U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez broke the internet on July 23 when she masterly denounced her colleague Representative Ted Yoho, who called her a “fucking bitch,” a few days earlier on the steps of Congress.
Ocasio-Cortez tied her experience to the treatment that women often face in the workplace or just about anywhere else. “Because all of us have had to deal with this, in some form, some way, some shape, some point in our lives, “ Ocasio-Cortez said, “This is not new and that is the problem….dehumanizing language is not new…this is a pattern of an attitude towards women.”
In her speech, Ocasio-Cortez reminded her congressional colleagues that the vitriol she received is not unlike the language that has been directed to her by the occupant of the highest office. “The President of the United States told me to go home, to another country, with the implication that I don’t even belong in America,” Ocasio-Cortez said.
She called out her Republican colleague, Representative Ted Yoho, for his “excuses” a day earlier on the congressional floor when he referenced his wife and daughters rather than apologize directly to Ocasio-Cortes for his behavior. “I could not allow victims of verbal abuse to see that excuse, and to see our Congress accept it as legitimate,” Ocasio-Cortez said.
Ocasio-Cortez also referenced her parents in a part of her speech that has been turned into memes all over the internet. “I am here because I have to show my parents that I am their daughter,” said Ocasio-Cortez. “And that they did not raise me to accept abuse from men.”
Following Ocasio-Cortez’s remarks, several Democratic women stepped up to share similar experiences of being verbally assaulted by their male colleagues. For women of color in public office, the experience shared by Ocasio-Cortez is all too familiar.
“I’m the first Latina elected to the Riverside City Council, I’m the first woman to represent my ward, and as far as I know compared to my three newly elected colleagues I’m the only one who has experienced discrimination and racism,” said Riverside City Councilmember Gabriela Plascencia, who spoke to Luz Collective via email. Plascencia represents a city in California that is over 50% Latino. Plascencia showed Luz Collective a screenshot of her facebook post about the U.S. Census that was in both English and Spanish where she received a comment that read: “What’s ur problem with WHITE PEOPLE? U RACIST CUNT. GONNA VOTE UR BROWN RACIST ASS OUT and put a WHITE WOMAN in ur place. Be ready for it. #whitepride”
(Riverside City Councilmember Gabriela Plascencia, photo credit: Cindy Yamanaka, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)
“Constituents call my assistant and they ask if I have my papers and express their discontent that she and I are Latinas,” Plascencia recounted. It’s not just constituents that treat her disrespectfully. “The only Republican left on the council has called me little lady when he doesn’t like my remarks,” Plascencia said. “He refuses to call me Councilwoman or Councilmember Plascencia.”
California Assemblymember Wendy Carrillo shared a similar experience. She told Luz Collective by phone that she has had men refer to her male colleagues by their full title and has had the same men refer to her casually as Wendy. Latinas, who face both misogyny and racism, break many barriers when they get elected. “Latinas already hear that they are not good enough to run for office or have to be encouraged multiple times before running,” Carrillo said lamenting the treatment many Latinas like her experience once elected. “What AOC has brought attention to [with her speech] is that her colleague [Yolo] doesn’t see her as his equal,” Carrillo said.
Unfortunately, the type of hateful speech that Councilmember Plascencia, Assemblymember Carillo, and Representative Ocasio-Cortez experience doesn’t always stay in the purely verbal realm. U.S. District Judge Esther Salas’ son was allegedly murdered by a man who had an entire website dedicated to using hate speech against women. Judge Salas was nominated to her position by President Obama, making history as the first Latina to serve as a federal district judge in New Jersey. Salas’ only son was killed, and her husband was wounded, when a man dressed in a FedEx uniform shot into her home while she was in the basement.
The primary suspect of the shooting is Roy Den Hollander who was later found dead soon after the attack. Den Hollander was a member of the National Coalition for Men, an organization that proclaims to fight against discrimination of men and boys. Den Hollander made a career out of frivolous lawsuits on behalf of men’s rights and had sued Columbia University for having women’s studies classes, as reported by CNN.
Den Hollander seemed to have a particular bias against Latinas. In reference to Judge Salas, Den Hollander said Judges of Latin American descent were “driven by an inferiority complex.”
When Representative Yoho addressed the congressional floor on July 22 to remark on the prior exchange he had with Representative Ocasio-Cortez, he said “I cannot apologize for my passion,” leaving audiences to assume his passion drove him to use the sexist slur “fucking bitch.”
Similarly, Den Hollander also talked about passion on his website: “An angry man is a Feminazis’ worst nightmare, so she uses the traditional therapist trick of making a man feel ashamed of his anger. That’s how the term ‘white male rage’ originated. It’s been given a derogatory meaning by the Feminist Establishment to make men feel guilty for being angry, and, therefore, prevent them from acting on it. There’s nothing wrong with anger. Anger is a great motivator.” Author Natalia Sylvester also noted the similarities between Yoho’s passion and Den Hollander’s rage.
When Representative Ocasio-Cortez correctly described Yoho’s statements on the house floor as full of excuses, she inspired Plascencia and Carillo, and many other Latinas who are subjects of violent speech to speak out. “I always say a public comment or post deserves a public response,” said Plascencia. “The more we say enough is enough and publicly denounce this behavior the less it will happen. Maybe not because men think it’s wrong but because they don’t want to be publicly shamed.”