by Chris Dela Cruz
After a speech discussing poverty and unemployment as it relates to crime, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a representative in the United States Congress, was accosted and verbally attacked on the steps of the Capital by another representative, Rep. Ted Yoho. Rep. Yoho put his finger in the face of Rep. Ocasio-Cortez, a grown, adult woman, calling her “disgusting” and “crazy.”
Then, when walking away, in front of reporters, Rep. Yoho, also a grown, adult human who represents American citizens and swore an oath to serve his country, called Rep. Ocasio-Cortez a “fucking bitch.”
Rep. Yoho, on the House floor delivering a speech allegedly reported to be an “apology” according to some sources, denied he used “vulgar language” and said “I cannot apologize for my passion or for loving my God, my family, or my country” but he apologies for the “abrupt manner in which I spoke to my colleague,” never naming Rep. Ocasio-Cortez or admitting the incident as reported happened. Also, “having been married for 45 years with two daughters, I’m very cognizant of language.”
In response, Rep. Ocasio-Cortez gave a speech that I cannot emphasize enough how historic and important this speech is, on the floors of Congress. I ask that you watch it in full.
“Mr. Yoho mentioned that he has a wife and two daughters,” Rep. Ocasio-Cortez said. “I am two years younger than Mr. Yoho’s youngest daughter. I am someone’s daughter too.”
“What I believe is that having a daughter does not make a man decent. Having a wife does not make a decent man. Treating people with dignity and respect makes a decent man, and when a decent man messes up as we all are bound to do, he tries his best and does apologize.”
Of course my first response was “yeah!” and “you tell that guy!” Of course I did, after all, I am a “decent man.”
So I have never called a woman a “fucking bitch,” mainly because I’m too embarrassed to say curse words like that about someone even to a friend. I suppose that makes me a “decent man.”
I have, though, chuckled lightly or smirked as some other guy said it. I have read the subtle cues in a group of people where the guys are belittling the women in the room, and stood there. I have benefited from being in a room of guys, many with power and privileges that I could benefit from, where I know I benefited because I was invited there and a woman was not, while the men belittled them. I have been at tables where there’s political discussion where there are women who know more than me, but I know that the men are looking for my opinion because I’m a man, and I feed into it.
Like Rep. Ted Yoho, I’ve not-really apologized to women, including my own spouse, with half-hearted excuses that actually sought to undermine the woman’s perspective, consciously or unconsciously knowing that women’s perspectives aren’t taken as seriously. All because in some vain effort to look “strong” I’m actually being too sensitive to my ego because men’s opinions are usually taken seriously.
After all, if another man with power, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, can say with a straight face “I think that when someone apologizes, they should be forgiven” and “In America, I know people make mistakes, we’re a forgiving nation,” and even Democratic House Majority Leader Rep. Steny Hoyer can say “the apology was appropriate,” then I can do a Ted-Yoho-apology knowing the boys club will defend me. And I do it knowing that the boys may turn on me if I step out of line.
Just as Rep. Ted Yoho has privileges as a representative who is a man, in my call as pastor, I have benefited from all sorts of privileges – I can share with search committees I have young kids without fear, rather than women pastors who have had to remind me how they might be perceived as “being distracted by their family duties.” I have had the assumption of some level of authority, I have biblical texts and “churchy” language that affirm my authority, which affect my career – and my salary.
I have never had the regular experience of feeling physically threatened even from people larger than me. I have never felt unsafe in a dating situation, or in any intimate setting, because movies, TV shows, songs, cultural taboos, and multiple laws in multiple levels of government protect me in these settings, not women. I don’t have scripture-clobbering texts justifying taking away my consent in sexual situations out of “submission” to my spouse, seen as a “head” authoritative figure.
And even as I type this, I know I will benefit from the fact that men say this stuff so rarely that it’s seen as somehow exemplary to say the basic thing of: don’t be physically or emotionally violent toward women with your actions or words, just like you shouldn’t with anyone.
So I guess I’m saying that I think Rep. Ocasio-Cortez is actually being very gracious when she talks about what a “decent man” should look like. Because we men need to do a lot of work, both internally and systemically, to live up to that.
Reverend Chris Dela Cruz is the new Associate Pastor of Youth, Young Adults, and Community Engagement at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Portland, Oregon. He has written for Next Church, Presbyterian Outlook, and other outlets. Prior to being an ordained pastor, he was a journalist for the Star-Ledger in New Jersey.
Chris writes about the intersection of faith, cultural trends, and American life.