Cutting-Edge Leadership

The best in current leadership research and theory, from cultivating charisma to transforming your organization

Are You a MAD Man?

Why are many men threatened by high-achieving women?

I recently read an article in Elle on-line about WNBA rookie phenom, Brittney Griner. Griner is an outstanding basketball player, and recently came out as lesbian. In the article, author Laurie Abraham discusses some of the backlash that Griner has received in on-line comments and tweets. Crude comments have suggested that she is a man [“Brittney Griner threw down two dunks last night. One for each of her testicles.” and the like].

Abraham discusses the negative reactions caused by a female athlete who shows professional skills on a par with a male basketball player (e.g., Griner can dunk) and one who is openly gay. Abraham labels this backlash as caused by MAD—Masculine Anxiety Disorder—the notion that males seem somehow threatened by a high-achieving woman in a typically male environment.

Although MAD is not in any way a clinical diagnosis or category, I had been searching for a term to explain why I get negative reactions from men when I discuss the research finding that women have higher leadership potential than men. Some of the comments are downright misogynistic. Moreover, I also get a similar MAD reaction when I mention that women are outperforming men in college, and are taking on more and more of the leadership positions.

I guess that Ms. Abraham is as puzzled as I am by the extreme male reactions against high-achieving women, in sports and otherwise. Take for example, the backlash against women trying to join male professional sports leagues (PGA, NBA, etc.). I guess there are just a lot of MAD men out there.

You can read the Elle article here:


Follow me on Twitter:!/ronriggio


Ronald E. Riggio, Ph.D., is the Henry R. Kravis Professor of Leadership and Organizational Psychology at Claremont McKenna College.


Subscribe to Cutting-Edge Leadership

Current Issue

Dreams of Glory

Daydreaming: How the best ideas emerge from the ether.