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The Rocky Road from Experience to Expression of Emotions—Women’s Anger About Sexism

Sasse, van Breen, Spears & Gordijn demonstrated an anger gap in response to sexism which was larger for women than for men and found evidence that expressed anger was associated with instrumental concerns.

Julia Sasse, Jolien A. van Breen, Russell Spears & Ernestine H. Gordijn
24 November 2021
The Rocky Road from Experience to Expression of Emotions—Women’s Anger About Sexism

Sasse, van Breen, Spears & Gordijn investigated women’s anger expression in response to sexism. In three studies (Ns = 103, 317, and 241), they tested the predictions that women express less anger about sexism than they experience—the anger gap—and that the anger expressed by women is associated with instrumental concerns, specifically perceived costs and benefits of confronting sexism. To estimate the specificity of the proposed gap, they compared women’s anger reactions to men’s anger reactions as well as anger reactions to sadness reactions. Across studies, Sasse, van Breen, Spears & Gordijn found support for the anger gap, that is, lower anger expression than experience, and the gap was more pronounced for women than for men (Study 3). Surprisingly, a gap also occurred in sadness reactions. Regarding instrumental concerns, there was converging evidence that expressed anger was negatively associated with individual costs. Sasse, van Breen, Spears & Gordijn also investigated whether anger expression can be encouraged through women’s identification with feminists (Studies 1 and 2) and support by other women (Study 2); yet, they found no evidence. They conclude that, to understand women’s—and men’s—reactions to sexism, it is critical not to mistake their emotion expression for how they really feel, but instead to also consider strategic concerns.

Exposure to sexism gives rise to a range of emotions, but people might not always be able to express those freely, for various reasons. Anger, in particular, can be both effective and restricted: It may provide an emotional base to mobilize action (van Zomeren et al., 2012), and it can signal objection and stimulate conciliatory tendencies from those discriminating (de Vos et al., 2013). At the same time, when women express anger, they often experience a backlash (Rudman & Glick, 1999), as they violate gender prescriptions (Fischer & Evers, 2010). If women make a trade-off between potential benefits and costs, they may refrain from (fully) expressing the anger they experience in response to sexism—resulting in an anger gap. To date, Sasse, van Breen, Spears & Gordijn know little about how these concerns come together. In this paper, they investigated the anger gap and scrutinized instrumental concerns in anger expression in response to sexism.

Read the research article here

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