A group of high school students pretended to choke a cardboard figure of the Congresswoman at a picnic for Republican senator Mitch McConnell. A spokesperson tried to pass the antics off as ‘friendly’ banter. But the reality is far more horrifying.
Boys will be boys, with their “locker room talk” and their harmless banter. Have you heard that line before? It’s one that is often doled out to women whenever they dare to raise their voice against the shrieking din of misogyny.
Ask Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. The Congresswoman was given such a line today when she called out a group of young men who were pictured choking and grabbing and clawing – among other things – at a cardboard cutout of her likeness at a picnic for Republican senator Mitch McConnell. The image was posted to Instagram with the caption: “Break me off a piece of that”.
Ocasio-Cortez immediately sought out McConnell, tweeting him: “Hey, these young men look like they work for you. Just wanted to clarify: are you paying for young men to practice groping and choking members of Congress w/ your payroll, or is this just the standard culture of #TeamMitch?”
Kevin Golden, a spokesperson for McConnell, replied to Ocasio-Cortez that the men in question were not campaign staff and they were merely “high schoolers”.
“It’s incredible that the national media has sought to once again paint a target on their backs rather than report real, and significant news in our country,” Golden said. (He also added that McConnell “in no way condones any aggressive, suggestive or demeaning act toward life-sized cardboard cutouts of any gender”.)
Just high schoolers. Boys will be boys. “Locker room talk”. Harmless banter. But imagery like this, of young men choking the image of a woman, isn’t harmless – it’s horrifying.
In the US, four women are killed every single day as a result of intimate partner violence. In the UK, two women are killed every women as a result of domestic violence. Femicide – or women killed by men – is becoming an epidemic that lays bare the terrifying reality of insidious, festering misogyny. It’s why campaigners want the UK to recognise misogyny as a hate crime. And it’s why this image of young men choking Ocasio-Cortez’s cutout, with looks of glee on their faces, is so chilling.
Ocasio-Cortez has been threatened like this – playfully, you know, just friendly banter – before. After visiting the migrant detention facilities along the US border, the politician became aware that there was a secret Facebook group that contained CGI-rendered imagery of Ocasio-Cortez being raped and assaulted.
The group, which had around 9,500 members – all of them current or former Border Patrol agents – also contained posts inciting violence against Ocasio-Cortez and Representative Veronica Escobar, who also visited the camps.
Last month a Louisiana police officer wrote a Facebook post in which he called for Ocasio-Cortez to be shot. Circulating an article in which the politician called for soldiers to be paid less, Officer Charlie Rispoli wrote: “This vile idiot needs a round… and I don’t mean the kind she used to serve.” (Rispoli and Officer Angelo Varisco, who liked the post, were both fired.)
Boys will be boys, right? Just friendly banter, only a little bit of harmless locker room chat.
Until it’s not. In 2019 alone at least 59 women in the UK have been killed by men. On 4 August, a gunman who had a history of threatening women shot dead nine people, including his own sister, outside a bar in Dayton. And, according to one thorough analysis, women are twice as likely to die in school shootings as men.
But those McConnell supporters are just high schoolers. We shouldn’t be alarmed that they think it’s funny to pretend to choke a woman. We shouldn’t find it unsettling that they don’t think twice about posting an image of them choking a woman onto social media. We shouldn’t be concerned that there’s no stopping this endless cycle of violence, that we’ll never be able to reduce those shocking statistics – 59 dead women in 2019 already, and there’s still five months left of the year – if the next generation thinks that violence against women is all a harmless, silly joke.
Boys will be boys. Right?