Americans have differing opinions on politicians, but we generally expect Congressmen and women to behave civilly while serving their term. Perhaps that is why the sexist, vulgar statements Representative Ted Yoho made toward Representative Alexandria Ocasio Cortez seem to have caught the nation’s attention. Those comments, and her rebuke of the excuses he made for them on the House floor, have called national attention to cultural sexism, verbal abuse, and gender-based violence.
It’s not unusual for Republican and Democratic representatives to disagree, even passionately, about policy on Capitol Hill. But usually, the comments that fly are not personal, or profane. On July 21, 2020, Mike Lillis, a reporter for The Hill, reported that Representative Ted Yoho, a Republican from Florida, let his temper get the better of him in earshot of a reporter when he confronted Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Democrat from New York, on her way into the Capitol.
According to the report, in the heated exchange, Representative Yoho called Representative Ocasio-Cortez “disgusting” and “out of your freaking mind” related to her comments on poverty, unemployment, and crime in New York City during the coronavirus pandemic. Ms. Ocasio-Cortez responded by calling Mr. Yoho “rude” before moving past him to go into the building. Mr. Yoho joined Representative Roger Williams, a Republican from Texas, before calling Ms. Ocasio-Cortez a “fucking bitch.”
In the social media comments that followed it appeared that this was the first time Mr. Yoho had met Ms. Ocasio-Cortez. She told The Hill:
"That kind of confrontation hasn't ever happened to me — ever," she said. "I've never had that kind of abrupt, disgusting kind of disrespect levied at me."
Mr. Yoho denies directing the profane statement toward Representative Ocasio-Cortez. Still, he felt it necessary to appear before the House of Representatives to “apologize for the abrupt manner of the conversation I had with my colleague from New York.” However, Mr. Yoho never named Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, nor did he acknowledge the gender-based verbal abuse he had directed toward her. Instead he said “the offensive name calling words attributed to me by the press were never spoken to my colleagues.” Rather than apologizing for his words, he apologized for the misunderstanding. He raised his wife and two daughters for examples of why he is “very cognizant of my language.” He concluded his remarks saying that, “I cannot apologize for my passion or for loving my God, my family and my country,” despite the fact that none of those things had been issues in the conversation.
The next day, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez appeared before Congress herself in response to Mr. Yoho’s comments. She repeated the words Mr. Yoho had used against her. She clarified that his words were not deeply hurtful or piercing. She had heard them before in working-class jobs as a waitress and bartender.
“This is not new. And that is the problem.”
She said the comments were representative of a culture “accepting [of] violence and violent language against women. An entire structure of power that supports that.” She said it was not his abuse that pushed her to speak up, but his excuses for it.
“And I will not stay up late at night, waiting for an apology from a man who has no remorse over . . . 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.”
She said her parents “did not raise me to accept abuse from men.” She continued:
"When you do that to any woman, what Mr 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."
The language Mr. Yoho is reported to have used against Representative Ocasio-Cortez may not have been new or deeply hurtful to her, but they were the kinds of comments that often hint at or lead to gender-based violence at home and in the workplace. While the profanity has gotten the most media attention, other portions of Mr. Yoho’s comments were just as concerning from a domestic violence perspective.
Saying a person is crazy or “out of their mind” is a form of gaslighting, an abusive tactic that is designed to cause the listener to question their own thoughts, or even their sanity. Calling a person “disgusting” or comparing them to animals are ways of making them feel inferior, or less than human. Doing so in front of others -- in Mr. Yoho’s case, the press -- humiliates the listener, exposing them to shame.
All of these behaviors are forms of verbal abuse. In a marriage or dating relationship, they can sometimes rise to the level of criminal domestic violence. Verbal abuse in the workplace can sometimes amount to sexual harassment and give rise to gender discrimination complaints. If this type of verbal abuse is not called into account, it can sometimes escalate to gender-based violence. While verbal abuse itself can be a crime, more often police and prosecutors will wait until victims of gender-based violence have physical proof they are being abused before they take steps to end the abuse. Meanwhile, the victims continue to suffer the trauma, emotional, and sometimes physical harm caused by abusive language.
But you don’t have to wait. At ADZ Law, LLP, we represent the victims of domestic violence, including verbal abuse, helping them stop the abuse and get the support they need to move on into the next chapter of their lives. We represent clients in San Mateo County, California and the San Francisco Bay area. We invite you to contact ADZ Law, LLP to schedule a telephone or video conference consultation and find out how we can help you.