Around two weeks back, Republican lawmaker Ted Yoho verbally assaulted Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on the steps of the United States Capitol, home of the Congress and Senate. Yoho issued a conditional and insincere apology, which led to AOC calling him out in the most fierce manner possible.
Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez talked about how the confrontation was part of a culture of systemic abuse against women. She and other Democrats accused the Republican party of having, and enabling, a sexist culture “accepting violence and violent language against women,” including Donald Trump. But sexism in US politics isn’t limited to a single party.
Making sense of what happened
Its necessary to acknowledge what Ocasio-Cortez did before exploring the wider narrative. She held a white man responsible for his actions. She eviscerated Ted Yoho, who did not think he would be held accountable when he decided to assault her verbally. When dismissing the accusations did not work, Yoho came back to Congress to imply that he is a good, patriotic, married man with two daughters and not the sexist man who would call his colleague a bitch. He did not even have the grace to address Ocasio-Cortez by name. There wasn’t a sign of remorse in his tone or manner.
Watch: Ted Yoho apologizes without naming AOC
The incident gave the nation a chance to witness a young woman of colour admonish a white man on the floor of Congress, an extraordinary achievement in itself. “This issue is not about one incident. It is cultural,” said Ocasio-Cortez. She called it a culture “of accepting a violence and violent language against women, an entire structure of power that supports that”. She was followed by several other Democrat Congresswomen, who spoke about their experience of name-calling and verbal abuse. Nancy Pelosi, the most powerful woman in Washington, took to a press conference to say that she has been name-called for years. “There’s no limit to the disrespect or the lack of acknowledgement of the strength of women,” she said.
Watch: AOC’s reply to Ted Yoho
Sexism in American Politics
One doesn’t need to look too deep to spot the rot. The incumbent President Donald Trump has himself confessed to groping women. He has called his colleague, Nancy Pelosi, crazy and his opponent, Hilary Clinton nasty, a word he again used for Democrat VP candidate, Kamala Harris just yesterday. Perhaps, Trump’s ascendance to Presidency is the ultimate proof for many that sexism is accepted and enabled in America.
Reports have suggested that Trump has made the GOP more comfortable with expressing sexist sentiments. But even before Trump, the Republican Party featured jewels like Todd Akin, who, in 2012, said “If it’s legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut the whole thing down”. In 2017, a Republican party leader in Utah wrote a letter opposing a wage-equality bill because men “need to make enough to support their families and allow the Mother [his capitalization] to remain in the home to raise and nurture the children.”
But sexism isn’t just a problem of Republicans, in 2016, Bernie Sanders called Hillary Clinton underqualified to be the presidential candidate. He might be excused, given that Hillary called Sanders underqualified as well. But Bernie’s supporters, often called ‘Berniebros’ displayed blatant misogyny over the internet. Democratic candidate Biden himself has been accused of invading female space. Former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg was accused of being blatantly sexist.
First world democracy
It is a sorry state of affair to witness in a first world Democracy. One just needs to look at the sexism Kamala Harris is facing since being nominated as the Democratic Vice Presidential candidate to see how sexism is the default for any woman in politics. In fact, former Presidential nominee Hillary Clinton recently stated that she hoped that Harris receives less sexist media coverage than she did. Every election, Democrats scream how misogynist Republicans are, while sometimes displaying the same behavior. “Not as bad as Trump” appears to be the benchmark for Democrats.
Watch: The problem of sexism in American and World politics
Many news articles interpreted AOC’s response to Yoho as an attempt to brand herself and use the sexism narrative to champion her agenda, which is again another form of sexism. These type of discourses just prevent holding the real culprits accountable.
There is a long, long way to go to get rid of sexism in politics. It requires multiple approaches like giving women positions of power, the media holding the correct people accountable, and the law doing its job by protecting women lawmakers and other women in politics.