Last Thursday, every single screen in America echoed the voice of Bronx Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, while she rejected the apology of retired Republican Representative Ted Yoho on the floor of Congress after he called her a “fucking bitch” earlier last week.
In about 10 minutes, AOC exposed the Florida congressman as a symptom of the endemic misogyny deeply rooted not only in the U.S. Congress but also in society.
According to The Hill, and as recounted by Ocasio-Cortez, Yoho attacked the representative on the steps of the capitol on Monday for comments she had made connecting crime rates to economic marginalization. Yoho told the young woman that she was “disgusting” and “freaking out of her mind,” to which AOC responded that he was “rude.”
As Yoho walked away with Rep. Roger Williams of Texas, he then used the slur, heard and reported by a journalist in the place.
Fearing retaliation, the congressman of Florida took the floor to try to “apologize.” Although he referred to what happened as a “misunderstanding,” AOC did not allow the incident to be erased with an empty apology.
“Dehumanizing language is not new, and what we are seeing is that incidents like these are happening in a pattern,” she said, with the anger built up in her vocal cords. “This is a pattern of an attitude towards women and dehumanization of others.”
AOC highlighted the extent of passive-aggressive macho violence to the table to which women are often subjected to within the social dynamics, even more so in historically male-dominated professions.
“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 to see our Congress accept it as legitimate, and to accept it as an apology, and to accept silence as a form of acceptance,” she added.
For the congresswoman, one issue in Yoho’s speech was particularly problematic: He used his daughters as an excuse to reject misogyny accusations.
“Mr. Yoho mentioned that he has a wife and two daughters. I am two years younger than Mr. Yoho’s youngest daughter. I am someone’s daughter too,” AOC said. “My father, thankfully, is not alive to see how Mr. Yoho treated his daughter. My mother got to see Mr. Yoho’s disrespect on the floor of this House towards me on television. And 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. Now, what I am here to say is that this harm that Mr. Yoho levied, tried to levy against me, was not just an incident directed at me. But when you do that to any woman, what Mr. Yoho did was give permission to other men to do that to his daughters. 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.”
For some, the young congresswoman’s fierce statement is easily interpreted as “political theater;” for others, it was the most real manifestation of the true object of her role in Congress: to represent.
To represent the voice of the millions of women who are tired of the apology for violence, women who are victims of abuse and sexism, women who are tired of having to fight tooth and nail for a place at the decision-making table.
However, the strength of AOC’s statement was precisely that of exposing sexism on Capitol Hill.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., on Thursday said the incident is “a manifestation of attitudes in our society.”
“It’s a manifestation of attitudes in our society really, I can tell you that firsthand, they’ve called me names for at least at least 20 years of leadership, 18 years of leadership,” she said. “There’s no limit to the disrespect or the lack of acknowledgment of the strength of women and nothing brings more, nothing is more wholesome for our government for our politics for our country than the increased participation of women and women will be treated with respect.”
“I want to be clear that this violent language is about power,” said Rep. Pramila Jayapal, a co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, who referenced a time she was criticized by a Republican lawmaker as a “young lady [who] didn’t know a damn thing about what [she] was talking about.”
“These are the things that happen to us all the time,” Jayapal said.
For Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University, the moment was “extraordinary.”
“This is all part of a shift,” Walsh told The New York Times, attributing the change to the #MeToo movement, in large part. “Women are feeling empowered to speak up and believe they will be heard.” More than a dozen Democratic colleagues — but no Republicans — joined Ocasio-Cortez, D-New York, in speaking out against sexist behavior, including from President Donald Trump.
And for Gloria Steinem, the nation’s most visible feminist advocate, the use of the slur is almost a symbol of victory.
“It took me years to learn what to do when someone calls you a bitch,” Steinem told The Associated Press in an email. “Just smile in a calm triumphant way, and say, ‘Thank you!'”
And this is precisely what seems to happen with AOC.
Her mastery of the art of social networking, her age, her political program, and everything she stands for, is the materialization of the Republicans’ worst nightmare.
Simply put, and as Don Quixote said: “Let the dogs bark, Sancho. It’s a sign that we are moving forward.”