Thursday, April 30, 2015

Psychosocial theories of self-esteem and aggression: Why gender matters

In sociology, researchers have long known that men and women tend to cope with problems in their lives differently due to socialization. Men will often blame external events or another person for a problem, while women often blame themselves. Predictably, this can take a heavy toll on women's self-image, and may cause episodes of depression.
On this blog, we have already discussed the fact that women have higher rates of clinical depression diagnoses. A new study published in Current Biology presents evidence that stress-related depression can cause changes in the body which function as a coping mechanism. To discover this result, the genes of thousands of women with recurrent major depression were compared with the genes of healthy control participants.What is interesting, and sad, about the study is that the women with histories of stress-related depression often had suffered forms of childhood adversity such as sexual abuse. Were they more prone to developing recurrent depression due to internalizing hardships or trauma? Perhaps, and a study on the correlation between stress and women's heart disease posits that "psychobiological" responses do differ according to gender.

Understanding how women are internally beating themselves up would help explain stress processing and what women can do to change harmful habits. Psychologists state that society's discouragement of any kind of aggression in women can lead to their turning aggression inward on themselves. Also, it can become "relational aggression," which means that women become aggressive against other women. Making other women into targets, rather than men, could often be easier due to women being conditioned to not openly fight back. Another weakness that women face in relational problems is that they do not see themselves as part of a group, causing perceptions of more stress. Sexism, of course, is probably contributing to this issue with glass ceilings, media under-representation, and objectification. In an odd way, one article advising women on how to stop berating themselves uses common stereotypes like "good girl," "doing addict," and "overly optimistic, partying cheerleader."

Gendered responses in managing self-esteem and aggression also affect men's lives, because while blaming an external event sounds like it would preserve the self-image, it does not always do so. Verbal and emotional abuse can appear in relationships due to men's aggression generally being tolerated more by society. Also, a study of the effects of success and failure on male-female relationships showed that men consciously did not perceive losses or boosts of explicit self-esteem based on women's success or failure. However, implicit self-esteem was affected. One must question the influence of sexism when the men in the study lost self-esteem when their partners were successful in certain tasks, and registered higher self-esteem when their partners failed. To conclude, when there are media lines such as "unequal doesn't mean unhappy," everyone should remember that gender roles do seem to play a factor in some kinds of unhappiness.

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