Lilian Min
October 08, 2015 7:40 am

Raise your hand if you’ve ever heard a variation on this theme, whether directed at you or a woman you know: It’s not ladylike to raise your voice. Maybe it came off in the form of “You’re so loud for a girl”; maybe it’s more like “I wasn’t expecting a girl like you to have a voice like that”; maybe it’s a blunt “Why are you so loud?”. Meanwhile, our male counterparts get no pushback for the elevated volume of their voices. If anything, their raised voices are generally respected and taken seriously, without question.

There’s a double standard at play here, and we’ve finally got some scientific evidence to back it up: A new study shows not just that angry women are taken less seriously than angry men, but that people actively become hostile to women’s anger.

A recent study in academic journal Law and Human Behavior created a mock scenario whose set-up is best explained as similar to the one in the film 12 Angry Men. (Not coincidentally, the study is named “One Angry Woman.”) In the study, researchers Jessica Salerno and Liana Peter-Hagane created a mock jury situation for a real murder case. Study participants were subjected to a series of (unknowingly) scripted opinions, especially regarding one dissenter (Juror Number 8) holding up the rest of the jury’s deliberation. The participants engaged in “discussions” with these scripted opinions, and while four fake jurors had gender neutral names, the dissenting juror was given a gendered name.

As the “deliberation” went on, the dissenting juror was given more “angry” comments, and what followed next is both unsurprising and frustrating. The researchers write, “Participants became more confident in their own opinion after learning they were in the majority. But (they) then started doubting their own opinion significantly after the male holdout expressed anger . . . when a female holdout expressed anger, participants became significantly more confident in their own opinion over the course of deliberation.”

In other words, they respected the male juror’s anger enough to reconsider their own opinions, while they rejected the same exact anger expressed by the female juror.

The most unsettling part of the study might be that even if the study participant was female, that wouldn’t cancel out her sexist interpretation of female anger. Everyone doubted themselves in the face of an angry man; everyone reinforced their own opinions in the face of an angry woman. Juror Number 8 could’ve only ever been male.

Pacific Standard points out that a study in 2008 also reached the same conclusion, in which men gained “status” as they expressed anger, while women lost it when they did the same thing. It’s a dynamic that’s often replicated in arguments both IRL and online — sure, not every male social media troll or family member “wins” their argument, but there’s small comfort in knowing that by virtue of being female, your voice will literally be silenced and then dismissed.

Whatever the pushback against being an outspoken, confident woman, it’s crucial for women and members of other marginalized communities to continue expressing outrage and raising their voices when necessary, and for people to check their unconscious biases when they encounter them. It shouldn’t take a man’s voice, or even just “his” name, to make an opinion valid; it shouldn’t take a woman’s silence, complacency, or “polite” kindness to effect any change at all.

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(Image via Faces International)

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