If you’re a woman, the odds are that you’ve heard the word “emotional” thrown out to describe your behavior too many times to count. Other common descriptors people have used for you may include “irrational,” “overdramatic,” and “sensitive.”
Yet, a man who responds similarly is often said to have presented a “good take” or “welcome input.” Each of these labels perpetuates the lasting stereotype that men are level-headed and women are unruly, emotional beings incapable of restraint.
A recent study from Scientific Reports looks at sex and ovarian hormones' influences on volatility, emotional inertia, and cyclicity. For 75 days, the team followed 142 men and women to observe their regular emotions. One group of the women were naturally cycling, while the other three groups of women took oral contraceptives.
At the study’s end, researchers found that male participants’ emotions fluctuated as much as women's did. In addition, women taking oral contraceptives didn’t have significantly different changes in their emotional range than the women naturally cycling.
These results represent a significant departure from how expressions are typically viewed between different genders. “Traditional and rigid gender roles grounded in our patriarchal society depict men as ‘unemotional' and women as ‘emotional.’ Because the patriarchy portrays men as superior over women, stereotypical traits associated with women and femininity are devalued, discredited, and delegitimized,” says Dr. Catherine McKinley, an associate professor for the Tulane University School of Social Work.
“Portraying women and men as inherently falling along stereotypical gender roles as ‘natural’ or ‘innate’ perpetuates incorrect gender role myths, stereotypes, and sexism.”
McKinley calls the notion that women are more emotional “just plain false,” adding that “every human always has emotions, whether they identify them or not.”
The Negative Impact of Emotion-Centered Stereotypes
The notion that certain people are more emotional than others causes serious harm to everybody. “No person truly fits in these boxes. All people have emotion and need connection," says Liz Coleclough, PhD, LICSW, a social worker specializing in trauma therapy. “They may present, behave, or identify in a variety of ways outside of their stereotype assigned at birth. However, characteristics and behaviors that land beyond these gendered expectations can bring rejection, exclusion, even danger.”
When someone attempts to mold themselves into the appearance of fitting into one of these boxes, it limits their ability to grow and express themselves. According to Coleclough, this can cause women to have limited access to power and opportunities and men to stifle the healthy expression of their feelings and minimize deep connections.
For everyone except cisgender men, the impact is felt further by the overarching patriarchal societies across the world which devalue them.
Due to these supposed preconceived ideas that reasons such as hormones heighten women’s emotions, they have often been left out of research in the past. This study demonstrates that there was no justification for doing so; a result that may lead to more inclusive studies in the future.1
What This Means For You
It's common to feel a desire to fit into the mold stereotypes provide to your gender, but all they do is limit you fully expressing yourself and your full range of emotions in a healthy manner. Be honest about how you feel, and never hesitate to ask for help if you need it.
By Sarah Fielding