Last week, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC to those in the know) proved beyond any doubt that she is Sergio Ocasio and Blanca Ocasio-Cortez’s daughter. The daughter of parents who raised her not to accept abuse from men. Representative Ocasio-Cortez’s speech from the House floor in response to verbal abuse from Congressman Ted Yoho was remarkable. It was not just remarkable for its rhetorical prowess which was, in and of itself, extraordinary, it was so because in ten minutes and forty two seconds using clear and concise language, she managed to decimate misogyny, institutionalized sexism and the lies we have all been told about how men with wives and daughters couldn’t possibly be abusive. It’s the same lie we hear about the person with a black friend who couldn’t possibly be a racist. AOC did this with surgical-like precision proving that she is the most powerful person in that, or, any other room.
She started her speech like a boss. Basically saying she felt no need or inclination to receive an apology from Representative Yoho. She knew she was unlikely to get one, he didn’t really want to give one and she was fully out of f’s to give. Entirely done with waiting for apologies from anyone not worthy of her time or attention. Plus, she’s #NewYorkTough, adept at dealing with a lot tougher characters than a hand-wringing-yahoo-Yoho. As AOC herself noted, she has thrown dudes out of bars for using such language, she’s been accosted on the street and dealt with it and this was one more incident she was prepared to have roll off of her very strong back. Until Yoho, decided to speak.
And when he spoke and AOC heard what he had to say, she knew she had to speak too. She knew he could not have the last word. She knew the harm in his excuses was far greater than the harm in the words he had levied at her. She knew there were women, and men, who would hear what he had to say and think, ‘yeah, that sounds about right.’. And AOC decided that was all too wrong for her to stay silent. Yoho, it seems, had been trained at the Brent Kavanaugh school of how to rise in politics. The one in which when you are called out for assault, verbal and otherwise, you get alternately teary eyed and infuriated. At once incredulous that you have to defend yourself (the tears) and yet totally prepared to do so (the rage).
AOC had watched Yoho frame what had transpired as a disagreement. Pretty hard to have a ‘disagreement’ when only person is saying another is “crazy”, “out of their mind” and, the ultimate denouement, “a f***ing bitch”, but, okay. He then moved on to tears, saying he would not apologize for passionately loving “my country or my God.”. I guess passionate defense of God and country can, on occasion, involve misogyny and abuse. Again, okay. The real kicker came though when Yoho played his Trump cards, he has a wife and two daughters which automatically equal never being able to be abusive toward women. Okay, Yoho.
Statistics from the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence outline how, obviously, untrue that posture is. Women (and men, but to a far greater degree, women) are abused by their intimate partners at an alarming rate. Marriage and children do not buffer one against being an abuser. Mr. Yoho saw it fit to call a young woman in the age range of his youngest daughter, “a f***ing bitch”. Would he say that to his daughter? I don’t know. Maybe. Does he clearly think it’s okay to say to someone else’s daughter? Absolutely. And the idea that it is okay to say those things to some women, and maybe not others, is a problem. A problem AOC clearly, forcefully and rightly called out.
In some perverse way, I take pleasure in the fact that Representative Yoho was so threatened by AOC’s power, popularity and political prowess that he felt the need to turn to the oldest tricks in the playbook to try and cut her down to size using words like crazy. He knows that she is smart, fierce, well-spoken and on the rise but, even more importantly, she knows she is all of those things and then some. That is why, again in some perverse way, I take pleasure in what occurred, because it actually gave AOC the opportunity to become more powerful, more popular and further develop her prowess. Initially though, AOC said nothing, instead letting the fierce media machine speak for her and dominate the headlines. While she was staying elegantly silent, Yoho and his overblown ego took to the mic and, in a shocking twist, made something bad much, much worse.
Until AOC came along and made everything better by delivering, as David Remnick called it, a lesson in decency. She strode up to the floor of the House not belittled by what Yoho had attempted to do to her, but, rather, empowered by it. In her song, “The Man”, Taylor Swift sings about how if she were a man what she was wearing, or, if she as rude, could all be separated from her good ideas and power moves. Well, AOC is not a man and she is not waiting for a man, or anyone for that matter, to distinguish between anything for her. On the contrary, as she noted in her speech, she will not let the political game change her and create division or hatred. No, she is going to change the game and write an entirely new playbook for all who will follow her. We saw her do that last week and she is just getting started. All hail the conquering AOC.