Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) took to the floor of the House of Representatives on Thursday to respond to Rep. Ted Yoho’s (R-Fla.) “non apology.”
In a confrontation overheard by a reporter Monday outside the Capitol, Yoho called Ocasio-Cortez “disgusting” and said “you are out of your freaking mind” for describing poverty as a root cause of crime. According to the Hill, Yoho uttered the words “f---ing b---h.” A spokesman for Yoho denied that the congressman used the slur.
“The offensive name-calling words attributed to me by the press were never spoken to my colleagues, and if they were construed that way, I apologize for their misunderstanding,” Yoho said. “I cannot apologize for my passion, or for loving my God, my family and my country.”
Ocasio-Cortez called this “excuses” and a “non apology.”
“These are the words that Representative Yoho levied against a congresswoman,” she said, repeating the slur. “The congresswoman that not 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.”
“I’d like to be clear that Rep. Yoho’s comments were not deeply hurtful or piercing to me because I have worked in a working-class job,” Ocasio-Cortez said, adding that she has been harassed as a waitress and “thrown men out of bars” for using the same language. “This issue is not about one incident. It is cultural. It is a culture of lack of impunity, of accepting violence and violent language against women in an entire structure of power that supports that.”
Ocasio-Cortez delivered the impassioned 10-minute speech, which appealed to decency and civility as she turned a personal attack into a discourse on the universal harm of institutional sexism. For many, it resonated as profound and seismic-shifting political oration.
“It worked as a political speech because listeners, particularly women (many of them) have had these experiences. They are so disconcerting. So it’s not just about her,” wrote Annette Gordon-Reed, a professor of legal history at Harvard Law School in an email.
In his defense, Yoho noted that he has daughters and a wife: “Having been married for 45 years with two daughters, I’m very cognizant of my language,” he said.
Both the attack on Ocasio-Cortez and Yoho’s subsequent denial that he would refer to a woman in such a way because he has a wife and daughters, invoke loaded insults and references harking back at least to the antebellum South.
This familiar defense of being a “father of daughters” by men accused of wrongdoing has a historical context, experts say.
“The ‘daughters defense’ has been used as a strategic hypocrisy since slavery days when slaveholders would pontificate on the protection of women, including their wives and daughter,” wrote Catherine Clinton, a historian and professor at the University of Texas San Antonio, in an email.
“You can be a powerful man and accost women,” said Ocasio-Cortez on Thursday. “You can have daughters and accost women, without remorse. You can be married and accost women. You can take photos, and project an image to the world of being a family man, and accost women, without remorse, and with a sense of impunity. It happens every day in this country.”
Clinton, who specializes in the American South and treatment of women, noted the loaded significance of Yoho’s language toward his younger colleague.
“White men in power feel even more comfortable using brutal language against women of color as it reinforces a culture of exploitation that began with the plantation. ... It’s despicable to see this toxicity tolerated on the steps of the Capitol,” Clinton wrote. “It’s even more intolerable to see the congressman issue a non apology.”