This week, there was a powerful young voice on the floor of our government’s stage. Many folks have feelings towards the progressive young Democratic congresswoman Alexandra Ocazio-Cortez, aka AOC. But regardless of your political inclinations, if you are female-identified, chances are AOC’s words yesterday resonated all too well.
I was moved to absolute tears by her speech, because over the course of nine minutes and 52 seconds I watched Ocasio-Cortez speak about such unwavering harsh truths so many women experience. She spoke about her recent encounter walking up the steps of Capitol Hill and being called “a fucking bitch” by one of her peers in the House of Representatives: Republican Ted Yoho, who hurled the insult while walking alongside fellow Republican Congressman Roger Williams. The incident hit me hard because I, like so many women who are opening up about similar abuse on Twitter, have endured countless slurs from many men in my life — including my own father, and the father of two of my children.
I can’t even tell you the number of times men in my life have called me names far worse than simply “a fucking bitch.” I can’t quantify the amount of times women everywhere get bestowed with similar verbal abuse at the hands men on an everyday basis.
Some of the times a man has called me a “fucking bitch” or worse occurred in the presence of my children. That includes my young sons. What does that teach them about how to treat women? It also includes my young daughter, who I will one day have to inform about the full extent of both her grandfathers’ verbal abuses and her those of her own father, who was also a physical abuser. At the hands of my daughter’s father, I suffered dreadful physical actions that still permeate my mind over a decade later. As for the aftermath of those abuses? He refused to apologize, and instead bluntly flaunted how he’d “get away with all of it.”
While Ocasio-Cortez’s speech yesterday was both strikingly beautiful and eloquent, I have one criticism. During the closing portion, AOC thanked fellow congressman and Republican Ted Yoho for his actions.
“What I want to express to Mr. Yoho is gratitude,” she said. “I want to thank him for showing the world that you can be a powerful man and accost women. You can have daughters and accost women without remorse. You can be married and accost women.”
My heart screamed at her word: gratitude. I thought of the conversations I will be having with my daughter in the future, and how this part of the narrative absolutely, positively needs to end already. Which narrative, you ask? I’d like the narrative of women being groomed to thank abusers for their abuse to stop, now.
Folks who abuse someone do not merit gratitude. They do not merit your apologies. They deserve to be held fully accountable. Victims deserve justice. Women deserve justice. Our children, the future leaders of tomorrow, deserve justice.
We live in a world where women are subjected to abuse by men in power. Period. Ocasio-Cortez mentioned that this incident with Yoho was not isolated. Unsurprisingly, she has also been subjected to verbal abuse by the highest officer of our government here in America. Meanwhile, Trump supporters cheer. This behavior by men is not only common in everyday circumstances; it is embedded within the highest forms of connected “justice” systems of checks and balances in the United States.
There is no balancing act within our government’s systems of power. There is only an act, pure and simple. The illusion of balance and welcoming space for women has toppled over under the weight of men who gloat and expect to be thanked for their abuses.
Like I said, I know this because my own daughter’s father is one of them. I know because my father did it to me. I know because it is something that I am ashamed of having endured — something I do not ever want my daughter to experience.
So dear AOC, please, for our daughters and all the now-tiny future women of tomorrow, I implore you to not thank your abuser in any way, shape, or form. Because I’m going to have to have this conversation with my daughter someday, and she may turn to me and ask me about this portion of your powerful speech. She may get yet another impression that is forced upon every abused woman: That it is our duty as women to be thankful. To see the silver lining. To express gratitude. To look on the bright side of abuse.
In the opening statement of your speech, you said “I am here because I have to show my parents that I am their daughter and that they did not raise me to accept abuse from men.” And I am here because I have to show my daughter that there is absolutely nothing to thank these men for. I don’t care who you are or what job you have; you don’t get to abuse someone and get gratitude. Our daughters deserve the bright-siding of abuse part of the narrative to stop just as much as they deserve the abuse to stop.
Help teach all our daughters how powerful they are with the help of these beautiful children’s books featuring Black and brown girls.