Ted Yoho used his daughters as a shield against AOC. How original

Powerful men have a habit of doing this, and there's a clear reason why

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez responds to Republican congressman calling her a ‘b***h’

You know the news cycle is going to be a bit tricky when it’s dominated by a man apologizing, but not really, for words he reportedly said, but also – according to him – not really.

I am of course referring to Republican Representative Ted Yoho, who, according to an account published earlier this week by The Hill, used the words “f*****g bitch”, as well as a few others (“disgusting” and “you are out of your freaking mind”) during a “brief but heated exchange” with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on the Capitol steps.

Yoho did nothing to diffuse the situation on Wednesday, when he made a half-hearted, confusing attempt to address the reported conversation – while also denying it had happened in that way at all.

Declaring himself “a man of my word”, Yoho said: “I rise to apologize for the abrupt manner of the conversation I had with my colleague from New York. It is true that we disagree on policies and visions for America, but that does not mean we should be disrespectful.

“Having been married for 45 years with two daughters, I'm very cognizant of my language. The offensive name-calling, words attributed to me by the press were never spoken to my colleagues and if they were construed that way, I apologise for their misunderstanding.”

Yoho ended his apology (if we can call it that, which I am reluctant to do for reasons that will become clear in a second) with: “I cannot apologise for my passion or for loving my God, my family and my country.”

Depending on who you believe, or who you believe most, you might picture the reported exchange on the Capitol steps in various ways. Here’s how I personally think it unfolded: I do believe those words were said by Yoho. Perhaps he wasn’t directing them expressly towards Ocasio-Cortez. The phrasing of his apology feels careful and intentional. Those words, he said, were “never spoken to” any of his colleagues. But it doesn’t mean they weren’t spoken at all. It’s not a stretch, in my view, to think they were uttered, perhaps under his breath, perhaps to himself – but loudly enough, apparently, to be overheard by The Hill’s reporter.

Yoho’s office has denied that he made the remark, telling CNN in a statement that he “made a brief comment to himself as he walked away summarising what he believes her policies to be: "bulls**t.” Make of that what you will.

We could spend more time debating what Yoho said and/or how he said it. We could waste time pointing out that calling women “b*****s” (I’m not even allowed to spell this word in full in this respectable publication, that’s how bad it is) is never acceptable, especially in a professional context (but really, just don’t do it).

What I would like to focus on instead, because life is short, is Yoho’s decision to bring up his two daughters and 45 years of marriage into his "apology". Powerful men have a tendency to bring up their wives and daughters (and also God) when trying to get themselves out of an uncomfortable situation.

Brett Kavanaugh did it in his opening statement during his Supreme Court confirmation hearings. While defending himself against allegations of sexual misconduct, he brought up his two daughters, reminding the American people that he had coached their basketball teams for the past seven years. He made a point to share an anecdote about one of his daughters and his wife saying their prayers at night. Then, he asked to be judged by “the standard that you would want applied to your father, your husband, your brother or your son”.

Bill Clinton hit those talking points too when, in 1998, he admitted to having had a “wrong” relationship with a former White House intern. “Now, this matter is between me, the two people I love most – my wife and our daughter – and our God,” he said. “I must put it right, and I am prepared to do whatever it takes to do so.”

It’s not hard to imagine why one might feel compelled to conjure up the images of daughters and wives (all tied up by the bow of piety) in such circumstances. They’re lovely images. They call to mind a different side of the man in front of us – yes, I am a politician/a would-be Supreme Court justice/the president of the United States, but I am also a dad. And you know dads. They can be clumsy, but they’re well-meaning. They carry the weight of the world on their shoulders. They protect their daughters and teach their sons to be men. They tell dad jokes. They coach basketball teams and go to church and provide for their families. A dad is a good man. And if he’s not, it’s not for lack of trying – he just fails sometimes, because he’s human.

To quote from Ocasio-Cortez’s viral speech from Thursday, in which she condemned Yoho’s behaviour and said he had, in fact, referred to her as “a f*****g b***h” outside the Capitol: I am someone’s daughter too. And if my dad ever used me as emotional leverage in such a way, I would be livid.

I can’t believe this has to be said, but: having a daughter doesn’t absolve you of anything. It doesn’t mean you can’t be a misogynist. It certainly doesn’t mean you can do no wrong. And it doesn’t mean you would never even think about insulting a woman.

Terrible men have daughters. Men who kill, rape, cheat, and deceive have daughters, and they still do those things. Why? Because a daughter isn’t a vaccine against bad behaviour. A daughter is – shockingly enough – a human being. A daughter is a person in the world. A daughter is not your rhetorical shield.

Powerful men of the world, leave your daughters alone. Apologize if you want to. Don’t apologize if you don’t feel like doing so sincerely. But in any case, stop using your daughters as purported proof of your good moral standing.

And if you choose to continue using your daughters in that way, just know that you won’t look any better than Rose’s dreadful fiancé in Titanic, when he picks up the nearest girl and yells “I have a child!” in an attempt to secure an all-too-rare spot on a lifeboat.

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