angry woman

New study confirms that anger bolsters men’s authority while undermining women’s

I think most of us probably don’t need academic research to know there’s a double standard when it comes to how men’s and women’s expressions of anger are received. But a new study confirms it: anger tends to bolster men’s authority while undermining women’s. 

Pacific Standard reports:

Angry men are strong and forceful, while angry women are often dismissed as overly emotional. That double standard has been alleged for years now, with plenty of anecdotal evidence to back it up.

A newly published study featuring a mock jury not only supports that assertion: It takes it a step further, suggesting women’s anger may actually be counterproductive. It finds that, while men who express anger are more likely to influence their peers, the opposite is true for women.

“Our results lend scientific support to a frequent claim voiced by women, sometimes dismissed as paranoia,” conclude psychologists Jessica Salerno of Arizona State University and Liana Peter-Hagene of the University of Illinois–Chicago. They suggest the belief “that people would have listened to her impassioned argument, had she been a man” is, in many cases, valid.

The study engaged undergrads in a mock trial, in which participants initially gave their own verdict and then heard scripted messages they believed were from fellow “jurors” about whether they were voting to convict or not — four of whom agreed with the participant’s own verdict and one who disagreed. The holdout who disagreed made their case in a tone that was either angry, fearful, or emotionally neutral and had either a male or female name.

Overall, the participants became more confident in their own opinion after learning they were in the majority, and the holdouts didn’t influence them at all when they expressed no emotion or fear. “Participants’ confidence in their own verdict dropped significantly, however, after male holdouts expressed anger,” the researchers write. “Yet, anger expression undermined female holdouts: Participants became significantly more confident in their original verdicts after female holdouts expressed anger—even though they were expressing the exact same opinion and emotion as the male holdouts.”

This is, obviously, a pretty huge problem, not least of all since injustice tends to make people angry. Caught in this sexist trap, the very oppression that gives women (and other marginalized people) very good reason to be angry also undermines our ability to be heard — and persuasive — when we speak about it. I’m pretty fucking pissed about that.

Header image via

St. Paul, MN

Maya Dusenbery is executive director in charge of editorial at Feministing. She is the author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm: The Truth About How Bad Medicine and Lazy Science Leave Women Dismissed, Misdiagnosed, and Sick (HarperOne, March 2018). She has been a fellow at Mother Jones magazine and a columnist at Pacific Standard magazine. Her work has appeared in publications like,, Bitch Magazine, as well as the anthology The Feminist Utopia Project. Before become a full-time journalist, she worked at the National Institute for Reproductive Health. A Minnesota native, she received her B.A. from Carleton College in 2008. After living in Brooklyn, Oakland, and Atlanta, she is currently based in the Twin Cities.

Maya Dusenbery is an executive director of Feministing and author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm on sexism in medicine.

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