Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was walking down the steps of Congress when Florida Republican Rep. Ted Yoho called her “a f-cking bitch.” Rep. Yoho was reportedly “disgusted” by AOC’s recent suggestion that poverty and unemployment lead to a rise in petty crimes (a suggestion that is absolutely rooted in fact, for the record).
Yoho told Ocasio-Cortez she was “out of her freaking mind,” something any woman in a moderate position of power flanked by influential white men has surely heard before. When she told him he was being rude, he doubled down, verbally accosting her with a misogynistic attack as old as the prevailing uneasiness men feel when capable, self-assured, knowledgeable women are in their presence.
The media attention was swift, as was the coverage of Ocasio-Cortez’s now historic speech on the House floor, during which she took Rep. Yoho—and all men who have relied on sexist verbal ambushes to undermine their women counterparts—to task. “I will not stay up late at night waiting for an apology from a man who has no remorse over calling women and using abusive language towards women,” she said. “This is not new…it is a culture of lack of impunity; of accepting of violence and violence language against women; and an entire structure of power that supports that.”
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ABC News titled their coverage, “Ocasio-Cortez excoriates Republican congressman in fiery floor speech.“ Good Morning America’s reporting said, “AOC responds to GOP congressman in fiery speech.” Digg.com wrote, “Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Claps Back at Ted Yoho in Fiery House Floor Speech.” Other outlets, including Fox News, labeled AOC’s speech as “emotional.”
This is far from the first time AOC, like so many Latinx people, have been branded with the erroneous label, “fiery.” In March, The Guardian wrote an article covering AOC’s speech on climate change, labeling it a “fiery speech on climate inaction.“
Even as a white-passing Puerto Rican woman who has worked predominantly in white woman-dominated spaces, I have been told I’m “fiery,” “passionate,” and “emotional.” A white coworker commented on my “fiery passion” when I was covering family separation at the border. And white female managers have told me, on more than one occasion, that while they admire my “fiery spirit,” my passion can make others feel uncomfortable.
Labeling Ocasio-Cortez’s speeches in this way—whether it’s this one, or future comments that are sure to be just as unprecedented, powerful, and meaningful—not only undermines her message, but is insulting, plain and simple. Not only does Ocasio-Cortez have to straddle the gendered descriptions of damn-near everything she does, she is forced to navigate media elucidations steeped in outdated stereotypes about Latinx people—primarily Latina women—that paint us all as hot headed, emotional, prone to anger, and unreasonable. Calling AOC or her remarks “fiery” lends credence to the idea that she’s not righteous in her indignation, but simply too excitable and headstrong to stomach a coworker calling her a “f-cking bitch.”
Seventy-seven percent of Latinas say sexual harassment is a major issue in the workplace. One in three Latinas have experienced domestic violence, and 50 percent do not report it. To label any instance in which attention is brought to the misogynistic, racist, and sexist discrimination we are all forced to navigate on a near-daily basis as “fiery” is to erode the very real issues all women, and especially Black and brown women, face in the workplace, at home, and, well, every damn where else.
Ocasio-Cortez’s speech wasn’t “emotional.” It was accurate. The remarks weren’t a “clap-back,” but a sobering reminder that, in the year 2020, even our congresswomen are not free from slimy tentacles of sexism.
And AOC wasn’t “fiery.” She was right.
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