Congresswomen Of Color Have Always Fought Back Against SexismRoundup
tags: racism, womens history, sexism, Congressional history, Patsy Mink
Dana Frank is research professor of history and professor emerita at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and author of six books, including Buy American: The Untold Story of Economic Nationalism, and most recently The Long Honduran Night: Resistance, Terror, and the United States in the Aftermath of the Coup.
On July 24, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), responding to Rep. Ted Yoho (R-Fla.) reportedly calling her “crazy,” out of her mind, and a “f---ing b----h” on the Capitol steps, delivered a powerful and unflinching speech in the House of Representatives. It’s gone viral, for good reason.
Ocasio-Cortez’s pushback echoes another famous incident 50 years ago, when the first woman of color in Congress, Rep. Patsy Takemoto Mink, fought for gender equality and elicited a famous and shocking attack on all women — for their alleged “raging hormonal influences.” Mink’s battle, and the responses to it from men in power, remind us of how much women in politics have had to put up with, how powerfully congresswomen of color have fought back — and how little has changed.
On April 30, 1970, at a meeting of the Committee on National Priorities of the Democratic National Committee, Mink exhorted the party to “give the cause of women’s rights the highest priority it deserved.”
In response, committee member Edgar F. Berman, a close friend of former vice president Hubert H. Humphrey and his personal physician, immediately tried to put Mink in her place. Out of the blue, he declared that women weren’t qualified to be president because of menstruation and menopause — transforming Mink’s request for attention to women’s rights into an attack on all women. “Suppose we had a president in the White House, a menopausal woman president who had to make the decision of the Bay of Pigs … or the Russian contretemps with Cuba at the time,” he said.
Mink protested formally to Humphrey, one of the most powerful politicians in the country and the failed Democratic candidate for president in 1968. She called Berman a “bigot” and requested he be removed from the committee: “I am certain you will be appalled at Dr. Berman’s disgusting performance in which he displayed the basest sort of prejudice against women, characterizing us as mentally incapable to govern, let alone aspire to equality, because we are psychologically inferior.”
But Humphrey refused to get involved and instead simply forwarded Mink’s letter to Berman. Berman, in response, dug in even further, arguing the tone of her letter further exemplified her “raging hormonal imbalance.” He referred to her objections as “this little contretemps” and made a joke about their “male-order relationship.” When the New York Times called, Berman piled it higher and deeper, arguing it was “safer to entrust a male pilot’s reactions and judgments in a difficult in-flight or landing problem than to even a slightly pregnant female pilot.”