Just Because You’ve Never Called a Woman a Bitch Doesn’t Mean You Haven’t Called a Woman a Bitch

Kelly Stout
Photo credit: Win McNamee - Getty Images
Photo credit: Win McNamee - Getty Images

From Esquire

On Tuesday, Florida Rep. Ted Yoho called New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez a “fucking bitch” on the steps of our nation's Capitol. Their colleague Rep. Roger Williams was there, too, and did not take the opportunity to say, “Chief, you're my friend, but I have to stop you there. That's not acceptable behavior.” On Wednesday, Rep. Yoho issued a non-apology, saying he regretted that he’d been “abrupt.” He blamed his word choice on being “passionate.”

In an absolute barn-burner of an address on the House floor Thursday, Ocasio-Cortez told the American people a little more about what happened:

Rep Yoho put his finger in my face. He called me disgusting, he called me crazy, he called me out of my mind. And he called me dangerous. And then he took a few more steps, and after I had recognized his comments as rude he walked away and said “I’m rude? You’re calling me rude?” I took a few steps ahead and I walked inside and cast my vote because my constituents send me here each and every day to fight for them, and to make sure that they are able to keep a roof over their head, that they’re able to feed their family, and that they’re able to carry their lives with dignity. I walked back out and there were reporters in the front of the Capitol, and in front of reporters, Rep. Yoho called me—and I quote—"a fucking bitch.”

I highly recommend you watch it in its entirety.

But I offer this recommendation with a warning. Good men will watch this video and think Jesus, what an absolute piece of trash this guy is, and of course they’ll be right. Good men will enjoy watching the greatest politician in a generation put a knockoff Todd Packer in his place. Good men might also watch this and think that because they’ve never called a woman a fucking bitch, they’ve never called a woman a fucking bitch.

When I was 25, an older, male editor whom I often heard colleagues praise as "passionate" raised his voice to me in the newsroom out of frustration. He was overextended, tired, pulled in a million different directions at once, and he snapped at me in anger about something (font size, of all things) over which I had no control. I said to him, “Please, don’t speak to me that way.” Later, another editor took me aside. I was told the guy who yelled at me was overextended, tired, and pulled in a million different directions, so I needed to watch how I spoke to him.

I don’t need an apology from him, and I don’t need an apology from the men, mostly strangers, who have actually called me a “fucking bitch.” This kind of language is woven so seamlessly into the fabric of public life for women, especially those who are women of color and who are working class women, that it’s more common than good men think. We hear it on the subway, we hear it at bars, at school, at work—the least fortunate of us even hear it at home. It’s so common that we can’t really afford to build our lives around avoiding it. AOC once threw a guy out of a bar where she worked for using that kind of language, and presumably got right back to work. “I do not need Rep. Yoho to apologize to me,” AOC said. “Clearly he does not want to. Clearly, when given the opportunity, he will not. And I will not stay up late at night waiting for a man who has no remorse over using abusive language towards women.”

I think about that editor who yelled at me—this exceedingly minor event in my life—all the time. But not because I think I was profoundly wronged, not because it was traumatic or even damaging. He would certainly not have been thrown out of a bar, much less an office for it. I think about it because I still, years later, don’t really know if what I experienced was sexism or not. l find myself at 3 a.m. trying to recall in detail the inflection of my voice, how much I furrowed my brow, the sharpness of my tone—all in an effort to suss out who was in the wrong. Those are hours spent on nothing that I’ll never get back, and I’m willing to bet my life’s savings that the editor who snapped at me has forgotten all about it. I wish he’d just called me a fucking bitch.

If he’d done that, it would have removed all uncertainty. I wouldn't have to ask myself if I was hurt or how much. We know how to feel when someone calls us a fucking bitch. The good men in our lives know how to feel and how to react when someone calls us that. There's no room for "what do you think he meant by that?" If he'd called me a fucking bitch I could have told my husband or my friends and we could have shaken our heads and said Jesus what an absolute piece of trash that guy is. I could finally think about something—anything!—else. I could finally get some sleep. AOC is right when she says that women don’t stay up all night waiting for an apology from the men who call us “fucking bitches.” We know an apology won’t come from the heart if it comes at all.

Photo credit: Bill Clark - Getty Images
Photo credit: Bill Clark - Getty Images

What keeps us up at night is a maddening question: “Did I imagine that?” She’s hard to work with, she has a big personality, she’s dramatic, she always makes it about race, she’s a tough cultural fit, she’s aggressive, or even a simple I don’t like her all mean something. When he raised his eyebrows when her name was mentioned, what did that mean? When he explained something she already knew, was it because he doesn’t respect her? She didn’t play nice. She wasn’t easygoing, she was a little uptight, she was a lot. These phrases are crazy-making in their plausible deniability. He said she was hard to work with, sure, but maybe he was just being "passionate." It's not like he called her a bitch.

What Rep. Yoho did to Rep. Ocasio-Cortez was worse than these phrases. He blatantly disrespected her in front of reporters and her colleagues, knowing he’d be immune to criticism precisely because the object of his ire was a young, Latinx woman. It was abhorrent. But he did one kind thing, in using such strong language: he made himself clear. He made it so no one can say, “It’s not like he called her a bitch.”

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