Congresswoman shows us how to handle sexist abuse

Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasia-Cortez excoriates the perpetrator in a systematic and dignified manner.


Congresswoman, Alexandria Ocasia-Cortez’s speech to the House floor on Thursday July 23rd has been hailed as a “master class” for women to handle verbal sexist abuse. And there lies the rub with the use of male coded language to describe a situation where a woman excoriates the perpetrator in a systematic and dignified manner. Surely, they mean “mistress” class?

Alexandria Ocsaia-Cortez is a powerful orator and her skill is in storytelling and simplifying a complex and nuanced message so that it resonates with all of us and everyone can understand it. She said ”I want to thank him for showing the world that you can be a powerful man and accost women. You can have daughters and accost women without remorse. You can be married and accost women. You can take photos and project an image to the world of being a family man and accost women without remorse and with a sense of impunity.” 

Debunking lame excuses

Alexandria Ocasia-Cortez spoke for all women who have been insulted, degraded, abused, minimised and dismissed in the workplace. And that would be most of us. She highlighted the lame excuses that we hear constantly from people who by offering them are colluding and embedding toxic sexism even further.

handle sexist abuse

Or she mentioned the lack of bystander support that “Mr. Yoho was not alone. He was walking shoulder to shoulder with Representative Roger Williams. And that’s when we start to see that this issue is not about one incident. It is cultural. It is a culture of lack of impunity, of accepting of violence and violent language against women, an entire structure of power that supports men….”

Not forgetting that Alexandria Ocasia-Cortez has been put down by the President of the USA and told to go back where she came from. She is American.

Normal for women

For many women this is their normal. To be told they are “too much” and to “rein it in”. They are asked them if they are having their period, and told they can’t take a joke. Total strangers hit on them on LinkedIn and they know that very little will be done about it. So they hold back on networking, but don’t understand that it impacts their careers, even though LinkedIn do.  Women say that one of the advantages of wearing a face mask is that no one tells them to smile any more. They are told to look sexier on Zoom calls, while their male colleagues wear hoodies and baseball caps.

“And so what I believe is that having a daughter does not make a man decent. Having a wife does not make a decent man. Treating people with dignity and respect makes a decent man.” Sadly, many of our male leaders are far from decent.

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handle sexist abuse

Other ways to handle sexist abuse

It’s important that women can self-advocate in the way that Alexandria Ocasia-Cortez did. But there are some other equally significant factors to consider:

  • It needs to be clearly mandated that men should stop abusing women, not shifting the focus to women protecting themselves. They shouldn’t have to.
  • There should be penalties. Did Mr. Yoho suffer any consequences? I don’t know of any at the time of writing.
  • We also need to start raising boys differently so that the next generation of men will have a better outlook and behave with respect, integrity and dignity.
  • Workplaces need to have awareness training so that people understand what sexism is, they recognise it when they see it and they call it out.
  • Colluders such as Roger Williams need to be held accountable with penalties. Will the shame be enough? I am not so sure.
  • Sexism needs to be sectioned off form general ethical workplace behaviours and dealt with in separate and more effective way. 90% of women experience sexism in the workplace. That number merits it.

The days when we teach women to handle verbal sexist abuse, or harassment of any kind should be gone. This is a male leadership issue and they need to do more and be better.


Tackle these issues head on with our Managing Unconscious Bias workshops. Contact 3Plus now!


Dorothy Dalton Administrator
Dorothy Dalton is CEO of 3Plus International. A specialist in diversity and bias conscious executive search, she supports organizations to achieve business success via gender balance, diversity and inclusion. She is CIPD qualified, and a certified coach and trainer including digital learning.
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