After Rep. Ted Yoho’s terrible “apology” (if you can even call it that) for calling her a “fucking bitch,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez took to the House floor and demanded decency, not just for herself but for women everywhere, specifically as a daughter.
“Mr. Yoho mentioned that he has a wife and two daughters. I am two years younger than Mr. Yoho’s youngest daughter. I am someone’s daughter too.
My father, thankfully, is not alive to see how Mr. Yoho treated his daughter. My mother got to see Mr. Yoho’s disrespect on the floor of this house towards me on television, and I am here because I have to show my parents that I am their daughter and that they did not raise me to accept abuse from men.
– Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
As many focus on the roles of fathers in combatting sexism, they’re missing one important part of the equation. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez didn’t just mention her father, she mentioned her mother too, bringing in the most influential figures left out of conversations on sexism. Whether your relationship with your mother is absent, painful, or wonderful, mothers are often their daughters’ first instructors when it comes to facing the world as a woman. It is often our mothers that both reinforce and break these roles for us as daughters. How many of us have heard the saying “Y qué va a decir la gente” specifically when we’ve challenged the ideas of what it means to be a respectable Latina? Whether it’s the culture of judging women who either present as too feminine or not feminine enough, speaking your mind or staying quiet, the choice to pursue a career or to stay at home, mothers are often the gatekeepers to the futures of their daughters.
It’s easy to see why femininity is so protected when the most celebrated Latinas in our culture earn their praise through the way they embrace traditional female values, like beauty. Our mothers had few if any representations of Latinas in medicine, in politics, science, or in technology. When they saw themselves celebrated, it was usually in very traditional female roles in television, movies, and even in books. Only in 2009, did we get the first Latina, Sonia Sotomayor, appointed to serve on the Supreme Court Sonia and only in 2017 did we have the first Latina, Catherine Marie Cortez Masto, elected into the United States Senate.
My own mother was one of four Latinas out of a hundred students in her dental class at UCSF. In high school, a teacher told her she wasn’t smart enough to be in an advanced biology class. When my grandmother, who never had the privilege of finishing middle school, heard what had happened, she confronted that teacher demanding that my mother be put into the class with the predominantly white students.
Yet, when my mom expressed an interest in becoming a dentist, my grandmother wasn’t as encouraging. She suggested nursing as an alternative, believing it was a more realistic option for a woman, especially Latina interested in medicine. In college, my mother was also told by a professor that she would never be a dentist but that she would make a great secretary. My grandmother believed strongly her daughter was entitled to an education but because of the sexist racist world she was raising my mother in, she wanted my mother to be realistic. This is how our mothers navigate the world for us, recognizing the limitations and fighting anyway. For generations of mothers, our ancestors have pushed us forward so we could dream, what our mothers couldn’t even imagine.
While fathers are essential in combating a sexist American culture, our mothers teach us what sexism is and give us the tools to dismantle it. It’s through our mothers not our fathers, that we inherit both the rules and limitations of sexism. The keys to breaking the cycle and pushing us forward lies in the matriarchal line. Rep. Yoho really could not have less to do with it.
Because of her mother, Blanca Ocasio-Cortez, AOC, can be seen and celebrated for her intellect and ability to lead. In every way, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez represents the culmination of generations of Latinx mothers who fought back against the misogynistic culture. She is educated, determined, and creating a space for all the Latinx girls who were ever told they were too “much.”
“I could not allow my nieces, I could not allow the little girls that I go home to, I could not allow victims of verbal abuse, and worse, to see that. To see that excuse, and see our Congress accept it as legitimate and accept it as an apology and to accept silence as a form of acceptance. I could not allow that to stand.”
– Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez