A study found that when people looked at photographs of men and women who looked sad, angry, or scared, they thought the women looked that way because they were "emotional," but the men were probably "having a bad day."
Although the photos included captions explaining the cause of the expressions (such as "buried a family pet" or "was threatened by an attacker"), participants still attributed the women's emotions to internal character, while only the men's were a response to external stimuli. Newsweek's Sharon Begley writes,
In other words, he's angry because of context: he was cut off by another driver, for instance, or because he was elbowed in an elevator. She's angry because of disposition, personality, temperament - she's emotional. And he's fearful because he's reacting to the situation - he found a rattlesnake in the house, say, or was trapped in a burning building. She's afraid because that's her nature.
Even though there may be no difference between men's and women's actual facial expressions, people still view women's responses as emotional outpourings from within (read: irrational) while men's stem directly from outside situations (read: appropriate, even logical). Study authors Lisa Feldman Barrett and Eliza Bliss-Moreau say this may explain why "women continue to be under-represented in positions of economic and political power that require a level head and a steady hand. Jobs that require rational decision-making and high levels of performance in demanding circumstances would presumably be unsuitable for those who cannot keep their head under pressure." It may also explain why women who cry at work are viewed more negatively than men who do the same thing.
It's upsetting that women as well as men in the study bought into the "emotional/bad day" double standard. If, as Begley says, "what we believe determines what we see," then we need to remember that women are no less rational than men, and their emotional responses no less valid. Otherwise we'll keep living in a world where people look at a woman who "was threatened by an attacker" and just see a fragile scaredy-cat.
Face To Face [Newsweek]