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Women Offender Programs and Issues

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Literature Review on Women's Anger and Other Emotions

Visible and Invisible Minorities

Research on anger has predominantly been conducted on convenient samples of white, usually middle-to-upper class university students (Thomas, 1993a). While Bernard (1990) does mention racial and ethnic discrimination as one of three social factors that "increase the likelihood of frequent or intense physiological arousal....[which] directly increases the likelihood of angry aggression" (p. 74), research conducted by Thomas et al. (1993) found no previous studies on the everyday experience of anger among black women (Thomas, 1993a, p. 58). Their study included African-American women and Chinese-American women.

Despite the unquestioning rationale for anger among black women, considering the extreme history of racism suffered and the reality that they continue to be disenfranchised, this study surprisingly found no differences among African-American and Caucasian-American women in propensity to be angry or in anger expression. Two explanations were considered for this finding. The population of black women surveyed were middle class, and thus were suspected to share in part similar advantages as white women. The higher level of religious involvement among the black women sampled was suggested as a further explanation. The black church was, and still is considered to be, a symbol of liberation and reassurance during times of crisis. The church offers black women a sense of power and strength that possibly enables them to manage conflict and anger (Boyd, cited in Thomas, 1993a). The author suggests results of this study may not be generalized to other black women and suggest the use of culturally sensitive interviewers and data collectors would enhance future research.

As emotional expression is downplayed in Chinese culture, it was expected that Chinese-American women would score higher than white women on suppression of anger. This assumption was not supported by the research. Findings in fact were the opposite, with white women scoring higher on anger suppression. Chinese-American women of Taiwanese origin scored higher on trait anger (propensity to anger) and anger expression. Higher propensity to anger was perceived to be a result of "overwesternization" (p. 62), as women reject traditional values and teach their children to be like Americans, as well as a greater freedom to express emotions away from in-laws and extended family. Caution was expressed in generalizing these findings to other groups of women of Chinese origin, and a similar recommendation to utilize culturally sensitive interviewers in further research was suggested.

Apart from this study, a search of the literature revealed a complete absence of attention to the anger felt and expressed by visible and invisible minorities. Disabled women and lesbians were not mentioned in the literature. It is significant to note the categories of women selected for comparison in the Thomas and Donnellan (1993) study of stress and anger: "never-married workers, married workers with no children, divorced workers with children, unemployed married mothers, and employed married mothers" (p. 119). The categories selected reflect the silence in the totality of the literature on women and anger regarding the experience of lesbians. Considering the multiple losses and resultant stress lesbians encounter daily (O'Neill & Ritter, 1992), their absence as subjects in anger studies is significant.