Thursday, 6 October 2016

You’re sexy when you’re angry

Are you looking sad? It’s probably your inner angst. It can’t possibly be that something bad just happened to you. Unless you're a man of course...

Some new research has shown that people interpret men and women’s facial expressions differently. We are more likely to see a man’s facial expression as his response to a situation, whilst we see women as being emotional.

A study, published in the journal, Emotion, showed photos of male and female faces with different facial expressions to people, and asked them why each face looked as it did, and whether the person was being emotional or just responding to a situation. It found that people were more likely to say that the women in the photos were being emotional and the men were responding to a situation.

Writing about Hillary Clinton's 'angry face' in the New York Times, Lisa Feldman Barrett, Psychology Professor at Northeastern University explained: 
“We found that our subjects were more likely to choose emotion for the photos of women — that is, they believed a woman’s expression was more likely caused by something internal to her — whereas for the photos of men, they were more likely to choose a situation.”

Hillary Clinton looking a bit stern. 
US Embassy via Flickr Creative Commons.

To summarise: 

☹ + ♂ = Something sad happened
☹ + ♀ = Life is wonderful and yet she looks strangely morose, probably due to her inner fragility, the phases of the moon or the fact that she possesses a vagina.

"Cheer up love, it might never happen"

These are words that every young woman has heard at least once in her life. Probably when she was in the middle of something serious. 

Someone once said those words to me, when I was working as a newspaper reporter. The local coroner’s office had decided to tackle the backlog of inquests by holding 12 in one day. I was the lucky reporter who drew the short straw to go and cover them all. So when I was told to cheer up, I’d just spent a day sitting in a room hearing about people dying, and surrounded by their grieving relatives. If I’d danced into the office whistling Bring Me Sunshine after sitting through 12 inquests, wouldn’t that suggest a bit of an empathy bypass? Sometimes it’s right to feel a bit miserable - it’s an appropriate response to the events we experience.

It isn’t just men who interpret emotions in this way. The study showed that we all jump to similar conclusions in the way we interpret male and female expressions. Maybe it is a natural instinct for us to do this. 

History shows a legacy of women being treated as overwrought, hysterical creatures. But in the 21st century, when women are competing for and winning some of the biggest jobs in the world (Clinton, Merkel, May), we need to retrain ourselves to take women more seriously, and not just assume that they (and we) are victims of uncontrollable female emotion.

The alternative is too awful to contemplate - do we really want our world leaders grinning like idiots as they make world-changing decisions that affect people lives?