Confrontation: This was a case of indignity on Capitol Hill

It has been a couple of weeks or so since the day when U.S. Rep. Ted Yoho (R-Fla.) addressed his female colleague Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) with the most obscene and sexist language. And surprisingly, in the culturally twisted culture that we are currently living in, I heard many reflecting on this distasteful and vulgar encounter with, “What’s the big deal? Everybody does it.” And truly, yes, it happens all the time. From the streets of New York City to the alleys of California, whether in factories, bars, night clubs and even in seemingly dignified corporate offices, this shameful culture of embarrassing and insulting women has been accepted as a common behavior. 

But if this kind of loathsome outburst toward a woman is a commonplace occurrence in various facets of our lives, one still could have hoped that this would never happen in the hallways of our Congress, where we hope our leaders aspire to having the rules of proper personal contact, civility and courtesy formulated and exercised. But as it became clear to us all, the mask of politeness was shattered and the true face of Rep. Yoho was revealed for all to see.

There is no doubt in my mind that Rep. Ocasio-Cortez has not been the most hushed and reserved member of the Congress since she began her freshman term. From day one on her job, she has expressed her views in a spirited and at times forceful manner. Especially for a young representative, she has boldly questioned and criticized legislation and fellow representatives, to ensure that any new laws will benefit the hard-working members of the working class. Her demeanor naturally made her a target as one of the most criticized and despised members of the Congress by the right and the Republicans. But this attitude toward a U.S. representative does not give any congressman the right to speak to a congresswoman in the despicable, foul-mouthed manner that Rep. Yoho did. I would like to note here that none of the Republican congressmen who heard Rep. Yoho’s words addressed to AOC even expressed disbelief or advised him that he had crossed the line. 

Rep. Ocasio-Cortez reacted to this rude event presented in very realistic terms when she said that, “Every congresswoman and every woman in this country, all of us, have had to deal with this in some point and some shape in our lives.”

Interestingly, Rep. Yoho did offer an apology, which was characterized with glaring insincerity. Instead of offering a genuine apology, Rep. Yoho tried to portray himself as a decent man who is a great husband and father. Although Rep. Yoho did utter the words, “I apologize,” he cynically used the moment to make sure that people think highly of him. But that artificial apology did not offer him escape from being disgraced, in my opinion. As The Washington Post reported, “A Christian nonprofit organization that fights world hunger asked Rep. Ted Yoho (R-Fla.) to resign from its board.” 

What is significant here is that Rep. Ocasio-Cortez brilliantly transformed this cruel incident into a broader issue of proper behavior and accountability. She made it a challenge for the entire nation to face and examine. In her speech, which has now  gone viral across cyberspace, delivered on Capitol Hill, she made it clear that the verbal confrontation goes beyond a politician’s views on a particular legislation. What she passionately expressed in her daring speech was her view on a man’s dignity. It was about how men should behave when communicating with female members of their organizations. Rep. Ocasio-Cortez eloquently spoke about other men who also have families, and said that while they may be providers, and they may have wives, daughters and nieces, unfortunately none of these circumstances will prevent men who feel it is their divine right to do so from treating women as if they were lowly creatures who can be insulted and shamed as they please.

This was a brilliant speech delivered by a junior member of the Congress, a woman, advising men who are much older than she about proper behavior, dignity and respect.

Varoujan Froundjian is a graphic designer, Photoshop artist, writer, cartoonist, information technology and wine expert. He can be reached at varoujanfroundjian@gmail.com.

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