• Devyn Molina

The language of power we can no longer accept

AOC’s speech points out how normalized dehumanizing language towards women has become, and why we need to stop it now.

Image courtesy of The New Yorker.

In 2019, America witnessed a historical moment as Nancy Pelosi, the first woman to serve as the House of Representatives speaker, and a record-breaking number of women were elected into Congress. The newly-elected congresswomen, clad in red, brought their daughters and granddaughters to mark this momentous occasion. It was as if America was finally on its way to a new age in politics.

One of the newest additions was Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, fondly known by her initials AOC. She initially garnered national attention as the underdog that defeated 10-term, Democratic Caucus Chair Joe Crowley in the 2018 midterm election primaries for New York’s 14th congressional district. Shortly after, she became the youngest woman to ever serve in the United States Congress. However, with change ultimately comes controversy.

In a system that has catered to old, conservative, white men for centuries, the idea of having women in power, let alone women that aren’t afraid to speak their minds to enact change, definitely shook up Congress. Being a powerful woman in a male-dominated profession is no easy feat. Throughout AOC’s political career, she’s endured enough racial slurs and sexist comments to last her a lifetime. She, like so many women in politics, continually has had to prove that they are fully capable and qualified for their job, as if being elected didn’t make them credible enough.

Women in politics are usually painted as emotionally unstable and unfit to hold positions of power for no other reason other than the fact they’re women. No prior health issues or outrageous behavior, just men using gender as a way to villainize a perfectly qualified woman for doing her job. The media is riddled with male politicians hurling insults at women or getting caught in scandals involving women, often invalidating their experience.

On July 23rd, AOC ripped the patriarchy and Republican congressman Ted Yoho to shreds for the extremely sexist comments he had made to her on Monday while passing her on the Capitol steps. He publicly and unabashedly called her a “f*cking bitch” among other words like “disgusting”, assuming there’d be no repercussions for using such a vulgar insult against a woman, let alone a colleague and congresswoman.

Prior to giving her speech on Thursday, Rep. Yoho had issued an apology for the “misunderstanding” to the House rather than to AOC herself. Refusing to take responsibility for his actions, he firmly denied the accusation and cited that because he has a wife and daughters, he would never use such language to his colleagues, despite what the press “might” have heard. Ah yes, yet another politician doing the absolute bare minimum with a feeble attempt at a public apology, taking zero accountability for his actions.

Video courtesy of the C-SPAN Youtube Channel.

Instead of staying quiet, AOC confronted the House on the matter. Rightfully enraged, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, refused to hold back, bringing up the fact that women are subject to misogynistic comments like this every day and continued to call out the abusive language constantly thrown at women in politics.

Always very open about her past working various jobs, the New York City native compared Yoho’s insult to that of the men that used to harass her in the subway and when she worked as a waitress. She was shocked by the fact that Congress had accepted his half-hearted apology, further perpetuating the culture of verbal abuse towards women.

She goes on to say that this was not just one incident: “It is cultural. It is a culture of a lack of impunity, of acceptance of violence and violent language against women, an entire structure of power that supports that.”

If women in power are being subjected to this kind of verbal abuse in public, what happens behind closed doors?

In the past, this kind of behavior from politicians has been constantly overlooked or never spoken about, with nothing more than a slap on the wrist as a form of punishment. This kind of behavior is taught, and because these men in positions of power have not been held accountable, it becomes indoctrinated into society as something women are meant to normalize in their everyday lives.

AOC ended her speech by saying, “I want to thank him for showing the world that you can be a powerful man and accost women. You can have daughters and accost women without remorse. You can be married and accost women.” She added, “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.”

For years, men in politics have used the fact that they have a family and (might be) loyal to their wives as grounds for being a good person. America has been used to attributing the facade of a doting family man as a person of good character. However, using their daughter as a scapegoat doesn’t negate the fact that they're fully capable of demeaning and degrading women just like so many politicians have done throughout history.

We need to hold these men responsible for their actions and the vulgar language they so carelessly choose to spew at women. Have you ever noticed that they only apologize when they’ve received backlash and have been caught? Rep. Yoho would have most likely not said anything, let alone publicly had AOC not called him out.

Image courtesy of Bloomberg.

As soon as the speech went viral, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez received an outpouring of praise from other female lawmakers. No stranger to stirring up controversy of her own, Nancy Pelosi was very vocal about her support for AOC saying, “[A]s a grandmother of two young granddaughters and as a mother of four daughters, I’m saying, 'You go, congresswoman.'"

The need for feminism is stronger now more than ever, especially with the rise in women in politics. Ever since the #MeToo movement gained traction in 2017, more and more women have found the confidence to speak out about the atrocities they’ve had to endure from men in power. Many have even spoken out against the current president of the United States, Donald Trump, for the numerous inexcusable wrongdoings he’s committed throughout his lifetime.

Politicians and other people of power have such a strong hold on society, therefore the best way to stop the normalization of dehumanizing language towards women is to encourage people to hold these men accountable and to not accept just an apology. An apology doesn’t fix the issue. There needs to be consequences and change. We can’t continue to accept this kind of behavior, especially from the people that were elected to run our country.

AOC’s speech was the catalyst for change. Not only should women speak out, but our male allies need to call out this kind of unacceptable behavior amongst other men and lead by example. Whether it’s a man of power, a stranger or even a friend, we need to start normalizing respect towards women and ingratiate this to eventually become a societal norm.

The next step would be to vote out politicians that have chosen to abuse their power and refuse to be liable for the atrocities they’ve committed. They need to show change, growth and gain the public’s trust back. We can’t just let it slide. If something doesn’t change, we need to work together to vote them out. This is just the start. If they can’t even treat their fellow colleagues with respect, how can we accept them to treat the country and its citizens with even a shred of decency? The fate of our country is lying in the hands of men that have to use and abuse women to get where they are. Instead of merely disagreeing, a grown man has to dehumanize a woman because he’s threatened by her power.

It’s women like AOC and Nancy Pelosi that inspire the next generation of women to confront the patriarchy, refuse to accept any misogynistic comments and take these men out of positions of power that they clearly don’t deserve.