Don’t wanna read all this hoo-ha and just want the test? Scroll down!
UH did you know that women die more frequently of heart attacks than men do? Well they do. Not that I’m trying to shift that number into the men’s courtyard — I love many men dearly (I am like Marilyn Monroe!) and would like to keep them alive — I just think it’s insane that the reason women die more frequently of heart attacks is because of the way others perceive their facial expressions.
Let’s say a woman and a man both feel symptoms of a heart attack. Both go to the emergency room and tell reception that they’re having medical emergencies, their chests hurt, they feel dizzy, something’s wrong. The receptionist (a representative for the general population, by the way) is going to assume the woman is reacting emotionally. She’s having an anxiety attack. That same receptionist will hear the man’s symptoms, assume he’s reacting situationally (to the pain being felt) and get him in to see a doctor ASAP. He’s having a heart attack!
Gender-biased misperception of facial expressions is a psychological phenomenon that we all experience. Even if you’re a feminist. Even if you’re a woman. In a New York Times article that ran before the first 2016 presidential debate, Lisa Feldman Barrett, Northeastern University professor of psychology, explained
that we are all fucked up that these ideas — women react because of emotion; men react because of situation — are ingrained in us from an early age. Even if we know it’s not logical, our brains are like, “Don’t you know me by now? You’re still scared of spiders because of me. Since when are my thoughts 100% logical?”
We’re able to acknowledge and challenge straight-up sexism. What’s trickier is that we have a hard time when something’s more nuanced, like our internalization of faces.
Barrett took it a bit further: Once the emotion stereotype is locked in, we don’t trust anyone who breaks it.
She wrote, “Polls indicate that Mrs. Clinton is seen as a more credible candidate than Mr. Trump, yet less trustworthy and likable. This discrepancy is surely rooted, in part, in Mrs. Clinton’s violations of female stereotypes. When she acts ‘presidential,’ she is seen as harsh and cold. In contrast, when Mr. Trump insults his critics or rails against immigrants, many people attribute his anger to the situation (terrorism, the economy) rather than to something about his inner nature.”
She called out the phenomenon to make us cognizant of these ingrained biases so that we can check ourselves during the debates. What are we assuming, about either candidate!, based off of the faces they’re making as they relate to gender stereotypes?
Let’s use this opportunity to take a practice test before Sunday. Mentally circle your answers and save them for the bottom.
Smiling Hillary is smiling because:
A. She is thrilled to be here tonight!
B. Someone just said something wildly sexist and offensive and she’s trying to not punch them in the face.
C. She was trained to do this.
D. She’s laughin’ at her own joke.
E. She’s a woman, and woman are smiley.
A. He is thrilled to be here tonight!
B. He is all business.
C. He’s thinking about whether or not he left the straightener on.
D. No, no, it’s definitely off. Because then he used the same outlet to charge his phone and the straighter plug takes over two sockets so he would have had to remove the straightener.
E. He’s a man.
Smirk-y Side-Eye Hillary
A. She’s trying and failing to hide her smile so that she “seems” serious.
B. She’s trying and failing to hide her scowl so that she “seems” friendly.
C. She’s trying to roll her eyes without getting them stuck.
D. Someone asked whether she was more of a Yahoo Girl or an AOL kind of woman.
E. Emotions are brewing.
A. “Sorry, I wasn’t listening, can you repeat that?”
B. He disagrees with the statement.
C. He disagrees with the statement.
E. He was just asked about how he feels about high taxes.
A. She’s on her period.
B. She’s between two ferns Zach Galifianakis.
C. She strongly disagrees with what her opponent is saying.
D. Somehow, she is lying.
E. This is just her face.
A. He’s focusing.
B. He’s thinking about what he’s going to say next.
C. He thinks this moderator moderates too much.
D. He’s wondering whether or not waiting his turn is an attack on his right to the first amendment.
E. He can’t tell if he’s mad or flattered that Alec Baldwin played such a spot-on him.
A. She’s lost it! Off the deep end!
B. She is making a strong point while reacting to a statement her opponent made and is slamming her hand down simultaneously.
C. She’s pissed, showing it and going against at least five traditional female stereotypes, which means she’s not to be trusted.
D. Maybe rabies?
E. She’s here to win.
A. He’s here to win, too.
B. He’s mad Hillary wore his color.
C. This is just his face.
D. He’s pissed, showing it and is male. This seems fine.
E. The realization of what it means to win president just hit him.
Answer: If facial perception is all internalized speculation then technically we’ll never know the answers to this quiz. Better to trust your ears on Sunday and take note of what the candidates are saying.
And register to vote! Because at least you know what you’re thinking.
Illustrations by (the super talented!) Lily Ross; follow her on Instagram @lilyaross.