Thursday, May 10, 2018

Is Anger An Emotion in Politics? The Answer Is Gendered.

In late April I read that the White House Chief of Staff John Kelly had called women more emotional than men:

The report also includes accusations that Kelly made comments that belittled female staffers, saying women are more emotional than men and bristling in private about the accusations made against Rob Porter, the former White House staff secretary who was forced out after his ex-wives accused him of domestic violence.


But the Trump administration isn’t exactly denying the accusations of sexism. The unnamed White House officials who pushed back on the report said Kelly is a “gentleman” who won’t let men curse when “a lady is present,” and one spokesperson broadly defended the idea that women are more emotional than men (without confirming that the chief of staff said it).
I have written about that old saw many times before*.  It has been one of the handiest little tools history has used to keep women in their place.

It's usually presented in a slightly different package which says that women are more emotional and men more rational.  In that version emotions and rationality are assumed to be mutually exclusive, and if women, indeed, are more emotional then women must be less rational and should not have any important decision-making positions.   

Such as being responsible for the care of infants and small children, I guess.

But I digress.  One reason why the particular belief will not die is that certain emotions are not seen as emotions.  Anger is one of them, but only if expressed by men**.  Thus, this example, from the US House, is not viewed as an example of irrational emotional outbursts:

Two lawmakers on Tuesday evening erupted into a shouting match on the House floor over Speaker Paul Ryan’s firing — and then reinstatement — of the House chaplain, reigniting a contentious religious fight the Wisconsin Republican hoped would fade.
No. 4 House Democrat Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.), who is Catholic, and Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-N.J.) got up in each other’s faces on the House floor and squabbled over the merits of a special investigation into the dismissal. The exchange was so heated that some lawmakers and aides watching worried they’d come to blows, though Crowley’s office said that was never going to happen.

I'm having fun with this post, because the current US president is obviously the most rational and least emotional of all presidents this country has had!  Just consider his decision to scrap the Iranian nuclear agreement.

Most people are not denying that Trump is both emotional and irrational; it's just that this has no effect on our general gendered beliefs about rationality and emotions.  The male examples of emotional behavior do not "stick" to create stereotype changes.

This is a good recent Twitter thread on the topic.  The most salient point for me is that those emotions which are coded female are seen as a weakness while those emotions coded as male are seen as strength.  But this has zero to do with rationality, and being callous is not exactly a desirable characteristic in leaders.

** Anger in women is certainly regarded an emotion and frequently an irrational one.  Just think of the stereotype of "an angry black woman."