On the Hill Violence Against Women

Democratic Women Take to the House Floor to Address a Culture of Hostile Sexism

After Representative Ted Yoho (R-FL) failed to apologize for a vulgar verbal attack on Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) earlier this week, claiming that he “cannot apologize for his passion,” Ocasio-Cortez and her female Democratic colleagues addressed the incident on Thursday. In their speeches, these representatives dissected the unmistakable patterns of dehumanization and sexism that women face, as well as specific examples of the ways in which such patterns are woven into the fabric that constitutes the culture of the United States Congress.

In her ten-minute speech, Ocasio-Cortez, who was berated and called a “f*cking b*tch” by Yoho, formally acknowledged the incident as well as Yoho’s remarks apparently excusing his behavior. In her speech, Ocasio-Cortez discussed that, while vulgar, Yoho’s manner of berating her was not unlike the ways that society treats women.

Exploring what troubled her most about the incident with Yoho, Ocasio-Cortez said, “This is not new and that is the problem… This issue is not about one incident. It is cultural.” She proceeded to explore what she called a culture of “accepting a violence and violent language against women, an entire structure of power that supports that.” Ocasio-Cortez said the persistence of such attitudes can be linked to having a leader who has “[admitted] to hurting women and [uses] this language against all of us.”

Her speech also considered the intersections of gender and race. Ocasio-Cortez mentioned President Trump’s comment that she and other members of the “squad” should “go back” to their home countries. Though Ocasio-Cortez and two other squad members were born in the United States and all four are citizens, and such a comment suggested that these women do not belong in spaces where decisions are made.

Congresswomen including Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), Mikie Sherrill (D-NJ), and Barbara Lee (D-CA) also weighed in. Calling attention to intersectionality, Lee described the “lifetime of insults, racism, and sexism” she experienced, as well as the fact that “this did not stop after being elected to public office.” Sherrill, a more moderate member, called attention to Yoho’s so-called apology, saying, “Telling a woman, ‘I’m sorry you heard it that way’ is a cliché as old as time to belittle and dismiss women after attacking them.” Pressley used the moment to address the nation’s daughters, who she said “belong at every single table where decisions are being made.”

In a news conference later in the day, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) recalled her own experiences of sexism in politics and society. Discussing her experiences throughout the decades she has been in politics, Pelosi said that Republicans’ attitudes towards women in politics are “a manifestation of attitude in our society, really.”

Though Ocasio-Cortez’s speech, as well as those delivered by her colleagues, garnered far-reaching support, Republican leaders gave no indication that these speeches would shift their attitudes or prompt Yoho to properly apologize. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) said, “When someone apologizes they should be forgiven.” When asked by reporters if the Republican Party has a “woman problem,” McCarthy denied the existence of such a problem and claimed that the party is “improving.”

Sources: Associated Press 7/22/20, 7/23/20; The New York Times 7/23/20; CSPAN 7/23/20; PBS News Hour 7/23/20; Vox 7/18/19; Time 7/23/20; The Hill 7/23/20

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