Stereotyping women as the more emotional gender has been in practice since long. Popular culture has depicted women as more dramatic than men, and aren’t as capable as leaders and professionals. Women are seen as emotionally volatile, who experience sadness, anger, jealousy, or despair more frequently than their male counterparts. How accurate is this assertion about women’s emotional state psychologically, culturally and scientifically?
If we logically start thinking about this gender based cultural stereotype, a number of questions appear immediately.
- What does it mean being emotional?
- Is being emotional mean emotionally expressive?
- Do women have more emotions in compare to men?
- Do women and men express emotions differently?
- What kind of emotional expression are measured in order to become emotional? Because emotions are categorized as positive and negative and each of them is consists of dozens of emotions.
- Do women express every kind of emotions or is it just a certain kind of emotions and thus get labeled as emotional?
- And ultimately, can we generalize being emotional based on gender?
The popular culture has labeled women emotional because they have perceived the hormones in female body partake in making women more emotional than men. Women can’t be a leader and work under pressure because their hormones make them feel vulnerable in a strict and professional work ambience. But isn’t it true for everyone irrespective of gender? If the workplace belittles you or makes you feel suffocated or unworthy, everyone irrespective of gender would feel pressured and vulnerable. Then why generalizing women?
It would be practical to say that women are more emotionally expressive than men. Men tend to be better at compartmentalizing their emotions, because from an early age they have been taught not to show their emotions. Women tend to express their emotions more openly than men, because it has been socially acceptable.
Since women tend to experience and express emotions more intensely and more frequently, common people as well as psychologists alike believe women are more emotional than men. In fact, researches confirm, these stereotypes regarding women’s emotional stability are widely held. Women are labeled as the more emotional gender because people see women displaying their emotions more than men (Plant et al., 2000).
As per studies, men tend to use emotional expression suppression when it comes to show their expression, that is, they ‘hold it in’, while women acquire the coping skills like verbalizing their emotions, and seeking support from others (Tamres et al., 2002). The idea that emotional responses differ based on gender is almost irresistible. There are several books and magazines keep stating this thesis (Grey, 1992).
To measure the differences in the frequency with which men and women experience emotions, there are different tests that have been developed. One such test is, Test for Emotional Styles (Allen and Hamsher, 1974: Allen and Haccoun, 1976), where the results have demonstrated that women and men experience sadness and fear with different frequency but not anger and joy. Another test named Izard’s Differential Emotion Scale, which measures emotion salience, is a combinational score on frequency, duration, and intensity. Interestingly, women scored higher on shame, surprise, guilt, and sadness, whereas men score higher on contempt (Stapley and Haviland, 1989). There were no differences in anger, joy, fear and disgust.
Emotionality does not account for the social and cultural context of emotion; it is also based on individual’s personal characteristics, relationality and ideological notions like irrationality or instability. The general claim that women have greater emotionality, and which seems to be an integral part of psychological and feminist discourses on gender, should be questioned seriously.
Studies reported that the differences in emotional experiences of men and women are likely to be grounded in social and related cognitive factors.
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There are certain gender stereotypes and gender role expectations that both the genders feel the need to oblige in order to blend in society, especially when it comes to empathy and emotionality. The common belief that women are wired to be more emotional than men, is actually a product of society’s observation. Women’s emotionality is measured by the outwardly expression rather than the internal intensity of the emotions. It is not true that women experience a wider range of emotions which is entirely different from that of men.
Since men are taught not to show their emotions as displaying of emotions is a sign of weakness, men tend to hide their feelings and emotions more often than women. It is a regressive idea of society for masculinity. Being empathetic and showing emotions are considered too feminine. Men are discouraged to be vulnerable, and be more in control and competent. Lacking emotional control is equals to femininity, and men aren’t allowed to express sadness, grief, or loss, and it is unmanly to cry or even let out a whimper.
Whereas women are raised to believe that since men are main and, in many cases, only provider for the family needs, it’s her job to put his needs before her own. So, when it comes down to domestic violence, it’s women’s duty to accept his every demand. Women are taught to be more understanding and forgiving in the name of being empathetic towards men despite the violence and traumatic situations she has to put up with. Women has been taught to become more tolerant and compromise in order to appear as a strong woman.
Being empathetic is the ability to understand other’s emotion without them being expressive. Women are taught to read others’ emotions so that they could deal with different person differently by understanding their perspectives.
Cultural portrayal and acceptance of these feminine characteristics has made women appear more emotional than men.
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Brain’s limbic system is responsible for behavioral and emotional responses. This limbic system comprises Hypothalamus, Hippocampus, Amygdala, and Limbic cortex. In the study on Gender Differences in Human Brain, it has been observed that the limbic cortex which is responsible for regulating emotions, are larger in women. But the amygdala, which regulates sexual and social behavior, is larger in men.
Another recent study on male and female brain has revealed there are very few differences how both the genders’ brains react to emotions. The study by Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science neuroscientists has found that men and women’s brain differ in sizes but not due to sex or gender. Dr. Eliot said relating the study, that men and women’s brains has size differences only in terms of physicality, not sex or gender. Sex differences in the brain, regardless of gender, are tiny and inconsistent. He further said, the size of the amygdala, which is an olive-sized part of the temporal lobe of the brain, and is important for social-emotional behaviors, is only 1% larger in men. According to Dr. Eliot, sex differences are sexy, but there is no such thing as ‘male brain’ and ‘female brain’. The brain reacts differently, based on how we treat boys and girls, men and women.
The term ‘emotionality’ itself tempts people to think in terms of sexual differences. The cultural stereotypes regarding emotional and emotionality actually are the way society depicts the sexual differences. Emotions are multi-faceted phenomena and its relationship with both the genders is complicated. Therefore, it is both practically and theoretically unjustified to say women have more emotions than men and vice versa. Women express some emotions like sadness, fear, shame or guilt more frequently and less reluctantly than men.
According to society standards, since these emotions imply states of powerlessness and vulnerability, they are regarded as non-masculine and more feminine. This might be the real reason there are more sex-differences in the self-reports than in studies using direct measures. Since men often suppresses certain kinds of emotions which do not identify with masculinity, the cultural differences regarding emotionality rises along with it. If a woman feel fear in a certain situation, the same situation would be labeled as nerve-wracking by a man.
In actuality, the concept of ‘more emotional’ gender is based on the gender specific rules, regulations, and expectation rather than the frequency, intensity and contents. Since cultural system measures ‘emotionality’ in terms of expressiveness, women are labeled as the more emotional gender. Bottom line is, gender stereotyping on emotionality is largely unjustified, unnecessary and nonfundamental.
1. Sex Differences in Emotionality: Fact or Stereotype? Fischer, A H
2. Are Women the “More Emotional” Sex? Barrett, L F et al.