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AOC, like all women, is somebody’s daughter. But that’s not why she deserves respect

"We affirm these truths to be self-evident, that women are the backbone of every family, of our communities and we are nation builders," said Rep. Ayanna Pressley as she stood in solidarity with Rep. Ocasio-Cortez and others against sexism.
"We affirm these truths to be self-evident, that women are the backbone of every family, of our communities and we are nation builders," said Rep. Ayanna Pressley as she stood in solidarity with Rep. Ocasio-Cortez and others against sexism.Mario Tama/Getty

Before he even called her a bitch, Ted Yoho got in Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s space.

Tuesday, on the steps of the Capitol, where laws are made, the US representative from Florida put his finger in her face. It was physical. He was joined by Congressman Roger Williams from Texas.

And we can’t ignore the implications of that type of aggression.

Yoho towers over Ocasio-Cortez, both in height and girth, and he’s 35 years her senior. Like AOC said, she’s younger than his youngest daughter. He was trying to intimidate her.

The press was close enough to capture his predatory behavior. So he gave a false apology.


“Having been married for 45 years with two daughters, I’m very cognizant of my language,” Yoho said Wednesday on the House Floor. “The offensive name-calling words attributed to me by the press were never spoken to my colleague, and if they were construed that way I apologize for their misunderstanding.”

Why do sexist men use women as a signal of their virtue? Only in a sexist society is a woman’s worth tied to being someone’s daughter, mother, or wife. Ownership.

AOC was joined by other women in Congress, including Rep. Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, and even a few men, who stood in solidarity with her on the House floor Thursday. They spoke out against Yoho’s behavior and a culture of sexism.

“You can be a powerful man and accost women,” AOC said. “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.”

Every single day. Even the occupant of the White House is known for dehumanizing women, and reserving a special disdain for women of color, including AOC, who he said wasn’t talented and is among The Squad members whom he told to go back to their countries. She’s a Puerto Rican woman from the Bronx.


As the youngest woman in Congress, AOC has been the target of not just Trump, but trolls across party lines. She’s been accused of hating the facts, dividing her party, taking a nude selfie, and disrespecting those who came before her.

They hate her not because she’s undeserving of her seat, but because she’s brown, a former bartender, and she shook the House up.

And Yoho? Well, he is a man who voted against making lynching a hate crime. He’s anti-abortion. He believes companies should have the right to discriminate against LGBTQ+ employees.

Yoho got in AOC’s face on the staircase, calling her crazy, dangerous, and disgusting because she represents everything he’s not, because she drew a connection between economic disparity and crime. He accosted her because she dared disagree with him.

“Patriarchy, it is a tool of oppression that’s very much at home in the halls of this powerful institution,” Rep. Pressley said on the House floor Thursday as she stood with Ocasio-Cortez. “Not unlike the hostile working environments and harassment experienced by countless women across the nation who dare to speak truth to power.”

America does not like it when women have agency. Across the country, how we value girls and women is easy to measure.


This is the country with the highest maternal mortality rate in the developed world, but it’s concerned about whether female medical professionals are wearing bikinis on social media. Because sexual power over women is an American tradition.

According to the CDC, nearly one in five women have experienced completed or attempted rape during their lifetimes. One in eight were raped before the age of 10.

The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence reports one in four women are victims of severe intimate partner violence. Homicide is a leading cause of death for girls and women. The murder of trans women is a national crisis. When women fight back, they are often criminalized.

And if women don’t fight back, some think it means they weren’t taught any better. Ocasio-Cortez’s speech on the House floor was near perfect — except for one line.

“I am here because I have to show my parents that I am their daughter, and they did not raise me to accept abuse from men,” she said.

I understand her sentiment. I love that her parents gave her that strength, and she honored them. But women are murdered fighting back every day.

Just this week, anti-feminist lawyer Roy Den Hollander attacked Judge Esther Salas’ family in New Jersey. She was the intended target, but he killed her son and wounded her husband in the ambush.


Women and girls sometimes don’t fight back out of fear. It’s not acceptance. It’s survival.

Sometimes ignoring a man can get a woman killed. Last November, 19-year-old Ruth George paid no attention to a man’s catcalls in Chicago. For that, she was murdered. Rejection killings are as real as the men who put their finger in your face for holding different political views.

Other times, abuse is so gradual it takes time for women to recognize they are in a cycle. That does not mean those girls or women were not raised right. Some might be using what is perceived as silence to survive until they find a way out. That, too, is a form of fighting back.

Unchecked abuse is a symptom of a country that does not care about girls, women, and them.

You can be raised right and still encounter an inhumane abuser. You can be raised right and come across the kind of calculating and manipulative partner that knows how to groom girls and women into the kind that cry in closets, hide their scars, and smile through their pain. You can be raised right and fall victim to a system that tries to brutalize you based on gender, identity, and race.

Women are paid less. And we are punished more. In prison, women are often disciplined two to three times more than men for more minor violations, like talking back.

In this country, gender binary standards have lied to us by saying good girls should be seen and not heard and speak when called upon. One should act like a lady, as defined by men. Cross your legs, dress modestly, let everyone else dictate your body, and be smart but never smarter than a man.


Respect us, not because we are daughters, but because we are human and your equal, too.

“We affirm these truths to be self-evident, that women are the backbone of every family, of our communities and we are nation builders,” Pressley said. “We believe in you fully, without reservation. You have a right to show up in the world exactly as you are.”

Yoho called the intimidation of AOC a “misunderstanding.” And then he said, “I cannot apologize for my passion or for loving my God, my family, and my country.”

What he means is he won’t apologize for loving girls and women as long as they are related to him, love God, and follow his politics. What he means is he won’t apologize for subscribing to the American notion that a woman should be less than a man.

What he means is the minute a woman stands against him, he’ll tower over her and shove his finger in her face. In America, a woman who thinks for herself, and for her survival, is fighting back.

They don’t like it when little girls become women with agency, women like AOC who will take them to the Congress floor.

You see, America waters its daughters with sexism and gets mad when bitches bloom.

Jeneé Osterheldt can be reached at jenee.osterheldt@globe.com and on Twitter @sincerelyjenee.