This piece from Working the Doors begins with a straightforward question “which is the angriest sex, men or women?” But the question of male vs. female anger is not so easy to answer.
As you mentally sift through the catalogue of your life’s experiences, you’re probably recalling more overt aggression from men, perhaps even instances of physical violence. However, these are actions taken as a result of anger, not the emotion itself.
Here’s another question, “What, in your experience, do women do when they get angry? How does it differ from what men do?”
Your answers may vary slightly, depending on your own identity, cultural background, and upbringing. However, it seems likely enough that, whatever your answer, you will agree that women and men display their anger in vastly different ways – and that society responds to both differently.
The science behind male vs. female anger
Firstly, we’ll begin by answering the original question scientifically.
Men and women experience anger almost identically to one another. Research has found that women experience anger with the same frequency and intensity as men.
On paper, then, there is no “angrier sex.” But, did you give a different answer?
Here’s what we know: the brain’s anger mechanism is processed by the amygdala. While this section of the brain is roughly the same size in men and women, a second area of the brain, the orbital frontal cortex, which works to control aggressive impulses, is far larger in women.
This means that women are biologically better able to control their angry outbursts, even though they experience exactly the same sensations of anger as men. All of which actually asks more questions than it answers.
It does help to explain why women are less physically aggressive on average, but it does not explain how they process and act on those feelings.
Then there’s the thorny issue of society.
Society’s responses to male vs. female anger
Society judges an angry man and an angry woman very differently. This has been proven scientifically many times over, although it is just as well known to anybody who actually lives in society.
According to various studies, society views an angry man as dominant and purposed, at times, even admirable. Angry women, on the other hand, are often dismissed as difficult, overly emotional and unable to cope with their problems.
One study, carried out by Arizona State University and the University of Illinois at Chicago, created a computerized chat-room jury program for 210 undergraduate students. Using evidence from a real-life murder trial, the participants were each informed that they would be put into groups of six and asked to ascertain the person’s guilt.
Before they began, each participant was asked to view the evidence and decide whether or not the “defendant” was guilty. In reality, the “juries” were putting out pre-programmed responses based on the participant’s initial verdict. They were, in effect, interacting with a pre-approved script.
As the debates raged, a holdout juror would repeatedly take the opposing view to that of the participant. There were two versions of this juror; one a man named Jason and one a woman named Alicia.
Both of these holdout jurors used the exact same script and made identical arguments in an identical way. As was scripted, one of the virtual ‘jurors’ would break away from the rest and side with the holdout.
After a unanimous decision was reached, participants were asked for their final verdicts and required to complete a survey about the other jurors, with particular emphasis on how credible or persuasive they were.
The results were damning. Jason, the holdout, was seen as powerful and persuasive. He caused participants to sincerely doubt, and in some cases actually change, their own opinions. However, when faced with Alicia the holdout, participants became surer of their verdict and found their own position reinforced by opposition to hers, even though their arguments and techniques were exactly the same.
All too often, Western culture constructs the feminine as being placid, non-aggressive and ultimately harmless. Often women are portrayed in the media as “damsels in distress,” or the lone voice of reason in an anger-driven scenario.
And the angry feminist stereotype continues to rage on too.
Young girls are routinely taught to deny their feelings of anger, just as boys are often denied most other emotions except anger.
Perhaps it is time we step back and allow ourselves the privilege of seeing these culturally constructed genders for what they truly are. If we could, would it stop us from sanctioning and forgiving a man’s anger as “normal” while denying a woman’s altogether?
So, who is the angrier sex? After reading this discussion of male vs. female anger, there’s a good chance you’ll have changed your mind.
This post is part of a larger guide from the Working the Doors about anger management techniques.