Gender differences in emotionality and how they affect heterosexual relationships

Every so often, we hear or use, to some extent, the phrase “women are so emotional”and it has become so engraved in our minds that we do not even question it. This phrase however, is not as objective as we have made it to be overtime. Rather, differences of emotionality between genders has a lot more to do with gender roles and expectations than the reality of emotional experience. Emotionality involves the concepts of emotional experience, emotional expression, as well as perception of emotions, all of which are intertwined with social norms and stereotypes (Bosson, Vandello, & Buckner). Consequently, men and women express emotions within the context of what is acceptable and expected of their gender. Among other consequences, gender-based differences in emotionality have an effect on heterosexual relationships, especially when it comes to communication of emotions.

The question of which gender is more emotional than the other is the wrong question to ask because there is a difference between emotional experience and emotional expression. This is relevant because there could be a gender-based difference in one of those aspects of emotionality but not necessarily in the other. As a result, researchers have looked into both aspects of emotionality within the context gender to try and understand what the differences are, if any, and what brings about those differences. However, even with these distinctions, the topic of emotionality and gender remains tricky to study because emotions are subjective and researchers depend on self-reporting from participants (Bosson, Vandello, & Buckner). Self- reporting may be biased or construed by the very gender norms and stereotypes that the researchers are trying to tease apart, because participants may partake in self-fulfilling prophecy. Therefore, there are two different answers to the question of whether women are more emotional than men, both of which are supported by research.

Numerous results from research have shown than women are indeed more emotional than men. According to their self-reports, girls and women experience affiliative emotions (such as love and affections) as well as vulnerable and self-conscious emotions (such as fear, sadness, and anxiety) at a higher frequency and greater intensity (Brebner, 2003). This is further supported by observational studies, which reveal that girls cry more than boys starting at the age of two and this trend continues onto adulthood (Vingerhoets & Scheirs, 2000). While this is good evidence however, it is based on self-reports, which could be skewed by the fact that maybe one gender is better at perceiving and reporting emotions than the other. The observations for crying are also limited because tears are only an expression of emotion, which is different from emotional experience. People can experience the same emotions but express them differently, and this is the basis for the counter argument that women are not more emotional.

Women have more experience with emotions due to the fact that it is more socially acceptable for them to express emotions, which could be why they are thought to be more emotional (Brody, 1999, 2000). According to social norms, the idea of masculinity generally embraces emotional inexpressiveness, which affects how boys and men deal with emotions. Men are expected to be strong and courageous, traits that are not often associated with emotional expression. The word emotion itself is more associated with femininity. Display rules is the term that defines how cultural norms determine the time and manner of emotional expression among different groups of people (Bosson, Vandello, & Buckner). As a result, the difference in emotionality between women and men could be more related to double standards on emotional expression rather than emotional experience. Furthermore, since men are socially perceived as less or not emotional, people often fail to recognize certain emotional expressions in men as emotionality (Shields, 2002). Also, since we generally believe that women are more emotional, we are likely to be biased and see” more evidence than there is.

Gender-based differences in emotional experience and expression, whether factual or socially constructed, play a key role in heterosexual relationships. Studies have shown that women in heterosexual dating relationships communicate emotion more than men especially when having difficult conversations (Vogel, Wester, Heesacker, & Madon, 2003). This raises an issue because women are likely to feel unheard by their partners since emotions are not communicated equally. Also, given that men are mostly encouraged and taught to suppress their emotions, they lack the skills to effectively communicate about emotions to their partners. Even if they wanted to, men may restrain from communicating their emotions to their partners for fear of being emasculated.

In a study done on 197 couples, women believed that they were more emotional than men, but men believed that women were only more emotional in the case of negative emotions but not when it comes to positive emotions (Sprecher & Sedikides, 1993). This finding is interesting because negative emotions (such as anxiety, shame and sadness) are associated with vulnerability. On the other hand, masculinity and vulnerability do not go hand in hand for the most part. Therefore, the fact that men reported more expression of negative emotions in women might be related to how men have difficulty with being vulnerable and instead expect vulnerability more from women. This affects how the man and woman in the relationship relate to each other because the woman is more likely to open up and be vulnerable while the man is less likely to do that.

Numerous studies have shown, by measure of physical reactions such as heart rate, that men experience emotions just as much as women. Therefore, the difference in emotionality can be highly attributed to gendered social norms and double standards related to emotional expression. This raises a problem of emotional suppression in men, as well as being misunderstood, which could lead to a multitude of problems involving difficulty in forming healthy relationships with effective emotional communication. Nonetheless, if the pressure of inexpressiveness, as it relates to masculinity, was relieved, it is possible that men can better embrace emotionality and express emotions better. For instance, results from the Sprecher and Sedikides (1993) study also show that women reported being more emotionally expressive in dating relationships but not in marital relationships. This result can be viewed positively by inferring that when men are comfortable and given the space, they can express emotions just as well as women. At the end of the day, society has a responsibility to redefine masculinity and challenge the common way of thinking about and perceiving emotionality from each gender.


References

Bosson, J. K., Vandello, J. A., & Buckner, C. E. (2019). The psychology of sex and gender. Thousand Oaks, California: SAGE Publishing.

Brebner, J. (2003). Gender and emotions. Personality and individual differences, 34(3), 387-394. doi:10.1016/S0191886902000594

Brody, L. (1999). Gender, emotion, and the family. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press

Shields, A. S. (2002). Speaking from the heart: Gender and the social meaning of emotion. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Sprecher, S., & Sedikides, C. (1993). Gender differences in perceptions of emotionality: The case of close heterosexual relationships. Sex Roles: A Journal of Research, 28(9-10), 511-530. doi: 10.1007/BF00289678

Vingerhoets, A., & Scheirs, J. (2000). Sex differences in crying: Empirical findings and possible explanations. In A. H. Fischer (Ed.), Studies in emotion and social interaction. Second series. Gender and emotion: Social psychological perspectives (pp. 143-165). New York, NY, US: Cambridge University Press.

Vogel, D. L., Wester, S. R., Heesacker, & M., Madon, S. (2003). Confirming gender stereotypes: A

social role perspective. Sex roles: A journal of Research, 34(11-12), 519-528. doi:10.1023/A:10235752