Is AOC a “Bitch”? Beyond Sex, Words Matter

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I’m no fan of New York Congressmember Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, but she did something quite amazing this week.

She went on the floor of Congress and simply reported exactly what another Congressmember said about her.

To get the full impact of the event, do this:

1. Notice that the Chicago Tribune and other media reported that Florida Rep. Yoho had called Rep. Ocasio-Cortez a “f****** b****” Other major media said that he had called her a “sexist vulgarity.”

2. Watch the Huffington Post video report on this (You can stop after 0:10)

3. Watch C-SPAN’s video of the exact words that Rep. Ocasio-Cortez spoke (You can stop after 1:31)

You can’t possibly miss the difference in impact.

That’s why reporting this with euphemisms and asterisks is not accurate. The question of whether or not sexism is involved is not my point. The question of whether or not the phrase is a “vulgarity” or has to do with sex is beside the point. The point is that this is news, and Americans deserve to know exactly what happened. And what happened is that a congressmember stood up in Congress and said “Representative Yoho called me, and I quote, a fucking bitch.”

People are breathlessly saying this was part of a glorious feminist speech. If so, where are the complaints about half-reporting it? Rep. Ocasio-Cortez didn’t say “he called me the f-word,” or “an f-b,” or “effin bitch,” or some other juvenile expression.

If Yoho can say it to reporters, and Ocasio-Cortez can say it in Congress, we can hear it. We need to hear it. Not because it’s about sex or gender, but because it’s the truth of what happened.

It’s old news that all American TV (except C-SPAN) are censored according to incredibly adolescent rules (remember the Jackson Jackson nipplegate?). This is bad enough (link to man show), but when what’s censored is the news, that’s a huge deal.

I’ve written about this before, criticizing incomplete news coverage of someone vandalizing the National Gallery’s irreplaceable Gaugin that happened to feature nude breasts, and even more importantly, a woman getting thrown out of a U.S. courtroom for a political slogan on her T-shirt that happened to include “a slang word for a woman’s body part”.

In both cases, the entire news media decided Americans couldn’t handle seeing or hearing things that were of legitimate national interest. We need to know exactly what word on a t-shirt will get you thrown out of a courtroom (hint: it wasn’t “fuck”)—whether to prevent our own ejection, or to complain about a judge abusing his power.

This week’s latest example–refusing to reproduce the words congressmembers say on the floor of the House–is especially awful. What if a congressmember says “Fuck Iran”? Or theatrically urinates on a bill during a vote? Or calls another congressmember a racial or ethnic slur?

Isn’t this news? We deserve to be confronted with the truth of what’s going on out there. If it’s a challenge to digest, that’s really the whole point. Participating in a democracy requires a strong stomach. That work is part of our responsibility as citizens.

We were allowed to watch a cop squeeze the breath out of George Floyd. What if a cop’s body cam records him calling a victim a “dirty cocksucker,” or a “fucking Islamic terrorist”? Isn’t that news? Shouldn’t we be able to see and hear this?

Digital video creates the opportunity for us to get closer to events we ourselves don’t witness than ever before in human history. To prevent citizens from accessing the sounds and images created by 21st-century technology because of 19th- and 20th-century ideas about our prissy ears is a betrayal of the polity.

Should people be protected from the sights and sounds of our messy American experiment? Even if they want to be, no. Some people beg for democracy—as in Hong Kong—and some people have democracy thrust upon them—as in America.

We need to take our medicine. The American media need to challenge us to grow up.

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