What Some People Seem to be Missing about Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Response to Rep. Yoho
Author: Catherine Kane, Falls Church High School '22
August 2020 marks the 100th anniversary of women gaining the right to vote in the United States. This momentous occasion is kicked off with the feminist speech of the year. On July 23rd, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a freshman congresswoman from the Bronx, delivered a stunning speech on the House floor in response to Representative Ted Yoho’s ‘apology’ for an incident that happened a few days earlier between the two. Rep. Yoho, from Florida, issued this apology after he verbally attacked Rep. Ocasio-Cortez during a discussion they were having about poverty and crime. Yoho called Ocasio-Cortez “disgusting”, “crazy”, and “a danger” while pointing his finger in her face. After Ocasio-Cortez had walked away and was out of an earshot, Yoho called Ocasio-Cortez a “fucking bitch”. These words were heard by reporters from The Hill standing nearby and were published in an article. Later, Ocasio-Cortez confirmed in a tweet that this altercation had happened. Yoho gave an ‘apology’ on the House floor in which he did not use Ocasio-Cortez’s name, denied using the words “fucking bitch”, said that he was “cognizant of my words because I have a wife and daughter”, and that he would “not apologize for my passion or love for my God and country”. After this non-apology, Ocasio-Cortez took a stand with a now viral ten minute long assertion for herself, her female colleagues, and women everywhere.
Ocasio-Cortez has been a punching bag for the right, namely Fox News and President Trump, ever since she was elected in 2018. The 30 year old former bartender from New York City had never held public office before, but through genius grassroots campaigning, magnificent oration, and fresh ideas in government, she has become a rising star in the Democratic Party. However, what is most incredible about Ocasio-Cortez is that she is just like you or me. Before being elected to the House of Representatives, she was pushed around on the subway, yelled at by drunk people at bars, and dancing to viral challenges. She represents what the Founding Fathers wanted for this democracy: power to, with, and for the people. Whether you agree with her politics or not, she is undeniably one of the most authentic and successful young public figures in this country. This spotlight has put a target on her back, primarily by men in the Republican Party. This also makes Ocasio-Cortez like you or me.
Ocasio-Cortez stated in her speech that when Yoho accosted her on the steps of the Capitol, she was not planning on saying anything publicly. She said that his kind of harassment and bullying is normal for her; living in New York City, being a bartender, and being one of the most hated women in America by the right, she is used to this kind of treatment. Most
women could say the same. We value male anger over vulnerability and female cooperativeness over assertiveness. We accept calling a colleague a “fucking bitch” as ‘passion’ and giving a response to that as ‘emotional’. In Fox News’ coverage of Ocasio-Cortez’s speech, their headline read “Ocasio-Cortez delivers emotional floor speech”. Kevin McCarthy, the House Minority Leader and the top Republican in the House stated that Yoho’s apology was appropriate and that Ocasio-Cortez should accept his apology and move on. However, both woefully miss the point. We have become so desensitized to men accosting women without remorse or consequence that when a person in the highest halls of power does such, the outrage is numbed to a ‘passionate’ man and an ‘emotional’ woman.
Like Ocasio-Cortez, I have been bullied and harassed by men. Throughout my life I have been told I ask too many questions, that I overreact, and that I am too ambitious. I have received my own non-apology from a male classmate similar to Yoho’s for reporting sexual harassment. But also like Ocasio-Cortez, I do not wish for or rely on disingenuous apologies to forgive wrongs that have been committed. If a man does not take responsibility for his actions and acknowledge harm that has been done, no one should be sitting around and waiting for him. We all have more important issues to tackle than a man who can’t handle a woman that he feels threatened by.
Mark Walsh, a conservative commentator on Twitter tweeted, “Pandemic, mass chaos, violence in the streets. AOC wastes time on the House floor complaining about someone saying a mean word to her. My God. Grow up. Get over it. Nobody cares.” How unfortunate it is that Mr. Walsh fails to realize that women are imperative to our COVID-19 response. 76% of healthcare workers and 76% of public school teachers are women. Possibly even more disturbing is that there are only two women on the White House Coronavirus Task Force and women make up only 24% of both houses of Congress. The power dynamic is clear. When there is a lack of basic human decency for those working to save lives, our pandemic response will fail even more than it already is. Women are deserving of respect if they are putting on an N95 mask and a face shield to put a patient on a ventilator, if they are pushing desks and chairs around to rearrange a socially distanced classroom, or if they are putting on a power suit to write the next coronavirus relief bill.
It does not take a similar political ideology to stand with Ocasio-Cortez. She represents the future of feminism: working to improve the lives of all women regardless of race, income, or religion. The future is full of assertive and powerful women, just like you or me.
US Census Bureau
National Center for Education Statistics
Congressional Research Service
Photo courtesy of NBC News