On Thursday, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) took to the House floor to powerfully renounce the non-apology of Representative Ted Yoho (R-Fla.).
In a Monday confrontation with Ocasio-Cortez on her stance on the correlation between poverty and crime, Yoho reportedly called her “disgusting,” and said, “You are out of your freaking mind.” Ocasio-Cortez told Yoho that he was being rude. As he walked away, he called her a “fucking bitch.”
Even beyond the obvious sexism, aggression and verbal abuse this term encompasses, its use to accost a member of Congress on the steps of the Capitol building, in public, in broad daylight and in front of reporters is even more jarring.
But the lack of shame in Yoho’s public response to it is even worse.
“I rise to apologize for the abrupt manner of the conversation I had with my colleague from New York,” he began on Wednesday—already avoiding Ocasio-Cortez’s name, and apologizing not for using a misogynistic slur, but rather his comment’s being “abrupt.” He continued:
“It is true that we disagree on policies and visions for America, but that does not mean we should be disrespectful. Having been married for 45 years with two daughters, I’m very cognizant of my language. The offensive name calling, words attributed to me by the press, were never spoken to my colleagues and if they were construed that way, I apologize for their misunderstanding.”
He did not apologize for calling a fellow U.S. representative a “fucking bitch.” He did not even say her name.
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AOC Claps Back
But Ocasio-Cortez doesn’t need us—or anyone—to defend her honor, though enraged media pundits and fellow representatives alike are quickly rising to the task.
(As fellow Democratic Representative Dean Phillips pointed out on Twitter, he holds the same views as AOC on poverty and crime—yet Yoho has never hurled expletives at him.)
In a response on Thursday morning, AOC stood on the House floor and presented a coolly forceful reply.
It’s another satisfying notch in AOC’s belt of sharp responses to Republican politicians’ attacks—most notably: the president—but we admire her response on two levels.
First of all, with a now-familiar AOC brand of cutting wit, she is able to brush off the upsetting expletive used against her. In her response on the House floor, she said, “I want to be clear that Representative Yoho’s comments were not deeply hurtful or piercing to me […] I was not deeply hurt or offended by little comments that were made.”
She even embraces it—tweeting, “‘b*tches’ get stuff done.”
In doing so, she sets a strong example on how to make light of hateful words—to even reclaim them—as much as possible.
Ocasio-Cortez was also critical of the larger ramifications and implications of Rep. Yoho’s words, and misogyny overall.
“These are the words that Representative Yoho levied against a congresswoman, a congresswoman that only represents New York’s 14th congressional district, but every congresswoman and every woman in this country. Because all of us have had to deal with this in some form, some way, some shape, at some point in our lives. …
This is not new. And that is the problem. Mr. Yoho was not alone. He was walking shoulder-to-shoulder with Representative Roger Williams. And that’s when we start to see that this issue is not about one incident. It is cultural. It is a culture of lack of impunity, of accepting of violence and violent language against women, an entire structure of power that supports that. …
Dehumanizing language is not new. And what we are seeing is that incidents like these are happening in a pattern. This is a pattern of an attitude towards women and dehumanization of others.
[Yoho’s excuses in lieu of apology] I could not let go. 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 accept it as an apology and to accept silence as a form of acceptance. …
What I do have issue with is using women—our wives and daughters— as shields and excuses for poor behavior. 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. …
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.
What I believe is that having a daughter does not make a man decent. Having a wife does not make a decent man. Treating people with dignity and respect makes a decent man.”
This moment of vulgar sexism is not an isolated case. And AOC’s clapback acknowledges that.
Her response powerfully indicts not only Rep. Yoho, but every man (particularly those with political power) who has actively perpetuated a culture in which it is acceptable to abuse women.