In early July, reporters caught an exchange between Rep. Ocasio-Cortez, D-NY, and Rep. Ted Roho, R-Florida, that shined an ugly light on male behavior and U.S. history, according to critics.
According to a Hill reporter, Ocasio-Cortez was walking up the east front steps of the Capitol to cast a vote Monday afternoon when both Yoho and Texas GOP Rep. Roger Williams intercepted her as they were descending the steps. Roho allegedly called Cortez “disgusting,” and said she was “out of [her] freaking mind” over an opinion he’d heard her say. At the end of the exchange, as the two politicians parted ways, the Hill reports Yoho uttered the words, “f-cking b-tch.”
Roho later “apologized” by denying that he’d ever said these things. He explained he was actually referring to Ocasio-Cortez’ opinions—rather than Cortez, herself—as “disgusting,” and that she was “out of her freaking mind” for believing that poverty and crime have a connection. He also offered the emblematic non-apology of a “sorry if you were offended” spiel, and he assured the world he would never have been so nasty to a woman because he is a married man with daughters; the classic “some of my best friends are Black” argument.
“Having been married for 45 years with two daughters, I’m very cognizant of language,” Yoho said. He also insisted that the Hill reporter had simply misheard him. In addition, he proclaimed that he “cannot apologize” for his passion “or for loving my God, my family and my country.”
What followed two days later was a House floor trampling as Ocasio-Cortez took the House mic and told Roho exactly where to put his God and country.
“If he wants to continue to lie, that’s his business,” Ocasio-Cortez told CNN.
She described the encounter as Roho getting in her face and demanding: “Do you really believe that people are shooting and killing each other because they’re hungry? You know, you’re unbelievable. You’re disgusting.”
Ocasio-Cortez also recounted Roho wagging his finger at her and becoming the kind of irascible jerk that she often had to escort from the building back in her bartending days. She said she’d initially planned on ignoring the insult, but said she’d changed her mind after Yoho first broached the subject and began cribbing for allies on the House floor.
“I am someone’s daughter, too,” she told the House. “Thankfully, my father is not alive to see how Mr. Yoho treated his daughter. My mother got to see Mr. Yoho’s disrespect of me on the floor of this House, on television. 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.”
Ocasio-Cortez pointed out the harm Yoho tried to do was not just directed at her.
“When you do that to any woman, what Mr. Yoho did was give permission to other men to do that to his daughters. … I am here to say, that is not acceptable.”
Critics say that people should not be too surprised at the words Roho casually tossed around that day on the steps. Men have been using harsh language to punish and keep Black and brown women in their place for centuries.
“I think that most people would agree that this is not a typical workplace exchange. In any other context, if this happened in a business or a university there would be some sort of consequence for the behavior,” said Margaret L. Signorella, professor of psychology and women’s, gender, and sexuality studies at Penn State Brandywine. “Cortez says in her remarks on the House floor that ‘he called me disgusting,’ ‘he called me crazy,’ ‘he called me out of my mind,’ and although people do use those insults in other contexts, it’s not uncommon to see women who exert authority or have a different opinion being called those things.”
Signorella pointed to the work of writer and philosopher Kate Manne, who wrote the book “Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny.” In it, Manne argues that misogyny often serves to police and enforce certain social roles and “extract moral goods and resources” from women that historically benefit men. Women who compete with men for power can be the target of insult in order to paint them as morally suspect and put them at a disadvantage on the playing field.
“It’s easier and more frequently used against Black and brown women,” Signorella told Lighthouse. “That’s probably one reason why it might be … called out less frequently, but that goes back to U.S. history and the era of slavery. A lot of these misogynistic tropes came from the era of slavery.”
As of July 28, Yoho had not come clean about his exchange with Ocasio-Cortez, but a Christian organization with whom Yoho is a board member was convinced enough of his antics to demand and receive Yoho’s resignation.
Chris Ford, the deputy director for strategic communications and campaigns of Bread for the World, on Saturday evening confirmed Yoho’s resignation during a company board meeting.
“…[B]read sought his resignation as an action that reaffirms our commitment to coming alongside women and people of color, nationally and globally, as they continue to lead us to a more racially inclusive and equitable world.”