Representative Ocasio-Cortez, best known as “AOC”, was called disgusting, crazy and dangerous by Representative Yoho. He was apparently upset because she expressed agreement with the plausible claim that poverty is linked to crime rates in New York City. As Yoho walked away from AOC, he was overheard calling her a “fucking bitch.”
I am not going to rush to AOC’s defense like a knight in shining armor; she is an able champion and can slay her own dragons. In response to this insult, she displayed strength of character, courage, and a concern for others. As such, she stood in stark contrast with President Trump, who responds to even just criticism with an unbalanced display of weakness, dishonesty and self-obsession.
As should be expected, people did step up to defend Yoho and attack AOC. As would also be expected, many of these appeared on Facebook. One interesting example involved making the claim that AOC and her supporters think that calling people racist and sexist is acceptable. This was juxtaposed against Yoho just using “naughty words.” The closing point was to sarcastically note that AOC had surely never used such words. There is a lot going on in there.
As a rhetorical tactic, the move is clever—the idea is that AOC is unjustly mad at Yoho because she does worse things (calling people sexist and racist) and she is also a hypocrite because she has also used such words. But this rests on an attempt at a false equivalence.
If someone is a racist, sexist or white supremacist, then noting this fact is morally fine. Speaking truth of evil is generally a good action. To use an obvious analogy, testifying that a murderer is a murderer is generally a good action.
But calling someone a “fucking bitch” is a very different sort of thing. Laying aside the problem that the language is unprofessional, it is a very personal attack and does not seem to call out any specific moral problem with the person. So, calling a racist a racist is rather different from calling her a “fucking bitch.”
Obviously enough, knowingly calling a person a racist or sexist when they are not would be morally wrong and could be worse than calling someone a “fucking bitch.” After all, being falsely accused of sexism or racism could have serious unwarranted consequences for a person, such as being reprimanded or losing their job. If AOC did falsely accuse people of being sexist or racist, then she certainly should be called out—but she does not do this and even if she did, calling her a “fucking bitch” would not be a morally appropriate response.
I do understand that people can get angry and say things they would not say when cool headed; but that is why we accept honest apologies. Yoho did offer a response and followed a standard tactic: he stated that he has a wife and two daughters. The implied logic behind this tactic seems to be this:
Premise 1: Man M says or does S (that seems sexist).
Premise 2: Man M says that they have a daughter, wife or mother.
Conclusion: S is not sexist, or M should be excused for S, or M is not sexist.
It is true that having a daughter can influence a father’s view of gender equality. For example, such fathers can shift towards being more progressive on issues like equal pay and sexual harassment. But referencing a daughter does not prove that a person has such views—that is, it does not follow that what they did or said was not sexist or should be excused.
It is also true that most men would be upset if someone said or did something sexist to a woman or girl they cared about. Yoho, one assumes, would be outraged if some guy called his wife or daughters “fucking bitches.” But their concern about the women and girls they care about does not entail that they care about other women and girls in general. To draw the obvious analogy, it is like the “I have a black friend” defense when someone is accused of being racist. That could be true, but it does not follow that they are not racist. Every sexist has a mother, many are married and have daughters.
There is also the point that has often been made: when people, even from good intentions, invoke the fact that there are women they care about when talking about sexism, seems to imply that a person only cares about sexism because of their personal stake—that if they did not have a daughter, such sexism would not matter. This might be unfair—when people make this point, they are most likely engaged explaining why it really matters to them rather than providing proof they only care because of their own stake in the matter. But this point is worth considering—people should care about sexism not just because they care about specific women, but because it is the right thing to do.