How long has it been since you've been angry? Not "irritated" or "annoyed" or even "frustrated" or "disappointed" -- especially not "disappointed" -- but purely, justifiably, outwardly, downright furious?
If you're like most of us, you can't remember the last time. We women, most of us, still will do almost anything to avoid our own anger.
"What do I do when I'm angry? I have no idea. I don't get angry, I guess -- except at myself, of course," said an acquaintance last week, when I mentioned the "A" word.
And an advertising executive who's suffered for years from undiagnosed stomachaches and intestinal upsets answered a .question about her own anger with: "Anger? My anger? Oh, I don't get angry. What's the point?
"If I start to get angry, I just swallow it, I guess, or cry," she added, "just like my mother. Just like every other woman I know."
The messages we received about anger were (are) clear -- whether we're 25 or 65 years old today. Little girls should be sweet and little girls should be nice. Still, it's OK for little girls to be sad and scared, too -- to need lots and lots of rescuing.
But it was (and is) definitely, emphatically not all right for us to be purely and completely furious. It's not surprising that most of us still don't know how to handle our own anger.
"I'm not sure what I'd do if I ever got really mad -- especially at work. Maybe I'd yell and call people names and make a complete fool of myself. Maybe I'd burst into tears -- even worse," said a calm, loving, not-at-all-crazy friend of mine not long ago.
A lot of the people with whom we work and live don't know how to handle our anger, either, which further complicates the problems we have expressing anger.
Said a pharmaceutical saleswoman during a recent flight from Washington, to Newark, N.J., "If I ever raised my voice the way the men in my office do, I don't know what they'd do! They'd probably treat me like a kid having a tantrum, or label me forever a 'hysterical' female. I'd lose all my credibility, I know that.
"So I don't get angry. Ever. There's just no profit in it," she added, chug-a-lugging her third drink on this short flight.
And a friend who's the editor of a large daily newspaper said, "The only thing worse than being treated like a kid having a tantrum, if you're a woman and dare to get angry, is having everyone tiptoe around you for weeks afterward.
"I finally expressed my exasperation over a chronic problem in our newsroom," she added, "and six months later, the men I work with still act as if they think I might just 'go nuts' again at any moment and bite their heads off."
The double standard is alive and well: If a man gets angry, he's being forceful. But if a woman gets angry, she's being hysterical.
No wonder we so often turn our angry feelings into (safer) feelings of fear and sadness! No wonder we so often inconveniently burst into tears when we're angry.
We pay a terrible price for taking care of others by turning our anger into sadness, guilt, depression and anxiety -- pay with ulcers, hypertension, psychosomatic illnesses of all kinds, eating disorders, substance addiction and other forms of self-destructive behavior.
So the time has come for us to stop killing ourselves and learn to express our normal, human, valid -- and often important -- anger instead. Next time, we'll look at specific ways to do this safely.
Questions and comments for Niki Scott should be addressed Working Woman, Features Department, The Sun, Baltimore 21278.