There are few spheres of influence- incel Reddit threads or groups of male, teenage gamers being some- that are as nasty to women as is high stakes federal politics. Between the archaic belief that women aren’t electable or suited to govern, the volatility of sexism in the legal system, and whoever the hell lets Tucker Carlson run his mouth on live television, female politicians are held to an irrational double standard that their male counterparts will never have to face. Damned if they do, damned if they don’t, women in politics are punished for keeping their heads down the same as they’re gaslit for raising their voices and sticking up for what they believe in.
New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was made a prime example of this phenomenon last week when she was verbally accosted on the steps of the Capitol Building by Rep. Ted Yoho (R-FL), who called her “disgusting” and “out of your freaking mind” for stating on the House floor that NYC’s recent crime spike was a result of poverty and unemployment during the COVID-19 pandemic. Continuing on his way down the stairs after AOC responded, calling his barrage “rude,” the Congressman was heard calling his colleague a “f*cking b*tch” under his breath. Ocasio-Cortez’s provocation for these remarks? Walking up the steps into the building while passing Representative Yoho, I guess. So why is it so important that we as voters take this altercation seriously, beyond calling out the petty political side of the issue? The answer has everything to do with how women are treated in the public sphere, and absolutely nothing to do with partisan values.
It goes without saying that men, in any profession, get away with more than their female counterparts do. In Congress, one of the most high-stakes workplaces in the world, the consequences for professional harassment should match the demands of the job. The fact that Ted Yoho was able to call his colleague what he did, with very little consequence, shows that in politics, women are treated less as equals and more like punching bags for scoring points in the ever-present horserace. When it becomes easier to slam a female politician for her beliefs and platform than to have a legitimate, constructive dialogue about the issues, the sexism inherent to the profession shows easily. If Ted Yoho really wanted to have a “policy discussion,” as he referred to his encounter with Ocasio-Cortez, he could have done so in any manner of ways that are actually fitting of his elected office and the responsibility with which he has been trusted by his constituents. We don’t elect our representatives to Congress so they can call their colleagues names whenever they disagree, we elect them to govern and legislate. Part of that job is having hard conversations with people who don’t often share the same opinions. If male politicians can’t engage in civil discourse because they’re so busy trying to establish intellectual dominance over their female colleagues, then they aren’t doing their jobs.
It’s not uncommon for people, especially people who are paid by the taxpayers to have opinions on issues, to say things that come off as distasteful in fits of passion over political discourse. It’s even less uncommon for those distasteful comments to be directed at women. In our society, men are allowed to exist separately from their politics and their public opinions, while women aren’t afforded the same luxury. Two men can have a discussion over an issue that becomes heated, and yet each can walk away with a sense of healthy respect for the other, regardless of his conflicting views. When a man makes a statement that’s regarded as a controversial opinion, he can be otherized and taken out of the context of the situation- “oh, he’s a good guy, I just don’t agree with him”- but women are demonized and personally targeted for their beliefs. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez got called a f*cking b*tch of lesser intelligence and mental derangement for expressing a political belief.
If that can happen to a Congresswoman, on the steps of the Capitol, in the presence of another elected official and the press, then how terribly are women of lesser prominence being treated by men for articulating their views in day-to-day life? A U.S. congressman failed to separate his coworker from her political views the same way that he later separated himself from his own views, in his apology to Ocasio-Cortez. Yoho made claims to his morality and character as a husband, father, and Christian, in spite of his complete and utter disregard for civility and human respect— so why didn’t Ocasio-Cortez deserve that same separation as a daughter, a colleague, and just simply a person, for doing her job?
Perhaps the issue is less about the treatment of women and more about the role of women in relation to the men in their lives. Ted Yoho stood up in front of Congress and claimed that he was cognizant of his hurtful remarks because he has a wife and daughters. An open statement to the men of this world: guys, you should know that it’s not okay to call a woman a f*cking b*tch just because she disagrees with you, whether or not there are women in your life. This same ideology applies to men who say they care about sexual assault, reproductive rights, equal pay, or any other “women’s issue” because of their daughters, wives, or other female relatives: women should not only be treated with respect and dignity by men who love a woman. If you never cared about women and their struggles before you married one, then news flash, you just don’t care about women unless you’re attracted to them. If it took you having female offspring to respect women, then it’s even worse, because you didn’t care about women until the ones in question are reflections of your skills as a parent and spouse.
Women deserve to be able to walk through this world knowing that they’re respected as human beings, not as ornamental attachments being used to justify the actions of powerful and out-of-touch men.
If we fail to hold our elected officials accountable for the transgression of disrespecting women and then turning around to fake-apologize, then we’re doing ourselves a disservice as women. If we don’t hold Ted Yoho to the same standard of making politics personal to which he held Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, we’re saying that it’s okay for men to treat women as inferior beings for the massive crime of stating an opinion. So go ahead, attack the congressman for being sexist and demeaning, and let him know loud and clear that his values as a “Christian family man” don’t excuse his actions.
Because after all, Mr. Yoho, weren’t you the one who said that your remarks were just a policy conversation? If that’s what we’re branding as civil discourse these days, then the women of your district ought to be glad their congressman isn’t seeking reelection.