Ever since Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez came to Congress as the youngest woman elected to the House, she has upended traditions, harnessing the power of social media and has challenged leaders, including President Donald Trump.
It’s a rare and beautiful day when the most rousing, pointed and important speech is brought to you on Thursday. And now you’ll remember the day speaking from the House floor, systematically dismembered Rep. Ted Yoho (R-Fla.) for thinking it’s OK to publicly call a woman a “f— bitch” if she’s doing something you do not want her to do.
In this case, the “something” that Yoho confronted Ocasio-Cortez on the steps of the Capitol Hill on Monday, Ocasio-Cortez said, calling her “disgusting” for linking poverty to crime rates in New York City.
White House spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany called her assertions “preposterous”; the New York Post editorial board characterized her argument as “dishonest, callous and naive.”
That’s politics for you. But only Yoho took it upon himself to confront her with such sexist slur.
The 30-year-old congresswoman detailed how earlier in the week, while “I was minding my own business walking up the steps, and Rep. Yoho put his finger in my face. He called me disgusting. He called me crazy. He called me out of my mind. And he called me dangerous,” she said. The congresswoman said she told Yoho his comments were rude and walked away to cast her vote. Then, as The Hill first reported, Yoho was overheard using a vulgar insult often aimed at women.
After the incident was reported in the Hill, On Wednesday Yoho “apologized” for speaking to AOC in such “an abrupt” way on Wednesday, denies saying the slur and has called for civility— he claims he said “bullshit” as a description of her policies — because “having been married for 42 years with two daughters, I am very cognizant of my language.” If his remarks had been “misunderstood,” he added, he was sorry for that too.
That’s politics too, but of a very different sort, which is why by Thursday morning, 13 Democratic women in the House and three men, including Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, the Democratic majority leader, had turned up on the floor to speak for her. AOC made a 10-minute speech about the incident before the House on Thursday.
She added that she was prepared to let the incident go until Mr Yoho “made excuses” by citing his wife and daughters in a speech on Wednesday.
“In using that language, in front of the press, he gave permission to use that language against his wife, his daughters, women in his community, and I am here to stand up to say that is not acceptable.
“I could not allow my nieces, I could not allow the little girls that I go home to, I could not allow victims of verbal abuse, and worse, to see that. To see that excuse, and see our Congress accept it as legitimate and accept it as an apology and to accept silence as a form of acceptance. I could not allow that to stand,” she said.
“It was verbal assault,” she wrote. “This is not an apology.”
Ocasio-Cortez, a key voice in the progressive movement and a frequent target of Republicans, said that kind of verbal abuse isn’t new and she’s concerned about an increasing acceptance of dehumanizing and misogynistic language toward women. Ocasio-Cortez’s who excels at using her detractors to amplify her own political brand, invited a group of Democratic women in the House to come forward to express solidarity with her. One by one, they shared their own stories of harassment and mistreatment by men, including in Congress. More even than the profanity uttered on the House floor, where the language is carefully regulated, what unfolded over the next hour was a remarkable moment of cultural upheaval on Capitol Hill.
“This issue is not about one incident. It is cultural,” she told lawmakers, calling it a culture “of accepting violence and violent language against women, an entire structure of power that supports that.”
“I am here because I have to show my parents that I am their daughter and that they did not raise me to accept abuse from men,” she continued.
“Having a daughter does not make a man decent. Having a wife does not make a decent man. Treating people with dignity and respect is what makes a decent man. And when a decent man messes up, as we all are bound to do, he does apologize. Not to save face. Not to win a vote. He apologizes, genuinely, to repair and acknowledge the harm done, so that we can all move on.”
“Having been married for 42 years with two daughters, I am very cognizant of my language.” It occurred to me that the common refrain, “He is basically a good guy,” confirms one of our most pervasive biases. A colleague who made a sexist remark in a meeting? Well, we think, he didn’t mean it. He’s basically a good guy. The husband who insulted his wife in front of his friends? He didn’t think she would take it so personally. He’s really a good guy.
What is the female equivalent to that catchphrase? There isn’t one. Men are forgiven for behaving badly because the assumption is that underneath it all they are basically well-intentioned. They can’t help themselves from being belligerent or abusive, because, well, “it’s what men do.” This generalization is entirely unfair: unfair to men who do not behave badly and unfair to men who do — and need help — and unfair to women.
As frequently as we hear, “He’s basically a good guy,” we also hear, “She’s such a bitch.” Women are not so readily forgiven for their transgressions, no matter how small. The woman who refuses to accept blame at work for something she didn’t do? The woman who disagreed with others and took stand for herself?
Make no mistake: I am not saying that women don’t exhibit crummy or deplorable behaviour. It’s just that women don’t get passes for even the smallest infractions, while men get passes for the worst.
Her speech was not about slapping back, at least not on a personal level. It was about a woman refusing to accept words that, as she said, amount to “harassment” and “verbal abuse.”
Dehumanizing language is not new,” she said. “This is a pattern of an attitude towards women and the dehumanization of others.“
Wouldn’t that be nice? To think that this powerful statement of the obvious would settle the matter, retire the slur and then we could all just move on and get some actual work done?
Yes, it would. But these days, even a brief and shining moment of clarity and conviction seems pretty good too. If there is anything positive to glean as a result of this incident it’s that women are speaking their minds more than ever. The worldwide outpouring on behalf of women’s rights has confirmed the solidarity and sheer numbers of women — and the real men who love and respect them — who refuse to be silent. Books and blogs and columns and actions are addressing the persistent double standard that stands in the way of true gender equality.