When I was a teenager, Geraldine Ferraro was the first female vice presidential candidate for a major political party. I was excited about this. As a young woman, I wanted to believe that women were breaking barriers and accomplishing great things. A boy in my class at the time disabused me of my optimism. You can’t have a woman in the White House, he informed me. She might get her period and start a nuclear war.
That boy said what men were saying at the time—that women couldn’t be trusted with important jobs, because they were too emotional, too unpredictable, too irrational to make life-and-death decisions. I know there are still some people who feel this way, but the past year or two has offered ample evidence that women are not the ones who have trouble controlling their emotions.
The current president throws temper tantrums and calls people juvenile names and often looks as if his head is going to pop right off of his body when he gets angry about something. He’s angry a lot. I don’t often feel much sympathy for Don Jr., Eric, or Ivanka, but I bet it wasn’t easy growing up with a dad who is so quick to anger and so willing to hurl insults.
There’s Brett Kavanaugh, of course. The now-Supreme Court justice actually wept as he screamed and pounded his fists and shouted, “I like beer!” during his nomination process.
Rep. Jim Jordan’s been getting pretty emotional lately too. When Michael Cohen testified before Congress, Jordan simmered with rage and disgust. He wagged his finger and shook his fist. His face turned red and even his hair seemed to quiver with outrage.
Then there’s R. Kelly. The singer accused of sexually assaulting numerous underage girls sat down with Gayle King this week and stood right back up again. He cried, he screamed, he raged. Contrast Kelly with King, who sat in the shadow of his rage and never flinched. What kind of person is that calm and composed in the face of so much anger? A woman, obviously.
Can you imagine any male interviewer handling Kelly’s outburst as calmly as King did? I can’t. Imagine Geraldo in this situation. Imagine Chris Matthews or Tucker Carlson. I suspect these men would have tried to defuse Kelly in some way. They’d have interrupted him or matched his anger with their own or called for reinforcements. No way they’d have sat there and let the man rage until his anger was spent the way King did.
And consider Sen. Martha McSally, who this week calmly told her colleagues about the ongoing sexual assault and rape that she endured as a fighter pilot in the U.S. Air Force. McSally’s voice cracked once or twice, but that was the extent of her emotional display. In fact, McSally reminded me of Christine Blasey Ford, who gave her testimony about Kavanaugh’s sexual assault in a clear, calm, if occasionally shaky, voice. No one could accuse any of these women of being overly emotional.
I don’t know how we ever came to the conclusion that women are more emotional than men. I suspect it was a convenient way for men to keep women out of the halls and boardrooms of leadership. Or maybe men didn’t have much reason to cry when they were able to rape and assault and lie with impunity. Whatever it is, the myth of the emotional woman and the calm man has been spectacularly shattered. If anything, men seem to be the ones who can’t control themselves. Men seem to have trouble understanding what’s appropriate and what’s not in a public or professional setting.
I don’t begrudge anyone the right to express themselves. I don’t believe a man who cries is weak. I don’t believe a woman who expresses anger is unhinged. But a person who flies into a rage in front of television cameras or hurls childish insults at world leaders is not merely emotional; that person has bad judgment. That person is dangerous. That person is showing you who he is deep down and for real. A person who punches and rages while the cameras are rolling is capable of anything behind closed doors.
We’ve allowed too many of these people to have too much power. We need to start rewarding the people who speak quietly, thoughtfully, and carefully. We need to start rewarding the people who get things done without shouting and bragging and begging for attention. Granted, those people don’t make for great television or viral memes, but they make great leaders.