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How Did Our Emotions Become So Gendered? Pragya Agarwal

Festival of Ideas

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We've long been told that language has power, so what does it mean when words like 'hysterical' are intrinsically rooted in the female condition? What influence do these associations have on the way women move around the world?

Pragya Agarwal explodes the sexist myths around gendered emotion. She discusses the supposed differences between male and female emotions and why we have different experiences of these emotions in society. The way we interpret emotions is hugely gendered, with emotion itself becoming a coded concept. She argues that the gendering of emotions – whether they’re due to innate difference or social and cultural conditioning – has, in part, been responsible for shaping some of our social inequality. Is the gendering of emotions the reason why we have more men in STEM and more women in caring professions?

A ‘surplus of emotion’ is a concept that has become a criticism of women in the media and society at large, with the likes of Hilary Clinton, Kamala Harris and Theresa May all receiving similar kickback from the press. How would a world in which emotions are engendered look?

In conversation with Holly Tarquini.

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Pragya Agarwal is a professor of social inequities and a behavioural and data scientist. She is the author of four widely acclaimed nonfiction books on racism, gender bias and motherhood and a speaker and consultant. Her most recent book Hysterical: Exploding the Myth of Gendered Emotions is out now. She lives in the North West with her family. She can be found at and on twitter at DrPragyaAgarwal.

Holly Tarquini spent many years as a producer/director of documentaries and factual entertainment television programmes. For the last twelve years she has been FilmBath’s executive director where in 2014 she founded the F-Rating, a feminist film rating highlighting films directed and/or written by women and now used by more than 90 independent cinemas, film festivals and organisations including IMDb, Raindance and The Barbican.

Pragya Agarwal’s Hysterical: Exploding the Myth of Gendered Emotions is published by Canongate Books. Buy a copy online from our partners Waterstones.

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