Why The Misogynistic Attack Against AOC and Her Clapback Matters

 

Capitol Hill has always been a place of dissension, adversaries, partisan politics and fighting across the aisle. Behind Washington’s closed doors, it is a place that has ushered in an inherently misogynistic, patriarchal, racist and exclusive system that has taken decades to gradually peel open like an onion to anyone different than its typical white-male representatives. The harassment that took place on the Hill’s very steps this past Monday July 20th illustrates that the values that have always guided Washington are still very much prevalent. 

 

The Incident

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York was on her way up Capitol steps to cast a vote, while Rep. Ted Yoho of Florida was on his way down the steps following his vote. In front of reporters, Yoho, accompanied by Rep. Roger Williams of Texas, began to verbally attack Ocasio-Cortez. 

According to reports, Yoho wagged his finger in her face and shouted, “do you really believe that people are shooting and killing each other because they’re hungry? You know, you’re unbelievable. You’re disgusting.” 

Ocasio-Cortez tried to de-escalate the situation, in which he became further enraged and told her she was out of her mind. Subsequently, Ocasio-Cortez told him he was being rude and continued up the steps to cast her vote (#nevertheless she persisted), to which Yoho yelled to her:

“F*cking b*tch.” 

 

Why It Matters

Besides being a disturbing, crude incident, I want to examine the question: why does this matter?  

And that is why I am writing about this, because I believe a few things: 

I believe that this situation was an intentional misogynistic attack. To label it as anything other than a misogynistic attack would be grossly misleading and ignorant of the gender dynamics at play. I believe that the gender and race dynamics at play intertwined within this incident illustrate the vulnerability of those who face intersectional oppression (multiple forms of oppression that intertwine to produce multiple barriers). I believe that this reflects a dangerous, toxic culture of how men are allowed to treat any woman in this country and feel entitled enough to get away with it. 

And I believe that if a woman in a prestigious position within this nation can be subjected to the sexism and racism perpetrated by the structures at play, then no woman in this nation can escape the direct and indirect effects of misogyny. 

I do not believe that if Sen. Bernie Sanders was the man walking up those steps—whose ideology is quite similar to that of AOC’s—he would have been subjected to the same language weaponized against AOC. I do not believe that Yoho would have felt as entitled to attack Sanders in front of a reporter, as well as comfortably wave his finger in his face and lecture him. And because he would not have yelled confidently at Sanders that he was a “f*cking b*tch,” the incident is inherently misogynistic. 

Furthermore, the confidence of Yoho to hurl this language at AOC in front of a reporter speaks volumes of the entitlement and privilege that not only politicians often embody, but specifically white men embody because of their privilege within multiple realms. 

If the situation was reversed, and a female representative ran up to a male representative and cursed him out on Capitol steps, the press would undoubtedly slather her with labels of being overemotional, hysterical and unstable. Afterall, in a political climate where women are torn apart for what pantsuit they decide to wear on Tuesday versus Thursday, why would we expect anything different? 

Yoho approached AOC with a privileged air of knowledge that he could degrade his female colleague without any repercussions. It is simultaneously a charged gender and racial dynamic that women are subjected to every single day and are socialized to tolerate this type of behavior.

To feel numb to sexist remarks, catcalling, harassment, mansplaining, being told to cover up or to watch what they do, violence. It is a culture that not only encourages, but perpetrates placing the responsibility of oppression upon the oppressed rather than its oppressors. And it is fundamentally wrong. 

 

The Representatives’ Responses

Upon being called out, Yoho’s apology was merely not an apology at all. 

Yoho took the floor and attempted to justify what he said by stating, “having been married for 45 years with two daughters, I’m very cognizant of my language … I cannot apologize for my passion, or for loving my God, my family, and my country.” 

Apparently knowing women, or merely being related to women, makes a man immune to perpetuating sexism or functioning under the protection of the patriarchy. And clearly, if Yoho thinks he was cognizant of his language at all, the words “f*cking b*tch” are a part of his typical vocabulary.  AOC, as per usual, had an incredibly eloquent clapback that spoke upon and stood up on behalf of women around the nation: 

“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 …

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.”

I could not have said it any better myself, and luckily, I didn’t have to. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, as she always does, did not back down from this fight against a culture so heavily ingrained with internalized misogyny that it permeates Capitol Hill to city streets, from the White House to the classroom. 

Yoho set the bar low by not only condoning how men can treat women in a district he represents, but how men around the country can berate and target women when they express an opinion that differs from theirs. An attempt to intimidate, belittle, and shame a woman for utilizing her first amendment right of free speech. 

Women are daughters too, Representative Yoho. We have voices and opinions that differ from yours and that you might not always like, but are ours, nonetheless. We have ambition and passion and thoughts, and we should be able to walk alone to our Congress building without feeling the burns of privilege etched within the cracks in the sidewalks of our souls. 

 

We are someone’s daughters, too.