American culture assumes a great difference in the way men and women experience emotions. Women are assumed to be far more emotional than men, both in experiencing the emotions internally, as well as expressing them to the outside world. While the genders may differ in how they express their emotions, men and women do not inherently differ in the frequency of emotionality. Men are not emotionless, and women do not overcompensate for men's lack of emotion.
The roots of our ideas about gender and emotion date far back. According to Simon and Nath, "Historians have documented that Americans' beliefs about women's emotionality and men's unemotionality (or emotional reserve) are rooted in the 19th century gender ideologies, which were used to justify the division of labor between women and men that developed during the early stages of industrial capitalism." (p. 13) At this time, women's role was in the household only, caring for the family, which required sensitivity to others. Men, on the other hand, had moved out of the household into the industrial world, and their role of collecting income required a professional, unemotional attitude. However, modern roles have changed for the genders, and women are also involved in the work force, while men are also involved with the family. Simon and Nath then propose that "we continue to believe that women are more emotional than men because they may be more likely than men to express their emotions." (p. 13) Observing the way in which men and women express their emotions reinforce the view that men lack emotion, while women experience emotion frequently.
Research suggests that men and women do not experience a noticeable difference in the frequency of their emotions, nor much of a drastic difference in which emotions they experience most of often. Theories exist as to why then does culture continue to assume such a large difference in emotionality.
One study, by Robert Fisher and Laurette Dube, looked at whether or not males and females differ in their reactions to emotional advertising. Cultural beliefs would suggest that women would be more emotionally reactive to an advertisement with emotional content than men. It is true that women are more often likely to communicate and express both their positive and negative emotions to others than males. This study chose then to examine what factors might contribute to the male tendency to contain emotional expression.
According to Fisher and Dube, there "is a greater desire by males to adjust their emotional displays toward what they believe is appropriate or socially desirable." (p. 1) Private emotional expression differs from their public expression. In private they express themselves freely; they are not reluctant to express emotions that are stereotype incongruent, such as sadness and tenderness. In public, however, the motivation is to avoid social disapproval, and thus to avoid such low agency emotions. The awareness that "one's behavior will be observed by others makes the social desirability of the behavior salient and induces impression management." (p. 2) Fisher and Dube also state that "evidence suggests that males often experience low-agency or other stereotype-incongruent emotions when the are not in the presence of others but rigorously avoid the expression of these emotions in public contexts." (p. 3) They do not experience these emotions less, they simply do not express them to the outside world. This idea is irrelevant for females who readily express their emotions outwardly. Developmentally, children are not socialized or encouraged to experience emotions differently, but to express them differently or not at all.
To test the emotional reactivity of males and females, the study chose to use television ads as the stimuli. The ads ranged in emotional content, involving both negative and positive low-agency and high-agency emotions, from happy and joyful, to peaceful and romantic, as well as angry or worried. It...
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