Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez may be thankful that her father is not alive to see how Rep. Ted Yoho treated his daughter, but when I heard her on the House floor refusing to accept both the sexist abuse and, more so, the excuses Yoho offered for that abuse, I immediately thought: “Damn, I wish her dad were alive now to write a book about how to raise an AOC.”
My daughter is four months old and raising her is the most important thing I’ll ever do.
Unfortunately, I’m a typically awful guy in a typically sexist society where your boss—thanks to five men on the Supreme Court — gets to decide if you deserve birth control coverage. So it’s the task for which I’m least suited.
“What I believe is that having a daughter does not make a man decent,” AOC said, as she concluded her speech. “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.”
I can think of many women to whom I owe an apology, some who would surely be better off without being bothered by my amends. There are big things, like being a controlling jerk. And smaller things like constantly speaking over girls and women — something I did not recognize I did until I taught high school for years and saw my behavior mirrored in boys that I then had to try to guide as I tried to better myself.
No woman has led America
My individual sexism is my responsibility, but it’s the symptom of a society that has never had a woman president, where women make up less than one-quarter of Congress (though they are more than half of the electorate) and women make 82 cents for every dollar their male counterparts earn.
The situation seems even bleaker when you recognize that if a woman is killed, it’s mostly likely that her partner committed the crime.
Still, I’ve heard several versions of quotes like, “Now is the best time in history to be born a girl” and “Women have advanced more in the last 50 years than the thousands before them.”
I imagine it can be hard to be optimistic when you have to do everything men do but backwards and with someone standing on your toes.
Women leading the charge towards equality do so facing all the abuse of a woman just trying to walk down the street. And because sexism is so pervasive it’s often passed off as legitimate concerns by men who portray their misogyny as “passion” or “locker room talk” or deeply held religious beliefs or a serious, abiding concern about the sanctity of “highly classified” emails.
Absurd and infuriating:Are most women who run for president unlikable? Asking is sexist, yet many voters agree.
Seeing how the right has turned its fire from Hillary Clinton to Nancy Pelosi to AOC, with personal attacks designed to delegitimize them and any party that would allow them to lead, makes me think that the old cliché, “Behind every great man is a great woman,” is less a tribute to women and more of an instruction.
Tying yourself to a man — or men’s interests — has long been seen as a way for women to gain power in a society built to deny you respect and authority. This may even explain why Donald Trump won the votes of a plurality of white women in 2016. And it explains why a woman like the young Democrat representing the New York City boroughs of Queens and the Bronx, whose power comes entirely from her own abilities and boldness, is so simultaneously inspiring and threatening.
I will try to be less of a Yoho
AOC noted that by calling her a “f—–g b—-” in front of the press, her Republican colleague “gave permission to use that language against his wife, his daughters, women in his community.” This is the power men possess in this sexist society, the power to push women down, often by just by staying silent.
When we get away with trivializing or dehumanizing women or endorsing this behavior with our silence, we make it okay for others to do so. Even the thought that I need AOC’s father to teach me to be the kind of man my daughter needs as a father betrays how I’ve internalized our society’s urge to privilege a man’s opinions over a woman’s lived experience.
Watching AOC’s speech made me wish my daughter was old enough to watch it. I was tempted to show it to her now, never mind screen time concerns, and hope my wife caught me doing it. That would be an easier way to impress her than printing my own “Feminist raising a feminist” T-shirt.
But for now, I’ll just try to be less of a Yoho so my daughter can be more of an AOC.
Jason Sattler, a writer based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, is a member of USA TODAY’s Board of Contributors and host of “The GOTMFV Show” podcast. Follow him on Twitter: @LOLGOP