Representative Ted Yoho (R-FL) reminded the country last week that Capitol Hill is yet another workplace with a toxic environment for women. The Hill reported that Yoho, unprovoked, aggressively approached fellow lawmaker Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), criticized her views on the relationship between unemployment and crime as “disgusting,” and referred to her as a “f***ing b***h” after the confrontation.
Following The Hill’s report, Yoho denied he used the language and defended himself, describing himself as a married man with two daughters who is “cognizant” of offensive language.
In response, Ocasio-Cortez (or “AOC,” as she is famously known) took to the floor of the House of Representatives to condemn Yoho’s language and subsequent statement. AOC made clear that she was speaking out not because she was hurt by the incident, but because her platform as a congresswoman requires her to denounce injustice. Specifically, AOC said her issue was not with Yoho’s refusal to apologize, but with his decision to use the women in his life “as shields and excuses for poor behavior.”
Men citing their love and respect for their wives and daughters as evidence that their behavior isn’t sexist is nothing new; it seems to have become the default defense for men who refuse to show every woman respect and hold a broader sexist culture accountable.
This defense is fundamentally hollow and insufficient, for these among other reasons:
1. The defense suggests that men primarily care about women to whom they’re personally connected, and that men cannot find it within themselves to care about women generally outside the context of those personal connections.
2. The defense is reserved almost exclusively for behavior toward or actions against women, demonstrating a lack of natural empathy for the opposite sex. (Think about it. Can you recall a time when a public figure cited their relationship with their father or son when justifying a cruel act against another man?)
3. The defense avoids any effort to take responsibility. A man who uses this defense effectively refuses to correct what he’s done or to help heal a sexist culture.
For those wondering what is necessary to end this toxic cycle of transgressions and non-apologies, look no further than Dan Harmon, a television writer who publicly acknowledged that he sexually harassed Megan Ganz, a subordinate writer on his team.
Harmon didn’t just apologize or acknowledge his own harmful behavior; he addressed the fundamental reason behind his treatment of Ganz. Harmon stated: “I certainly wouldn’t have been able to do it if I had any respect for women on a fundamental level. I was thinking about them as different creatures.”
Harmon touched on an often recognized but critical issue: Men have to consider whether they actually see women as human beings deserving of the same respect they give to other men. If men do not undertake this self-reflection, we won’t have meaningful change.