AOC and the Oppression of Being ‘Nice’
How AOC’s speech about Ted Yoho inspired me to finally call out a shitty boss.
I sent a not-so-politely worded email for the first time in my life last week as I severed ties with a toxic job. I was clear and to the point, and I know there were nicer, softer, more roundabout ways to word it, but I was done responding to abuse with politeness.
My mother raised me to be that way, as I am sure many of your mothers have raised you if you were also raised as a woman. She still tries to rein me in these days, even though, at twenty-two, I cannot be persuaded to tone down my “feisty” ways. Recently, a man catcalled me in front of her and my father, and I flipped the guy off. She told me to “just say thank you next time.”
When I tell her about the microaggressions and thinly veiled harassment my partner and I face while walking down the street, she says, “You two should calm down a little.”
To my mother, there is no place for anger or aggression, no matter how someone treats you.
I don’t blame her for having this stance. She was born some fifty-odd years ago and this internalized sexism runs deep. The fury I have towards men bothers her enough to make her drop a “not all men” in conversation, even though I know she has been wronged enough by them to understand my anger. She just has been taught not to react. She has been taught to be “nice.”
And when you are a woman in America (especially one who belongs to a minority), being nice means never telling the truth.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez responded to Rep. Ted Yoho’s comments about her being “disgusting, crazy, out of her mind, and dangerous” by telling him he was rude. Which apparently, to him, was unacceptable, because he exploded on her, saying, “I’m rude? You’re calling me rude?” before later calling her “a fucking bitch” in front of the press.
AOC did not respond to Yoho with any vitriol. She simply called his statements what they were: abusive. But honesty is not acceptable from women. We are not allowed to tell it like it is because apparently it is impolite for us to criticize anyone, especially men. As if their inability to handle truthful criticism is our burden to bear.
Pointing out the fact that someone is unkind is not acceptable because we are supposed to shut up and uphold their power with our silence.
My first instinct when someone is rude or unkind to me is not to tell them that they are, but to either a) find something I can apologize for, or b)move on in silence.
I was taught that this makes me the bigger, better person, but letting people get away with sexism or other forms of abuse for fear of being called an angry bitch if I call them out does not make me bigger or better. It suffocates me.
AOC had every right to get angry and scream at Yoho. But then she would be labeled “crazy,” “out of control,” or “irrational.” So she remained composed. But constant composure in the face of discrimination and other forms of verbal abuse takes a toll.
Women, especially women of color, need space to feel their anger without being defined by it.
Men are given so much room and grace for “passionate” (that’s what Yoho called himself in his fake apology) outbursts.
They can drop an “I’m sorry for what I said in the heat of the moment” and move on. But women’s anger will become a part of their persona. They are characterized by it and constantly associated with it. There is no room for bad days or even simply human responses to upsetting situations.
I’ve been called a bitch for asking a friend to homecoming after my boyfriend dumped me days before the dance. I wasn’t allowed to feel hurt by the breakup and try to have fun with someone else. That made me a bitch.
I’ve been called a cruel and terrible person and slut-shamed by another ex-boyfriend. It was his response to my explanation of why he and I did not work out after he tried to get me back after he broke things off with me. I guess I was just supposed to pretend that he had been a great person and accept his offer to get back together because my criticism of him was too hurtful for him to bear. The pain I carried in that relationship was mine and mine alone. Repeating what he knew was true about himself made me the bad person.
I carry a lot of guilt from that interaction because I feel like I should have just let him down easy and been nice. But I also wish I had said more, because there are so many things I held inside, so many abuses I didn’t bring to his attention.
Quitting my job last week felt just like leaving those toxic relationships. I didn’t spare my ex-boss my anger in my email. I was curt and will not apologize for that.
I also said my piece in my exit interview with another employee. I drafted a list of grievances and said them aloud without biting my tongue because I was tired of holding in my pain for the sake of others.
Then, my boss came after me after reading my Glassdoor review. She threatened to “damage my reputation” if I did not remove it. But that wasn’t even the most manipulative thing she wrote. She told me that I should take down my honest criticism because “women need to empower and uplift other women.”
Threatening women until they are forced into silence doesn’t empower or uplift them. It only empowers your tyranny and solidifies their oppression.
If nice girls aren’t supposed to call out abusive or bad behavior, I don’t want to be nice at all.