Women and anger another double bind

by Jul 29, 2021

Women and anger

Women and anger is another double bind. When men get angry, they are perceived to be strong leaders  When women lose their tempers, they’re condemned as being aggressive or emotional and not able to hold it together.


In this week’s 3Plus newsletter, I write about why women need to get angry. The level of misogyny and discrimination seems to be increasing.  My focus was on some relatively minor incidents in the overall scheme of things, but significant nevertheless. Namely the sexualisation of women in sports and even the military. For those of you who may have missed the news, the Norwegian women’s beach hand ball players team was fined €1,500 for wearing shorts instead of bikini bottoms at the European Beach Handball Championships. The European Handball Federation (EHF) said it had imposed the fine because of a case of “improper clothing”.

Goldilocks dilemma

The Norwegian players wore shorts instead of bikini bottoms during a bronze medal match against Spain in Varna, Bulgaria. Norway’s Handball Federation (NHF) supports their players and are paying the fine on their behalf. The International Handball Federation’s rules and regulations require male athletes to wear tank tops & shorts. BUT female athletes must wear tops with a midriff design and bikini bottoms. This is obviously not for the benefit of the players or the sport, but the (male) sponsors and/or spectators.

We also saw images of the Ukrainian army training in a parade marching female soldiers in heels. In heels. Soldiers. Women know how effective running in heels is! It’s not. So how could these women protect themselves or others in a military situation?

Too little, too big. It’s time for women to decide what is “just right” for themselves.

But what happens when women are angry?

If your company needs Unconscious Bias Training  – contact 3Plus now

Gender push back at women’s anger

But women pushing back is not the same as when men do it! When men get angry, they are perceived to be strong leaders  When women lose their tempers, they’re condemned as being aggressive or emotional and not able to hold it together. If a man bruises your ego, you may feel you have to toughen up  If a woman does it, she’s a vengeful b*tch

#FlipItToTestIt If you wouldn’t say it about a man, don’t say it about a woman.

Research from Victoria L. Brescoll, Eric Luis Uhlmann in 2008 “Can an Angry Woman Get Ahead?: Status Conferral, Gender, and Expression of Emotion in the Workplace” looks at the gender biases embedded in our reactions to anger. Three studies examined the relationships between “anger, gender, and status conferral.” 


women and anger

Research on women and anger

The research process targeted men and women with a mean age of 39.97, with extensive workplace history. The participants were presented with a videotaped interview, where interviewee (Male-Female) expresses emotion (sadness/anger / no emotion) and either gives causation or not (internal-external). Participants were then asked to scale the workplace professional and give a suggested annual wage (continuous-measured scale)

  • Men who expressed anger in a professional context were conferred higher status than men who expressed sadness.
  • Both male and female evaluators conferred lower status on angry female professionals than on angry male professionals. This was the case regardless of the actual occupational rank of the target, such that both a female trainee and a female CEO were given lower status if they expressed anger than if they did not.
  • Women’s emotional reactions were attributed to internal characteristics   – the woman becomes the attribute (e.g., “she is an angry person,” “she is out of control”), men’s emotional reactions were attributed to external circumstances. Providing an external attribution for the target person’s anger eliminated the gender bias.

Gender Bias

There are so many biases here about the way women should behave and dress and how they are viewed when they step out of stereotype expectations. The rules around women and their clothing when they are doing their jobs whether as employees or athletes are much tighter. Whether this is around office attire, the wearing of headscarves or the type of athletic gear, we scrutinise  women and girls more closely than their male peers.

When women focus on their appearance they are distracted away from the issues that really matter – like the job in hand.  A study from 1998 (Frederickson et al) noted that preoccupation with appearance negatively impacts cognitive and physical performance.  So for women to achieve real parity with men, we need to release them from having to fret about their appearance. We have to abandon gendered rules about how women and men should dress while they’re doing their jobs.

When girls as young as four have to worry about wearing modesty shorts under their little skirts, we know still have a long way to go.

But the additional double bind is when we have had enough …. of anything.. we have to communicate that anger in a way that we are heard. How well is that working for us so far?



Do you lack the self-confidence to speak up when it matters most? Change that now – take a look at our Self Confidence Coaching Program

Dorothy Dalton Administrator
Dorothy Dalton is CEO of 3Plus International. A specialist in diversity and bias conscious executive search, she supports organizations to achieve business success via gender balance, diversity and inclusion. She is CIPD qualified, and a certified coach and trainer including digital learning.
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