Women have heard the refrain for decades: To be female is to be inherently too emotional to effectively lead. Women, according to this historical trope, do not have the temperament needed to command respect and stay calm under pressure.
Counterpoint: the recent embarrassing behavior of male lawmakers in the United States Congress. On Tuesday, two equally contentious moments on Capitol Hill once again highlighted the ludicrous nature of this sexist stereotype while also positing a new question: Perhaps it is men who are too emotional?
Women have heard the refrain for decades: To be female is to be inherently too emotional to effectively lead.
First, there was the alleged physical altercation between Rep. Tim Burchett, R-Tenn., and former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif. Burchett accused McCarthy of elbowing him in the back, unprovoked, during a conversation with journalists in a Capitol hallway.
“It was just a cheap shot by a bully,” Burchett told the media later. “And then I chased after him.”
McCarthy denied elbowing Burchett, though the confrontation was witnessed by a congressional correspondent for NPR. This is also not the first time McCarthy has been accused of physical confrontation; in his book, former GOP Rep. Adam Kinzinger accused McCarthy of something similar, twice.
Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., a man not exactly known for keeping his cool, has since filed an ethics complaint against McCarthy over the alleged “assault.”
Meanwhile in the Senate, a hearing of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee almost ended in violence after Sen. Markwayne Mullin of Oklahoma challenged the president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Sean O’Brien, to a literal fistfight.
In a social media post this summer, O’Brien had called Mullin a “clown” and a “fraud” before threatening to fight him “anyplace, anytime.” Mullin said the committee hearing room was “a time” and "a place.”
“OK, that’s fine. Perfect,” O’Brien responded. “Stand your butt up then,” Mullin said, before rising from his seat and seemingly preparing to remove his wedding band. Thankfully, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont was there to force Mullin back to reality.
And yet, according to one 2019 study from Georgetown University, an estimated 1 in 8 Americans still think women are “less emotionally suited to run for political office.” That's a dramatic improvement over 1975 numbers, but still a significant enough percentage to swing elections.
In 2000, then-Stanford University student John Gibbs founded a "think tank" that argued women did not possess “the characteristics necessary to govern,” adding that men are more likely to “think logically about broad and abstract ideas in order to deduce a suitable conclusion, without relying upon emotional reasoning.”
Gibbs went on to become the Republican nominee for Michigan’s 3rd Congressional District in the 2022 elections, scoring the endorsement of former President Donald Trump. (He lost the general election to the Democratic nominee, Hillary Scholten.)
According to one 2019 study from Georgetown University, an estimated 1 in 8 Americans still think women are “less emotionally suited to run for political office.”
In 2019, then-Michigan state House Speaker Lee Chatfield faced criticism after he suggested Attorney General Dana Nessel and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer were “driven purely by emotion” on a statewide issue involving Line 5, a crude oil pipeline.
“We also have to use sound science" when trying to do that, Chatfield said during a radio interview. “And we can’t be driven purely by emotion.” Chatfield refuted allegations he was referring to the sexist trope, saying via a spokesperson that he was relying on an argument “he’s made for years while in office.”
Again in 2019, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez called out a critic for arguing that the congresswoman’s “frequent crying only reinforces the stereotype that women are too emotional for politics.”
We also have plenty of evidence highlighting female leadership skills, with studies suggesting women are better leaders in times of crisis, score higher than men in most leadership skills and are more likely to help a workplace achieve success.
But perhaps the best example of an overly emotional man is the Republican Party’s presumptive nominee. This twice-impeached former president has spent the past year sending unhinged social media posts, attacking judges and prosecutors, and preparing to go to trial after (allegedly) inciting an insurrection — because his feelings were hurt when he lost the 2020 presidential election.