Labeling Women As ‘Emotional’ Undermines Their Credibility, New Study Shows
New research finds that labeling a woman as “emotional” or telling her to “calm down” makes her point of view seem less credible. From Kamala Harris to Oprah Winfrey, the “emotional” label is often thrown on women in politics, entertainment, business and any realm where women are trying to be heard.
Generally, we tend to think that people are either rational or emotional, but they can’t be both. When a woman’s arguments are attributed to her emotions, it suggests she’s not thinking clearly or rationally. As a result, the legitimacy of her arguments weakens.
This link between the “emotional” label and the legitimacy of a woman’s arguments was established in recent studies published in the Psychology of Women Quarterly. Study participants read a dialogue between two people disagreeing. During the conflict, a woman or a man was told to “calm down.” When a woman was instructed to “calm down,” the participants rated her argument in the disagreement as significantly less legitimate. In a similar study, where the woman was labeled “emotional,” the researchers obtained the same results. In both situations, the woman’s credibility takes a hit.
Interestingly, men’s legitimacy doesn’t take a hit when they’re labeled “emotional” or told to “calm down.” That’s because people don’t believe the “emotional” label when it’s applied to men. The researchers write that participants “believed the emotional evaluation when it was directed toward women, but did not believe it when directed toward men. Specifically, when both women and men were called emotional in identical circumstances, women characters (in the disagreement) were perceived as more emotional than the men characters.”
Women often complain about being told to “calm down” or express less emotion at work. Oprah Winfrey told The Hollywood Reporter that she was criticized at 60 Minutes for expressing too much emotion, even in how she said her name. “Never a good thing when I have to practice saying my name and have to be told that I have too much emotion in my name,” Winfrey said. “I think I did seven takes on just my name because it was ‘too emotional.’ I go, ‘Is the too much emotion in the “Oprah” part or the “Winfrey” part?’,” she explained. She also said she was told to flatten out her voice and show less emotion in reads for the news television program.