On July 20, Rep. Ted Yoho called his colleague Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) “a fucking bitch,” according to a reporter from the Hill who overheard the exchange. Social media all but exploded — AOC stated that in politics, “that kind of confrontation hasn’t ever happened to [her] — ever.” It wasn’t until three days later that Yoho offered an “apology” on the House floor. Yoho, the 65-year-old Republican congressman from Florida, called the comment a “misunderstanding,” according to Forbes. In short, Yoho attempted to evade any and all responsibility regarding the situation.
Fortunately, AOC left no room for sympathy toward Yoho. She quickly acknowledged in a Tweet that she would not teach “young people watching that this is an apology, and what they should learn to accept.” Her speech — on the House floor Thursday morning — in response to Yoho quickly went viral. And for a good reason. AOC put into words the way that so many women feel in the face of “apologies” from their harassers. By not accepting Yoho’s transparent “apology,” AOC sent a message to harassers everywhere that, as victims of abuse, we see right through them.
“From a place of passion”
Within his “apology,” Yoho said, “I cannot apologize for my passion or for loving my God, my family, and my country.” Passion can mean many things. It leads to dedication. Passion can create amazing pieces of art. It can change the world for the better. But what passion can’t do is serve as an excuse for harassment or misogynistic language. Passion cannot be explained as fuel for sexism. At least that is what I believe.
But technically, the strict definition of passion, according to Merriam-Webster, is “intense, driving, or overmastering feeling or conviction.” The notion that men’s actions are a result of their uncontrollable “passion” is not new. Just take a second to reflect back on the common rhetoric that women were “asking for it” in cases of sexual assault. The irony becomes clear when we imagine yet another common stereotype of a woman – not a man – whose emotions dictate every aspect of her life.
“But I have a wife”
Also in Yoho’s apology, the Congressman made yet another misogynistic comment (surprise, surprise). He stated that, “having been married for 45 years with two daughters, I’m very cognizant of my language”. The use of this phrase has been prevalent in misogynistic rhetoric for a long time. According to The Lily, this excuse dates all the way back to the antebellum South, particularly as it applied to powerful slave owners. So in response to Yoho, AOC said this: “I want to thank [Yoho] 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.”
An excuse, not an apology
Among other things, Yoho said (without, I might add, ever mentioning AOC by name), “I apologize for my misunderstanding.” Yoho offered an excuse rather than an apology. AOC made this clear when she said, “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 toward women. But what I do have an issue with is using women, wives, and daughters as shields and excuses for poor behavior.” According to Merriam-Webster, the word apology technically means “an admission of error or discourtesy accompanied by an expression of regret.” The word excuse, on the other hand, can be defined as “to forgive entirely or disregard as of trivial import.” Clearly, Yoho’s speech aligned far more with the latter.
The power of unacceptance
AOC’s speech empowered not only herself but so many women around the world. Yoho, like so many other harassers, did not really apologize. Therefore, AOC had no responsibility to accept it. And as women, experiencing an excuse in the cloak of an apology is something all too familiar.
And even if Yoho did apologize, AOC still did not owe Yoho an apology. A sincere apology can be freeing for a victim, yes. But an apology does not negate action, nor does it negate the emotional toll that action forced a woman to endure. Therefore, there is power in non-acceptance. Non-acceptance forces the harasser to live with their guilt, or at the very least, forces them to grapple with their male privilege.