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Anger and the learning process: The roles anger plays in learning about sexism

Joan Griswold Anderson, University of Massachusetts Amherst


Anger almost inevitably comes up in classes on sexism. Whether it explodes and demands attention or remains largely hidden, it can impede or facilitate the learning experience. Research suggests that men and women may experience, express, and react to anger differently. Because this difference tends to reflect the power imbalance in society, it is all the more important to understand how instructors should manage anger in the classroom. To this end, a number of questions were raised: (1) What kinds of anger come up in a class on sexism, and are there observable differences based on gender? (2) What kinds of anger do male and female students report experiencing in the class and how does the anger facilitate or impede their learning? (3) How do instructors experience and deal with anger in the classroom and what do they conclude from their teaching experience? (4) How can teachers help make anger a constructive experience for women learning about sexism? (5) Does anger tie in with sexism, especially for women? Answers to these questions are based on a qualitative study of two mixed-gender classes on sexism. Research methodology includes observation of the classes, analysis of student evaluations and papers on their learning experience, journals recording emotional reactions during class, and audio-taped interviews. Both defensive and facilitative anger came up in these classes, and even more anger was reported later that had remained unobserved. Anger was caused by factors ranging from personal biases to pedagogical approaches. There was widespread antipathy toward angry women unless their anger was protective of men. Women seemed to have difficulty becoming angry on their own behalf or expressing it in class. In general, women were more adversely affected by conflict and displays of male anger. Results imply that women's new awareness of sexism should include an ability to become angry on their own behalf. Instructors are therefore advised to keep male anger contained by emphasizing collaborative, small group discussions and single-sex caucuses, and to focus attention on the interactive process where both anger and sexism are taking place.

Subject Area

Womens studies|Adult education|Continuing education|Teacher education

Recommended Citation

Anderson, Joan Griswold, "Anger and the learning process: The roles anger plays in learning about sexism" (1997). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9721426.