5 min read

The Angry Woman at Work

by an overthinking professional woman trying to make women’s experiences heard

The Storyteller has chosen to remain anonymous.

The hardest part of being a woman is trying so hard not to be angry.

I work at a white shoe law firm in New York City, the type of law firm that people typically call “Big Law.” Traditionally, the demographics here lean heavily toward Caucasian men. Having women “on top” is a pretty recent development in our profession, and female Big Law partners are much rarer than their male counterparts.

People often say that Big Law female partners can be cold and aloof - some might even call them unfriendly or mean. While male partners frequently joke around with their associates and can act all charming and funny, female partners usually don’t.

Sometimes it’s as if they intentionally build a wall around themselves, preventing anybody, including their most trusted associates, from getting in.

The more time I spend at the firm, the more I understand why. As women, we’re so constantly needing to prove ourselves to everyone around us that it gets so tiring. After a while, you just want to shut down. Being nice to people only makes it harder, because gestures of kindness, while earning respect for our male counterparts, is seen as a sign of weakness or lack of confidence for us.

The nicer you are, the less seriously people take you.


Last week, a friend at work forwarded me a message that she received from a male colleague saying something like the following: “This is a very complicated issue and you may not have thought about it before, but have you considered XYZ in a very similar project that you did recently?” 

She was furious. She texted me in all caps: “WHY WOULD I NOT HAVE THOUGHT ABOUT IT?? BECAUSE IT’S TOO COMPLICATED FOR ME??” 

For full context, this friend is an expert at the very type of projects that the male colleague had asked about, while the male colleague is relatively inexperienced in this type of work. He’s asking for her help, but somehow in that process, he still managed to insult her, however unintentionally.

“The assumption here is problematic.” I said. “It’s as if he assumed that you missed an issue.” 

As lawyers, the whole essence of our job is issue-spotting: understanding the potential legal risks and making sure our clients are protected. If he’s assuming that she hadn’t thought about this “complicated” issue, it’s saying that she missed it, that she failed her job.

He didn’t intend to be condescending, of course, nor did he mean to assume that she failed her job. But he would not make the same comment about a male colleague.


If a male associate shows potential, he’s respected. People know: “oh him? He’s good and he’s totally making partner..” 

But if it’s a female? “She’s good, but…”

It’s so hard to react to something like that. 

It feels like something’s wrong and you so want to be angry, but you feel like you shouldn’t.

What right do you have to be angry? After all, you can’t really “prove” bias and micro-aggression. After all, subjectively the other person has done nothing “wrong” - they don’t mean any harm and are simply reflecting what this world has taught them.

So many times, when I’m assumed to be the more junior person just because I’m an Asian woman and my junior is a white man; when men on my team talk to me as if I know nothing; when male colleagues talk over me both on work calls and at social events…

I don’t even think I feel angry anymore. I’m so frequently angry that I’m numb. I just feel annoyed. And I’m so frequently annoyed that I’m annoyed at being annoyed.

“People are too casual with me.” My friend continued furiously. “They need to know their place when they talk to me. Just because I’m nice and friendly doesn’t mean they can talk to me like that.”

This is one of the very few times I’ve seen a woman so confidently angry.

“I’m good at my job.” She continued. “I’ve proven to all the partners that I’m good, but somehow I still need to prove to my peers that the partners had a reason to believe I’m good.”

Isn’t it ironic? The only time women feel entitled to be angry, is when they know they’re uncontroversially “good.”


One thing I learned from college psychology classes is that emotions serve social functions. According to American Psychology Association, the emotion of anger typically develops as a response to “unwanted actions of another person who is perceived to be disrespectful, demanding, threatening or neglectful.” 

Anger does not exist in vacuum. We’re angry because there’s something wrong and the emotional response is a cry for being heard and being respected.


I went to middle school in a coastal city in China, relatively developed but of course, not escaping all the misogyny and biases. One day in history class, I was half falling asleep and the teacher asked a question. Nobody raised their hands, and the teacher asked again.

“Really?” I thought to myself in my half asleep state. “This seems to be such an easy question. Why won’t anybody answer?”

Still, no response.

I raised my hand, telling the class what I thought. 

“That’s exactly right!” The teacher said. “I’m very impressed that a girl was able to answer this question.”

At the time I didn’t feel angry at all. I felt proud. “Look at me! I’m better than all other girls, I may even be as good as boys.” 

I didn’t know better. I didn’t know I should be angry because I did not realize I should be respected as equals of men.

Coming back to my friend’s story. She’s one of the bravest and most bad-ass women I’ve ever met my entire life, and there was no way she was going to let it slide.

“You cannot assume that I didn’t think about this issue just because it’s complicated. Please don’t talk to me like that again.” She told the male colleague, plain and simple.

I don’t know what else they talked about, but hours later, she showed me a heartfelt message from him, apologizing, reflecting upon his own biases and thanking her for pointing it out.

Sometimes, emotion carries more weight than logic.

Maybe we should all be a little bit more angry.