She was a teacher in Michigan.
She was in line at a Walmart in rural Ohio.
She was at a bar in San Francisco.
She was a post office supervisor in Miami.
He told her to smile, and she didn’t.
He wanted to buy her a drink, and she declined.
He didn’t like her driving. He didn’t like her T-shirt. He had been her friend for seven years, but he didn’t like when she was put in charge of the percussion section in their marching band.
So he called her something, a vulgar noun modified by a vulgar adjective, neither of which is printable here, both of which you know all too well, because they are a woman-hating insult routine in the lexicon of men whose primacy has been challenged, whose egos have been bruised, who have been denied something they want.
Recently, it took center stage in the House of Representatives, via a speech from Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. For some reason, she is the hornet’s nest Republicans cannot stop themselves from poking, even though they end up stung to pieces every time.
Florida Rep. Ted Yoho is the latest. He accosted Ocasio-Cortez on the steps of the U.S. Capitol and told her she was “disgusting” for having linked a spike in crime to poverty and unemployment. “You are out of your freaking mind,” he said. She called him rude and walked away.
“A few steps down,” reported Mike Lillis of the Hill newspaper, who witnessed the exchange, “Yoho offered a parting thought to no one in particular. ‘F——- b—-,” he said.”
Afterward, Yoho’s first comment was “No comment.” He later offered an apology that wasn’t, expressing contrition for his “abrupt manner.” He said, “Having been married for 45 years with two daughters, I’m very cognizant of my language. The offensive name-calling words attributed to me by the press were never spoken to my colleagues and if they were construed that way, I apologize for the misunderstanding.” He’s just “passionate” on the issue of poverty, he said.
Ocasio-Cortez rightly rejected this self-justifying swill. Addressing the House Thursday, she noted that she’s been called such things before. It’s something women get used to ignoring, and she might have done so, but for Yoho’s use of his wife and daughters as moral shields. “I am two years younger than Mr. Yoho’s youngest daughter,” the 30-year-old legislator said. “I am someone’s daughter, too.
“ … 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.” Bread For The World, a nonprofit Christian group, apparently agreed. It asked Yoho to resign from its board.
As well it should have. The issue is not just objectionable words, but the contempt they encode. What must it be like when that contempt is your everyday, when the threat of violent action simmering behind violent words becomes your ordinary? Half of us cannot imagine. Half of us know all too well. When yours truly put out a Twitter call for their stories, the responses flowed like water.
She was a prosecutor in South Carolina.
She was an artist in Illinois.
She was riding public transit in Dallas.
What came next was a reflection of male entitlement: our weakness, our brittle egos, our refusal to hold ourselves to account. Sadly, it happens all the time, happens everywhere. Maybe you forget to be shocked. But last week, it happened on America’s front porch.
She was a lawmaker from New York.