Gender, Emotion, and the Family

By Leslie Brody | Go to book overview

1
Introduction

When I get upset, I can't express myself at all, but if my wife's upset, you'd think you were hearing poetry. She can express exactly what she's feeling inside.

—James, age 471

When my friends ask me what I'm writing about, I invariably reply, "the development of gender differences in emotional expression." And just as invariably, my answer is met with blank stares. So I try to elaborate: "You know, how when they're upset, women say they feel sad and hurt, while men say they feel mad." My friends' eyes light up and their heads nod. "Oh, yes, now we understand. How interesting," they say. I continue, "Yes, and I'm writing about why that happens, a developmental model." My friends query expectantly, "So, what's the model?" "Well," I reply, "it's complicated. There are all kinds of reasons: biological differences, cultural pressures, family relationships, peer interactions ..." My voice trails off at this point. "Well, it would take me a long time to tell you about everything." And I usually end lamely with, "Maybe you should read my book."

My attempt to encapsulate this complex and burgeoning field for my friends by linking the expression of sadness with women and the expression of anger with men does capture some ubiquitous stereotypes about emotional expression in the two sexes. It is also rooted in data showing that in some anger-inducing situations, both young girls and women express more hurt, disappointment and sadness than do their male counterparts (Brody 1993). For example, in a study I conducted of American middle-aged married couples, women and men said that they would feel equally angry, but women said that they would feel more hurt, disappointed, and sad than men in response to the following story: "You

-1-

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