normal, it shifts and allows for a healthy connection to it, to understand what is going on for the individual.”

Releasing the rage

So, after a decade or so of diverting my anger, I reckoned it was about time I put down the rage cleaning sponge and took a leaf out of Gwyneth’s book. To be honest, I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t thought of this before.

During Covid, like a lot of women, I faced extra pressure and demands, and I occasionally fantasised about bashing the hell out of a spike protein shaped piñata with a bat. I never did it though. That would be ‘crazy,’ right? As it turns out, not really. In fact, there is now a growing boom in rage rooms where customers can go, suit up and bash inanimate objects.

I visited Rage Room Ireland to see if I could release my anger. Owner Lukas, who opened the room a few months ago says business is booming. “It’s 90 per cent women,” he explains. “‘It’s usually groups who come in together, put on some music, dance about and have a laugh,” he says.

Screen Shot 2024-02-20 at 14.10.14 Lukas at The Rage Room in Dublin. Niamh O'Reilly Niamh O'Reilly

I was given a boiler suit, a riot style safety hat, and gloves. Inside the room, there was an old-fashioned printer on a table and a box full of glass jars. On the wall, there was an array of weapons, like a bat, a crowbar, a hammer and a mallet.

I won’t lie. It felt a little odd; sort of like a scene from the Hostel movies, only my victim was an inanimate object. I’d asked for AC/DC to blare over the sound system and before I knew it, I was swinging at the printer with pieces flying off into the air. It was very surreal. I felt like I was breaking all the rules, but after a few minutes, it felt quite fun.

To be honest, I wasn’t thinking angry thoughts or feeling enraged, in fact, it felt like some sort of new high-octane gym glass.

As my session ended, I looked around the room and had this weird urge to tidy up. Embarrassingly, I put a few of the bigger pieces back on the table and then stopped myself.

Did it help release some anger? I’m not sure. What it showed me was the power of physical activity and sport in helping to release and regulate emotions and perhaps women in my busy stage of life could do with making that more of a priority for themselves.

I’m not sure I’ll be able to fully retire the rage cleaning sponge just yet, but it’s certainly made me think twice about how I recognise and communicate my feelings around rage and anger in the future.

Niamh O’Reilly is a freelance writer and wrangler of two small boys, who is winging her way through motherhood, her forties and her eyeliner. 

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