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Like many social movements, the Nonhuman Animal rights movement relies heavily on emotional displays to mobilize audiences. But, this movement is also highly gendered. Women predominate in the rank-in-file, but many of the most high profile activists are male. An activist’s gender identity can affect how their emotional displays are interpreted.
In a social psychological study of juror interpretations of perpetrators on trial, researchers found that, “jurors evaluate perpetrators who display distress more positively than those without signs of remorse” (Zhao and Rogalin 2017: 338). However, the effect was most pronounced with men.
The researchers describe this as an “emotional display premium.” This premium is afforded by men’s higher social status. Consider, for instance, how Obama’s visible tears following school shootings endeared him. Had Hillary Clinton expressed sadness in this way, she would have probably been labeled weak and unfit for politics.
Vegan activists usually work hard to control their feminine emotional displays, while masculinized emotion like anger and outrage are valorized (Groves 2001). However, Zhao and Rogalin’s research suggests that vegan protest would benefit if men were to display more feminized emotions of sadness and remorse.
For the Vegan Toolkit
- Male displays of emotion are interpreted as sincere
- Female displays are less likely to elicit positive evaluation
Groves, J. 2001. “Animal Rights and the Politics of Emotion.” Pp. 212-232, in Passionate Politics, J. Goodwin, J. Jasper, and F. Polletta (eds.). Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
Zhao, J. and C. Rogalin. 2017. “Heinous Crime or Unfortunate Incident: Does Gender Matter?” Social Psychology Quarterly 80 (4): 330-341.
Readers can learn more about the social psychology of veganism in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights.