This story appears in STYLECASTER’s Activism Issue, starring Jurnee Smollett. Click here for more.
Growing up, I thought Hillary Clinton’s 1995 “Women’s Rights Are Human Rights“ speech was the epitome of feminism. Though that speech is just as relevant and strong today, the way feminism is perceived has changed. In July, Rep. Ted Yoho called Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez a “fucking bitch” and “out of her freaking mind” on the steps of Capitol Hill. After he begrudgingly made a rather empty apology, Ocasio-Cortez took to the House floor to give an impassioned, powerful speech condemning systemic sexism. Every single word she said hit the nail on the head and was felt by women around the world—because most of us, in some form, have been in this situation before. The speech went viral and thousands have posted in support of AOC, who many believe to be the face of Gen Z feminism. With just one speech, AOC implicitly launched a new wave of unapologetic women who are unashamed of standing up for themselves—in all spaces.
“This issue is not about one incident,” AOC said in her speech, explaining why she made the decision to take Yoho’s comments to Congress. “It is a culture of lack of impunity; of accepting violence and violent language against women; and an entire structure of power that supports that.” Prior to the misogynistic attack, Yoho was “disgusted” by Ocasio-Cortez’s suggestion that poverty and unemployment have led to a rise in petty crimes. She told him he was being “rude,” and he then decided to escalate the situation by verbally accosting her. The words he retorted are emblematic of the discomfort men feel when an unapologetic, intelligent woman stands up for herself in a space where men feel they aren’t supposed to belong. Yoho is an example of a man who felt so threatened that a woman was self-assured enough to even respond to him—and not to simply stand back, take it and remain quiet.
Instead of amplifying her voice, some media outlets reported that AOC “lashed out“ on Twitter and that her speech was a calculated response “to amplify her own political brand.” Others chalked her words up to AOC being “fiery.” Ocasio-Cortez did exactly what we preach any woman in her position should do—stand up for herself—and yet somehow the narrative became that she’s just trying to forward her personal political agenda. This rhetoric is not distinct from the way many Latinx women have been labeled—overly emotional, crazy and so on. But framing AOC and her speech in this manner makes the clear distinction between her words and Yoho’s. Why can he proudly state that he cannot “apologize for his passion” while Ocasio-Cortez continues to be branded as chaotic and juvenile?
Ocasio-Cortez is an unwavering force to be reckoned with.
Her speech was not one any woman ever wants to make. Calling out sexism is never fun or pleasant. We are brought up and trained to ignore it. Having to sit and flesh out why this is wrong is extremely difficult. AOC had to rise and make a speech on her verbal abuse—and know that no matter what she said, many people still won’t listen, care or change. She made a spectacle of something when she should have just shut up, so that validates calling her a bitch, right? “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,” she said. “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.”
AOC knew that women everywhere were waiting to see what she would do next. Would she ignore it and brush it off, like the woman who is catcalled while walking home alone? Would she just pretend it didn’t happen, like we’re trained to do when we’re harassed on the subway? Would she laugh it off the way we do when we’re made uncomfortable and don’t want to make things “serious?” Or would she take this moment and use it to amplify the voices of women worldwide—voices that continue to be silenced every day?
Her speech is distinct from anything I’ve heard an elected official publicly say so heartily before, and I can’t help but think of how many lives she will touch because of it. Her passion is something I wish I grew up seeing displayed in politics. We don’t always see women in politics make speeches such as AOC’s because they’ve been told to steer clear of criticism and not be seen as emotional. We’re told these characteristics are faults instead of strengths. There is no denying that AOC inspires women everywhere. The authenticity behind her path to Congress has already made an impact that can be seen and felt. It’s why Puerto Rican Samelys Lopez, an ex-homeless Congressional candidate, can run an incredible campaign in the 15th district of New York—neighboring that of AOC’S own Bronx district. And it’s why both women and men in politics always have some sort of opinion about her, good or bad. Ocasio-Cortez is an unwavering force to be reckoned with.
We’re all someone’s daughter, but we shouldn’t have to use that as leverage to be treated with respect.
Misogynistic behavior is a problem that runs deep, and it’s not going away anytime soon. But how we respond to that needs to change, and it’s starting to, thanks to women like AOC. As a Latina myself, it is so incredibly wonderful to see the representation that AOC provides for women of color. Whether it’s calling out unwarranted groping from men at clubs or renouncing misogynistic behavior on the steps of Capitol Hill, we are united by the verbal abuse we face. As Yoho hid behind being deemed a “family man,” AOC declared that she is, in fact, “someone’s daughter too.” We’re all someone’s daughter, but we shouldn’t have to use that as leverage to be treated with the respect we deserve in the first place.