Why Nasty Women have to Explain Themselves

By Rebekah Peterson


This post is for all the Nasty Ladies out there.

Calling women out when they don’t comply with expectations of “niceness” and composure is not a new tactic.

Back in 2006 the chairman of the National Republican Committee, Ken Mehlman, said that “Hillary Clinton seems to have a lot of anger.”

Although politicians use lots of tactics to insult their opponents, the attention paid to women’s “anger” suggests that anger can be used against women to decrease their status politically.

Maybe you don’t like Hillary. So why should you care?

Because research suggests this goes beyond politics, and likely shows up in your workplace.

In 2008, researchers Brescoll and Uhlmann randomly assigned twenty-nine men and thirty women to watch a filmed interview clip where a male or female professional described feelings of either sadness or anger. Participants then ranked the interviewees on a) what status the target deserved in their future job, b) if they would hire the person, c) what salary they would pay them, and d) if they found them competent or incompetent.

They found that the angry woman was ranked lower than the angry man in all categories. The woman was seen as less competent, and participants opted to pay the angry woman less than the angry man.

Why was the woman who expressed anger given lower status and seen as less competent?

Because, women who express anger are believed to do so because of personal attributes.

In other words, people think women who express anger are “out of control,” maybe even “nasty.”

On the other hand, when men express anger people assume it’s because of an external circumstance, or something made him become angry.

So, what is a nasty lady to do?

Well, in a second  study, Brescoll and Ulhmann randomly assigned fifty-one males and eighty-two females to watch one of six videos, in which a male or female did one of three things: expressed unexplained anger, expressed explained anger, or expressed no emotion. In all six videos the person was upset because a coworker lied to them and caused them to lose an account. The participants ranked the male or female in the video on a) status, b) what salary they should receive, and c) whether they found them to be competent.

The angry man with no external reason for being angry was ranked the highest, suggesting that even when men become angry for no reason, people still perceive them as having one.

The angry woman with an external reason for becoming angry ranked higher than the woman who had no external reason. This suggests that if women provide a reason for their anger, it will cause less negative reactions.

So, if you find yourself angry at work or get labeled as a “nasty woman” by coworkers, make sure you explain the reason for your anger so that you are not seen as less competent, which could keep you from getting ahead.


Now, get out there nasty ladies and don’t  let “anger” be used against you.

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