Serena’s Not Alone. Women Are Punished for Anger at Work, Especially Black Women.

Serena’s Not Alone. Women Are Punished for Anger at Work, Especially Black Women.


As many have pointed out, male tennis players who’ve done similar have not been punished so severely.

It was a microcosm, in so many ways, of what women face at work daily: penalized for expressing emotion (Serena), and apologizing for their success (Naomi). In Ms. Williams’s case, it’s what researchers call “double jeopardy” — a lose-lose situation in which she’s up against both gender and racial stereotypes.

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As a woman, she was met with backlash because she abandoned traditionally feminine behaviors: “modest, self-effacing and nice,” said the scholar Joan C. Williams, a professor at Hastings College of the Law. And as a black woman, an added trope that often befalls women of color — loud, angry or simply out of control — was applied to her.

“A woman expressing anger triggers the raging id — or hormones, out-of-control stereotype,” Professor Williams said. “A black person expressing anger triggers the angry black person’s stereotype.”

Research has long proved this is true, especially for women at work.

In one study, of job applicants, called “Can an Angry Woman Get Ahead?,” researchers found that expressing anger benefited men who were applying for a job — by increasing their perceived influence. If they were hired, the researchers said, those men were subsequently given more power and autonomy in their jobs. The opposite was true for women.

Another study, of women of color in STEM fields, determined that about 50 percent of women reported backlash when they expressed anger at work, including colleagues and higher-ups calling them out for their tone.



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