In case you were in a beautiful, silent place last week, perhaps in nature with no wi-fi, let’s catch up. In front of national news media, Congressman Ted Yoho called Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez a “fucking bitch”. Rep. AOC chose not to respond formally and instead choose to brush it off through social media tweeting “But hey, ‘b*tches’ get stuff done”. Rep Yoho addressed the incident publicly and instead of apologizing, he doubled down. Without actually saying Ocasio-Cortez’s name, Rep. Yoho refused to “apologize for my passion, or for loving my God, my family, and my country.” He goes on to mention that he has been married for decades, that he’s a father of daughters, and describes his full awareness of his language.
Rep. AOC could not let this stand. She decided to respond but not to the non-apology, nor to the claim that his remarks were led by a justifiable passion. She called out his implication that simply being married and having daughters made him a decent man. Rep. AOC’s response is a concise, articulate, and damning speech that continues to echo in the halls of congress.
I have two young daughters. Like any parent, I often worry about the world in which they are growing up (more often this year it seems). Don’t get me wrong, I’m an optimist but I know it’s not all rainbows and non-pandemic-riddled butterflies. As a father, I stumble along while learning and trying to adjust my own biases. I understand that it’s not my job to protect them, but rather to empower them to stand up for themselves. This is why the words so powerfully spoken by Rep. AOC hit home.
I desperately don’t want Rep. AOC’s words to be lost in the aftermath of dilution like so many other ideas in politics. Will she benefit politically from her speech? Did she know this going in? Is this about her political “brand” or a strategic opportunity? Who cares? What Rep. OAC did was stand up to a man bullying a woman. Her first words were to thank the support she received from both sides of the aisle. Did the New York Times censor the words “fucking bitch” in an article about Rep. Yoho and later quote them verbatim when Rep. AOC used them? Yes but let’s stay focused. Is there a larger discussion on cancel culture after Rep. Yoho’s forced resignation from his board seat on a Christian non-profit? No. This is not about cancel culture, this is a man sowing what he reaps. Dismissing a fellow colleague in congress by calling her a fucking bitch is the epitome of cancel culture. And we can give ourselves permission to digress once more when we acknowledge that there are already mentions of Rep. AOC’s path to the presidency. But let’s not allow this noise to distract us from the simple fact that there is no context in which the behavior of Rep. Yoho is okay.
Rep. OAC’s final point with was that in Rep. Yoho’s behavior and subsequent refusal to own it by apologizing “gave permission to use that language against his wife, his daughters, women in his community.” OAC continues :
I am here to stand up and say that this is not acceptable. [..] 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.
I’ll take it a step further. What Rep. Yoho did was to give other men the permission to behave that way towards MY daughters, towards OUR daughters. Bravely, Rep. AOC’s response was to give permission to my daughters to stand up and speak out against it. Even more impressive, she did it with dignity in the company of powerful men and women, while the world was watching. It’s also worth noting that as empowered as she is, Rep. AOC still wasn’t “allowed” to lay a verbal smackdown of her own. She had to stay balanced, lest she falls prey to stereotypes and be dismissed in her response.
Rep. Yoho’s behavior is not about being offended. It’s about the words revealing bias, racist, sexist, hatred, vitriol. It’s about the mind behind the words informing their actions. It’s about the words and a person with power giving permission for others to use them. Not only permission but influencing and modeling behavior for young men and boys. As a father, I am hyper-aware that how I behave is used as a model for my children. Perhaps Rep. Yoho might like to reconsider his stance for his daughters’ sake and for the sake of the millions of young people watching.
In our weakest moments, we reveal truths about ourselves we’d prefer to hide. Maybe what we ought to be doing is to not hide them but uncover them, own them, change them. It’s not about just being mindful, it’s about embodying the integrity to which we aspire. It doesn’t mean perfection. It means if we screw up, we own it, repair the damage done and repair from where it came. This is a call to action to be the human we want to be.
Thank you, Congresswoman, for being the role model I want my daughters to see.
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Photo credit: screenshot from CSPan video on YouTube