Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., began her speech on the HouseAOC floor, simply stating what she had been called when Representative Yoho accosted her on the steps of the Capitol: “a f— bitch.” AOC said Yoho called her “disgusting,” “crazy,” “out of her mind,” and “dangerous.”
To most women, what Yoho did was horrendous, but not surprising. The words he used, as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez acknowledged in her speech, are words that are well-known to congresswomen and all women who hold a form of power. They are meant to dehumanize and delegitimize women who dare to be impactful and outspoken in their places of work and beyond.
We see this language used against women every day and as AOC reminded all of us “it is not new.” All women, including AOC, hear it on city streets, in restaurants, on college campuses, in office buildings, in working class jobs, and everywhere else. Ted Yoho is just one man who decided to use this same abusive language on Capitol Hill. And when AOC spoke, all of the women listening were reminded of their own stories and the men like Yoho who they have encountered in their own lives.
Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez took the time in her speech to call out Representative Yoho for the excuses that he made in front of the Senators a few days ago. The first thing he tried to do was to excuse himself with the fact that he has a wife and two daughters. This trope is used time and time again as a way to evade any responsibility or accountability.
Being married to a woman, having a daughter, is not the only reason that you should respect women and certainly doesn’t excuse you from harassing a woman at her place of work. AOC pointed out in her speech that his excuses were absurd, his characterization of the incident as a “misunderstanding” was a flat-out lie, and that she needed to respond to those in front of the Senate and the American people.
Most powerfully, she stated that she did not want an apology. She didn’t want an apology, not just because she knows that he has no remorse, but because the issue is not about her or about Ted Yoho; it is about a system in our country that gives men passes in life and makes them feel that it is OK to accost and abuse a coworker or any person as long as they are a woman.
Which is why she then went on to thank Yoho for “showing the world that you can be a powerful man and accost women … you can take photos and act like a family man and accost women with no remorse and without impunity.” AOC powerfully took the time, on the Senate floor, to show the world that even the highest office of the land is not immune to sexism, abuse, and harassment. And more than that, that women are not willing to take it anymore.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s response was not just powerful but a glimmer of hope for what the future can be. She stands up for herself, for her fellow congresswomen, and working class Americans every day and has become a symbol of the future of America. In her speech, she specifically mentioned that her parents “did not raise her to accept abuse from men.”
And after her speech, young women can only hope that in the next generation it will not just be women, like AOC, who are taught to stand up against abuse but young boys and future congressmen who are taught to not abuse women.