By : Sam Kliss( Journalist) & Eilene Koo(Editor)
August 23, 2020
AOC's Response to Senator Yoho: How she kept the focus on Sexism
On July 23, 2020, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez gave a riveting speech on the House floor in response to insults thrown at her by Senator Yoho of Florida. She has been praised by both parties alike for her speech and powerful message on sexism. However, her story could’ve played out very differently. Had it not been for her incredible delivery and careful word choice AOC’s speech would’ve been written off as an emotional outburst, losing its true message.
According to a 2019 study by Georgetown University, 1 in 8 Americans believe that women are too emotional to hold high-ranking government offices. Because of this belief, we frequently see attacks on female politicians for showing any emotion. We expect them to be calm, cool, collected, and unbothered, otherwise we shame them. AOC is no stranger to this. Once a Daily Wire reporter tweeted that her “frequent crying only reinforces the stereotypes that women are too emotional for politics.” The crying in question was tears shed by the congresswoman after visiting ICE detention facilities in Texas. One would reasonably be upset when seeing the cramped, miserable conditions of these facilities, but AOC was shamed for her compassion.
We know that attacking female leaders for showing emotion isn’t new, but why didn’t it happen to AOC following her speech? The answer is simply that she made her speech palatable by exerting immense control over her tone and by not seeking out any reparations for the attacks on her character. If you listen to the speech, it was clear that her tone never shifted above mild irritation. She never yelled and every point she made was delivered smoothly with unwavering confidence. Her voice was powerful and serious, but never angry. She never sounded like she was attacking Senator Yoho, even when her words for him were harsh. Her professionalism was key to making her speech effective. By being in full control of her voice and speech, she prevented headlines that would have otherwise labeled her as “disrespectful” and
This cool tone of voice also carried into her more passionate sections of the speech. When she called out men for using their daughters and wives as excuses for their engagement in misogynistic behavior, she was hailed as empowering and righteous, but the slightest change in tone could’ve changed that. Any more passion and she would have been labeled as a fanatic or extreme. Any angrier and she would have been perceived as resentful. But by masterfully commanding her tone, AOC was able to protect her message from being overshadowed by criticisms of her emotion.
AOC also protected her message by not making it just about her. She addressed Senator Yoho and his insults to her. She called his apology flawed and his excuses weak, but she made sure that her speech wouldn’t be seen as a personal attack on Senator Yoho. If the speech had appeared to be a personal attack, she would’ve been called petty, just like Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi was after ripping up her copy of President Trump’s State of the Union address. However, by quickly separating the matter between herself and Senator Yoho from her key message, AOC was able to push the media’s focus towards the larger issue she addresses in her speech: sexism. She focused on the example Yoho was setting for other men and how someone can be sexist despite having relationships with women. This excuse is extremely common and AOC was one of the first to receive large amounts of attention for calling out this behavior. When AOC placed emphasis on the behavior and not the perpetrator, she was able to discuss sexism on a broader scale and avoid potential headlines about bringing personal issues onto the House floor.
AOC brilliantly crafted a speech about sexism in politics and shut down the excuses men frequently give for their misogynistic actions. Her flawless tone and well written argument allowed her to address her encounter with Senator Yoho in a broader context while keeping any criticism away from her speech and her message. While it is a shame that she had to heavily consider how the media would perceive her speech, AOC has empowered women all over the world to speak up and be heard. Her confidence serves as an inspiration to all women who face sexism today because she brought this issue to one of the largest platforms in America. AOC has created a model for women to voice their opinions and concerns without being criticized for “being too emotional.” With the power of her words, AOC is truly making tremendous progress for women’s fight to be heard in society.