Earlier this week, after voting at the Capitol, Republican Rep. Ted Yoho of Florida approached Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) of New York and sparked a heated exchange. He said she was “disgusting” for suggesting that growing crime rates in New York City were linked to rising unemployment and poverty rights due to the pandemic to which AOC responded by telling him he was “rude.” Though she then had left, he continued following her and ultimately called her a “fucking bitch” in front of the media that was present.
Attacks on women lawmakers are nothing new in politics, but what stands out in this case is the response from AOC and some of her peers. On Thursday, AOC took on the House floor and refused Yoho’s apologies, denouncing the sexist culture of “accepting violence and violent language against women” which she argued was “an entire structure of power” that ultimately enabled his behaviour. In her support, several female Democratic Congresswomen, including Nancy Pelosi, came forward to say that they too had encountered such treatment decrying the pervasive sexism in US society. On the other hand, only House minority Republican leader, Kevin McCarthy, defended Yoho saying that “when someone apologizes, they should be forgiven.” Other Republicans failed to join the conversation.
In 2011, UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, Rashida Manjoo, released a report on the social condition of women in the US. She affirmed that a large proportion of women here experience physical, sexual or emotional violence. The document specified that some groups such as Native and African American women are even more vulnerable to violence from other individuals and also the state. Although this report is almost 10 years old, in 2018 the US was the only Western nation listed among the 10 most dangerous countries for women in a survey of global experts. The US came 10th overall but ranked 3rd with Syria when it came to risk of sexual violence, harassment and coercion and 6th in regard to domestic and mental abuse such as the one lawmakers like AOC might be subjected to.
Like many other Western countries, the US champions itself for the liberties and rights that its citizens can enjoy. This discourse often takes place within a framework of us vs them where the ‘them’ is non-Western countries that are routinely called out by European and North American governments, and citizens, for their repressive practices. From Cuba to China, Americans are never late in condemning the abuses of others. However, given the sexual misconduct allegations against Donald Trump, his language when talking about women as well as Yoho’s attack on AOC to name a few ‘incidents,’ it is crucial that a culture shift is demanded in the US in politics, public and private life. American policymakers ought to hold the same level of accountability for themselves as they do for people outside their borders.
As AOC suggested, after an apology the heavy work begins “to repair and acknowledge the harm done, so that we can all move on” which is what Yoho and many others before him have failed to do. Despite innumerable feminist waves and movements, the US has just as much effort to put into improving the social position of the woman as numerous other Western and non-Western countries. To achieve this, however, men like Donald Trump ought to acknowledge that there is even a problem and we seem to be a long way from that.
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