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AOC Shows How to Speak Truth to Power With Respect

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez provides an example of confronting disrespect.

 By Franmarie Metzler; U.S. House Office of Photography
Source: By Franmarie Metzler; U.S. House Office of Photography

The recent exchange at the Capitol between Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Representative Ted Yoho provided a demonstration of the all too common degradation of women. However, this time, a woman had the attention of Congress and the nation, and she took the opportunity to be heard.

“Jenkins (2009) makes a useful distinction between shaming individuals and helping to create the context in which individuals themselves face shame. He argues, "when a man faces shame, he comes to his own realizations through recognizing a contradiction between his ethics and his actions. By contrast, shaming others is an abuse of power and not surprisingly, tends to further exacerbate avoidance of responsibility.'" (Afuape, 2011, p. 20.)

Rep. Yoho reportedly got in her face because Rep. Ocasio-Cortez disagreed with him and he did not like it.

“Rep. Yoho put his finger in my face, he called me disgusting, he called me crazy, he called me out of my mind, and he called me dangerous… I walked back out and there were reporters in the front of the Capitol and in front of reporters Rep. Yoho called me, and I quote, “a f***ing b****.”

In that brief, demeaning exchange, Rep. Yoho is described as making a threatening gesture with his “finger in her face.” He harasses her; uses crude language and calls her names; puts her down and criticizes her behavior. These kinds of behaviors are typically meant to intimidate and coerce.

Rep. Ocasio-Cortez reminds us how commonplace such abusive behaviors are: “His behavior is not new ... It’s our culture of patriarchy that accepts violence and abusive language against women."

A major obstacle to changing such behaviors is the avoidance of responsibility—men not holding themselves or others accountable.

Taking accountability

“So while I was not deeply hurt or offended by little comments that are made, when I was reflecting on this, I honestly thought that I was just going to pack it up and go home. It’s just another day, right? But then yesterday, Rep. Yoho decided to come to the floor of the House of Representatives and make excuses for his behavior, and that I could not let go.”

Those who abuse power will likely see Rep. Ocasio-Cortez’s response of holding Rep. Yoho accountable for his behavior as aggressive. But while Rep. Ocasio-Cortez openly disagreed and stated her thoughts and concerns passionately, she did not use shaming or demeaning language. She didn’t have to in order to communicate her beliefs and be heard.

Recognizing the public arena, Rep. Ocasio-Cortez held herself accountable to others to speak up. “I could not allow victims of verbal abuse and worse to see that, to see that excuse and to see our Congress accept it as legitimate and accept it as an apology and to accept silence as a form of acceptance.”

While she was in a safe enough environment to speak, that often is not the case for many women, and her words may feel validating and inspiring to them.

Where there’s a lack of remorse, you often find no empathy.

“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. Not to save face, not to win a vote, he apologizes genuinely to repair and acknowledge the harm done so that we can all move on.”

To feel remorse, one must be capable of having empathy for others. Empathy affords us a sense of awareness and sensitivity to what the other person is feeling or experiencing. When you can feel empathy, you can be moved, curious, and open to learning how a behavior caused distress. This is when you might experience guilt or feel ashamed about what you did, prompting amends to be made. It’s from this place that a genuine apology comes, allowing for repair with the other person.



Afuape, T. 2011. Power, Resistance, and Liberation in Therapy with Survivors of Trauma: To Have Our Hearts Broken. New York: Routledge.

Jenkins, A. 2009. Becoming ethical: a parallel, political journey with men who have abused. Lyme Regis, UK: Russell House Publishing