Traditional Gender Roles and Backlash Against Female Attorneys Expressing Anger in Court

Jessica M. Salerno, Hannah J. Phalen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Trial advocacy education often stresses the importance of attorneys expressing arguments with emotion to signal conviction. Yet, female attorneys must approach this advice with caution given potential backlash for expressing emotions traditionally considered masculine, like anger. Two experiments (Study 1, N = 220; Study 2, N = 273) demonstrated that people most likely to endorse traditional gender roles exhibited bias against female attorneys expressing anger in court. Participants were recruited nationally and randomly assigned to view an attorney delivering a closing statement in court who either (1) was a man or a woman, and (2) used a neutral or angry tone. They reported how hirable and effective they perceived the attorneys to be and completed measures of several individual difference factors that are established predictors of endorsement of traditional gender roles: ambivalent sexism, political conservatism, and age. Participants who were more likely to hold traditional gender values (i.e., more benevolently sexist, more politically conservative, and older) were more likely to favor attorneys who conformed to gender norms (i.e., male attorneys who expressed anger relative to no anger) and less likely to favor attorneys who violated gender norms (i.e., female attorneys who expressed anger relative to no anger). Thus, female attorneys are faced with the challenge of walking the line between exhibiting traditionally masculine behaviors that are valued by the legal system—but not so much so that they suffer backlash for violating gender norms.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)909-932
Number of pages24
JournalJournal of Empirical Legal Studies
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 1 2019

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Law


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