Combatting Misogyny on Capitol Hill

By Annabella Gizzi

For years, the United States Congress was dominated by men, and although women have been working to close that gap for years, we still have a long way to go. Women make up just 28.4 percent of the U.S. House of Representatives (154 of the 435 members) and 25 percent of the U.S. Senate (25 of the 100 members). As in any workplace, many women on Capitol Hill, staffers and politicians alike, have reported experiencing rampant sexism. Here are some of the issues facing women on Capitol Hill and how we can combat them.

Toxic Masculinity

We mostly hear about toxic masculinity in the context of the belief that men must be “manly” or “masculine,” but on Capitol Hill, it is all about emotion. In many workplace environments, women are regarded as “emotional” and incapable of completing important tasks because their emotions may get in the way. We saw this a lot in 2016 when Hillary Clinton was running against Donald Trump. Many voters felt that a woman president would be harmful to our country because she would make decisions based on emotions, not logic. The idea that women are more emotional than men has no scientific backing and as we have seen countless times in politics, men can be quite emotional (think Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing back in 2018). Additionally, holding this belief is damaging to everyone – we know that women can be effective leaders, and we also know that men feel emotion and that they often suppress that emotion, leading to further damage. If we removed this harmful stereotype, everyone would benefit – and maybe we would see more women elected to Congress.

“Bro Culture”

Similar to toxic masculinity, “bro culture” in a workplace usually involves men excluding women from activities, usually those regarded as more masculine, at work or outside working hours. Typically, “bro culture” is seen among young men in the workplace, so this is more relevant for staffers on Capitol Hill, although it has impacted female politicians in the past. (Fun fact: female members of Congress did not feel comfortable swimming in the members’ pool because men would swim nude. This changed in 2009 when former North Carolina senator Kay Hagen advocated for the official rules to be changed.) Many women staffers do not always feel welcome in their office because their male counterparts exclude them from various activities. It can even be as simple as the men in the office grabbing lunch and not inviting the women to go with them. An easy solution to this would be for office supervisors to find activities that everyone enjoys, and for daily activities like lunch breaks, making sure everyone feels included. 

Lack of Accountability

If one were to pinpoint the number one problem adding to the sexist culture on Capitol Hill, it would probably be the lack of accountability for the men who perpetrate sexism. The behavior exhibited by some of the male politicians on Capitol Hill would be fireable offenses if it were a normal workplace. But it’s not a normal workplace, and when now-former Rep. Ted Yoho (R-FL) verbally accosted Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) in front of reporters, calling her an “f—ing b—-,” he got away with it without any consequences. Then-Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) even denounced Democrats for taking up floor time to share their own experiences with sexism afterward. In another instance, now-former Rep. Don Young (R-AK) called Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), age 51, “young lady” on the House floor in a heated exchange, and again, faced no consequences. If we continue to allow men to say these things to anyone, let alone their female colleagues, we cannot expect the culture to change. Leadership on Capitol Hill must start to hold themselves and their colleagues accountable in order to establish a healthier, more inclusive workplace.


Hi! My name is Annabella. I am currently a sophomore at Marymount University where I am studying political science. During the Spring 2023 term, I had the privilege of interning with Representative Derek Kilmer and upon graduation intend to stay in DC to pursue a career in politics. When I am not in DC, you can find me in the “other Washington,” Washington state, where I am from.


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