In an exchange on the House floor that might otherwise have gone entirely overlooked, Representative Pramila Jayapal (D-Washington, 7th District) — the first Indian American woman to be elected to Congress — shut down her colleague, Representative Don Young (R-Alaska) for addressing her as “young lady” and saying that she “doesn’t know a damn thing what she’s talking about.” (Transcript of the exchange available here related to Amendment No. 43.)
The exchange took place Thursday on the floor of the House of Representatives during a debate over an amendment sponsored by Representative Young that would repeal federal regulations against controversial hunting practices in wildlife reserves, such as the use of artificial lights and certain forms of bait to lure animals towards areas where they can be shot at point-blank range, as well as the shooting of bear cubs or wolf pups during denning season. Jayapal, who is 51 years old and a former civil rights attorney currently serving her first term in the House, gave remarks on the floor outlining her concerns with the proposed amendment. Reports The Seattle Times:
“These national lands are intended to be enjoyed by all Americans, including those who visit and hope to have the rare opportunity to see bears and wolves in their natural habitats,” Jayapal said. “These are reasonable regulations that prevent cruel hunting practices.”
Young, however, took issue with those comments, and took to the floor to attempt a patronizing, sexist takedown of Representative Jayapal. While dismissing her as a “young lady”, Young chastised Jayapal as someone who “doesn’t know a damn thing what she’s talking about.” Deriding her commentary as “really nonsense”, Young accused Jayapal of parroting talking points written for her by animal rights groups.
Minutes into Young’s diatribe, Jayapal interrupted to ask that Young’s statements be stricken from the record, noting that it was rude and disrespectful for Young to patronize her on the floor of the House.
Young apologized moments later, saying that he can “get very defensive about [his] state.” Jayapal accepted the apology but retorted, “I care as deeply about my state as you do.” (The amendment introduced by Young later passed a vote in the House.)
As the second-longest currently serving House member, Young is known for making controversial — and often offensive — remarks over his 23 terms in office. In 2014, Young was forced to apologize after using the slur “w*tbacks” to refer to migrant workers during a radio interview. Young was also forced to apologize in 2014 after remarking to a high school grieving the recent death of a student by suicide that “a lack of support from friends and family” might be to blame. At that same event, Young also made an insensitive and homophobic quip in defense of his continued opposition to same-sex marriage.
Sexist bullying of women — and particularly women of colour — elected officials by their male colleagues in Congress is nothing new; indeed, it seems to be a common tactic used by male politicians to silence or dismiss female Representatives. Earlier this year, Representative Jayapal endured an insult from Idaho Republican Raul Labrador who told her to “learn how to read” at a hearing of the House Judiciary Committee. The fact that a record number of women are serving in Congress this session seems to have done little to discourage such sexism.
After this week’s exchange, Jayapal issued took to Twitter to urge women — and particularly women of colour — to stand up to sexist bullies.
A message to women of color out there:stand strong. Refuse to be patronized or minimized. Let the small guys out there be intimated by you.
— Rep. Pramila Jayapal (@RepJayapal) September 8, 2017
Jayapal noted that such sexist treatment is a common phenomenon experienced by women of color. “Unfortunately, women, including women of color, face this kind of exchange far too often,” she said according to The Seattle Times. “So often, we are discredited for being brown or black, looking too young or too old, or having strong opinions. I appreciate that Congressman Young apologized and I want to remind women of color out there to stand your ground and don’t ever be afraid to speak up.”
Jayapal also told Vice: “Some male colleagues may think that it’s a compliment to say that somebody’s a young lady, but it’s not. There are lots of ways to compliment women of intelligence and substance, and calling them young lady is not one of them.”