New research published in the Psychological Review, corroborates a body of evidence that we see angry men and women very differently. Men expressing anger in the workplace are given higher status and seen more positively than men who express sadness. One guess who gets penalised for being angry? That’s right, it’s professional women.
Interestingly, people are also likely to attribute his anger to external circumstances, like others being obstinate or him being in a difficult situation. On the other hand we see women who show anger much more negatively, plus we attribute her anger to internal factors such as: “She’s just a bitter person” or “She’s out of control”. This view was taken whether the woman in question had high or low seniority at work, and I think partially explains why women are not as frequently seen as ‘leadership’ material.
This issue was highlighted during Hilary Clinton’s run for the presidency, when the Chair of the Republican National Committee chastised her as being ‘too angry’ to be a viable presidential candidate. As Dowd responded in an article entitled “Who’s Hormonal: Hillary or Dick?” in the New York Times: They are casting Hillary Clinton as an Angry Woman, a she- monster melding images of Medea, the Furies, harpies . . . . This gambit handcuffs Hillary: If she doesn’t speak out strongly against President Bush, she’s timid and girlie. If she does, she’s a witch and a shrew.
The same has happened more recently against Michelle Bachmann, a Republican presidential candidate when Newsweek magazine ran a wide-eyed cover shot of her with the title “Queen of Rage.”
Anger, like sadness, pride and happiness are all normal feelings in the modern workplace – but we limit the range of emotions a woman can display before penalising her. Whereby we actually reward men who show anger, when it comes to women we assume she is not competent to handle challenging workplace situations, therefore limiting her progression. Women who showed anger were consistently given lower status and lower wages than unemotional women and angry men.
I also think it’s a pretty poor indictment that we reward angry men above sad men, again limiting to a certain degree what characteristics we ascribe ‘successful’ men. One way around being labelled an angry woman, is to point out how any anger is situational and external, such as a difficult boss, being kept out of the loop, a period of organisational change.
The research indicated that if women breadwinners can show their reaction is due to these external factors, in the same way we assume them to be for men, the prejudice against her completely disappears – indeed doing this for another woman you see unfairly labelled is a great act for the sisterhood, and helps people reshape their assumptions about angry, working women.