The incident this week

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The incident this week  (2020) 
by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

Given in the U.S. House of Representatives on July 23rd following an incident in which Congressman Ted Yoho, representing the 3rd District of Florida, called her a "fucking bitch" in front of members of the press on the steps of the U.S. Capitol.

Thank you, Madam Speaker. And I would also like to thank many of my colleagues for the opportunity to not only speak today, but for the many members from both sides of the aisle who have reached out to me for support following the incident this week. About two days ago, I was walking up the steps of the Capitol when Representative Yoho suddenly turned a corner, and he was accompanied by Representative Roger Williams, and accosted me on the steps right here in front of our nation's Capitol.

I was minding my own business, walking up the steps, and Representative Yoho put his finger in my face. He called me disgusting, he called me crazy, he called me out of my mind, and he called me dangerous. And then he took a few more steps, and after I had recognised his comments as rude, he walked away and said I’m rude? You’re calling me rude?

I took a few steps ahead and I walked inside and cast my vote, because my constituents send me here each and every day to fight for them, and to make sure they are able to keep a roof over their head, that they are able to feed their families, and that they're able to carry their lives with dignity. I walked back out and there were reporters in the front of the Capitol, and in front of reporters Representative Yoho called me, and I quote, a fucking bitch. These were the words that Representative Yoho levied against a Congresswoman, a 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.

And I want to be clear that Representative Yoho's comments were not deeply hurtful, or piercing, to me. Because I have worked a working-class job; I have waited tables in restaurants; I have ridden the subway; I have walked the streets in New York City. And this kind of language is not new. I have encountered words uttered by Mister Yoho, and men uttering the same words as Mister Yoho, while I was being harassed in restaurants. I have tossed men out of bars that have used language like Mister Yoho's, and I have encountered this type of harassment riding the subway in New York City. This is not new, and that is the problem.

Mister Yoho was not alone. He was walking shoulder to shoulder with Representative Roger Williams. And that's when we start to see that this issue is not about one incident. It is cultural. It is a culture of lack of impunity, of accepting of violence and violent language against women. An entire structure of power that supports that. Because not only have I been spoken to disrespectfully, particularly by members of the Republican party, and elected officials in the Republican Party, not just here, but the President of the United States, last year, told me to go home to another country, with the implication that I don’t even belong in America. The Governor of Florida, Governor DeSantis, before I even was sworn in, called me a whatever-that-is. Dehumanising language is not new. And what we are seeing is that incidents like these are happening in a pattern. This is a pattern of an attitude towards women and dehumanization of others. So while I was not deeply hurt, or offended, by little comments that are made, when I was reflecting on this, I honestly thought that I was just gonna pack it up and go home. It's just another day, right?

But then yesterday, Representative Yoho decided to come to the floor of the House of Representatives and make excuses for his behaviour. And that I could not let go. I could not allow my nieces; I could not allow the little girls that I go home to; I could not allow victims of verbal abuse, and worse, to see that. To see that excuse, and to see our Congress accept it as legitimate, and accept it as an apology, and to accept silence as a form of acceptance. I could not allow that to stand, which is why I'm rising today to raise this point of personal privilege. And I do not need Representative Yoho to apologise to me. Clearly, he does not want to. Clearly, when given the opportunity, he will not. And I will not stay up late at night, waiting for an apology from a man who has no remorse over calling women and using abusive language towards women.

But what I do have issue with is using women, our wives, and daughters, as shields, and excuses for poor behavior. Mister Yoho mentioned that he has a wife and two daughters. I am two years younger than Mister Yoho’s youngest daughter. I am someone's daughter too. My father, thankfully, is not alive to see how Mister Yoho treated his daughter. My mother got to see Mister Yoho's disrespect on the floor of this House towards me on television. And I am here because I have to show my parents that I am their daughter, and that they did not raise me to accept abuse from men.

Now, what I am here to say is that this harm that Mister Yoho levied — it tried to levy against me — was not just an incident directed at me. But when you do that to any woman, what Mister Yoho did was give permission to other men to do that to his daughters. In using that language in front of the Press, he gave permission to use that language against his wife, his daughters, women in his community, and I am here to stand up to say that is not acceptable. I do not care what your views are. It does not matter how much I disagree, or how much it incenses me, or how much I feel people are dehumanising others, I will not do that myself. I will not allow people to change and create hatred in our hearts. And so what I believe is that 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. And when a decent man messes up — as we all are bound to do — he tries his best and does apologise. Not to save face, not to win a vote. He apologises genuinely, to repair and acknowledge the harm done, so that we can all move on.

Lastly, what I want to express to Mister Yoho is gratitude. 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. 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. It happened here on the steps of our nation's Capitol. It happens when individuals who hold the highest office in this land admit — admit — to hurting women and using this language against all of us.

But once again, I thank my colleagues for joining us today. I will reserve the hour of my time and I will yield to my colleague, Representative Jayapal of Washington. Thank you.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).