It’s no secret at all that freshman congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York has proven a triggering figure across the political spectrum. Nothing so predictably unites folks like a distaste for women with ideas and ambition. Of course she’s smart, but is she likeable? Consider the following two headlines, which popped up in newsfeeds over the last 24 hours:
The first piece, from writer Laura Bassett, takes on the blatant ageism and misogyny being tossed at AOC by a cabal of frightened, old, white Republican men. After covering this week’s fake revenge porn published by The Daily Caller, and the frivolous focus on everything from Ocasio-Cortez’s clothing to her college dance moves, Bassett distills the conflict in stark, unmistakable terms:
“The obvious explanation is that men have literally never seen a woman in her 20s in the halls of Congress before. She’s attractive, telegenic and good at social media. She dances outside her Cannon House office. Conservative men are confused at being drawn to this bright rising star in the Democratic Party while loathing everything she stands for…. Indeed, some experts say conservative men are obsessed with Ocasio-Cortez because they’re threatened by her.”
The story of patriarchal ideology reproducers attempting to slut shame, ridicule, silence and otherwise negate a powerful woman garnering attention is as old as humanity. And when a strong woman is deemed too old or uncomely for slut shaming, the conventional alternative is to take pot shots at her appearance or physical strength.
Consider for a moment, the way mainstream media – on the right AND left – worked itself up into a frenzy over Hillary Clinton’s bout of pneumonia during the 2016 presidential election. Honestly, I still have unresolved anger toward MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow for devoting her entire show to Hillary’s 9/11 Memorial fainting spell the Monday after it occurred. Clinton set global flying records during her time as Secretary of State. This same badass endured hours of pointless Benghazi testimony WITH A CONCUSSION, yet was compared unfavorably on the vitality scale with a fat, orange septuagenarian who sniffs his way through televised remarks. Talk about a nothingburger of journalistic malpractice.
But I digress…
The preoccupation with Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez on the right is the same old toxic brew of fear and lust that any intelligent, tough young woman must unfortunately learn to brush off early in her career. It’s sad, pathetic and exhausting, but not unexpected. I wish I could say that the criticism of AOC from the left comes from a completely unique place, but alas, no. Arrogant patronizing is just another tactic birthed by male insecurity.
Consider this soundbite from Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, a Missouri Democrat, as quoted by writers Rachel Bade and Heather Caygle of Politico:
“’I’m sure Ms. Cortez means well, but there’s almost an outstanding rule: Don’t attack your own people…We just don’t need sniping in our Democratic Caucus.’”
Heaven forbid. Sniping! It’s at this point I must remind Rep. Cleaver that American male politicians of yore, when faced with ideological disagreements, were prone to resolving them by killing and maiming each other in duels.
Disappointingly, Bade and Caygle seem to take a need to put AOC back in her place as a serious topic in need of liberal attention. They continue:
“It’s an open question whether Ocasio-Cortez can be checked. She’s barely been in Congress a week and is better known than almost any other House member other than Nancy Pelosi and John Lewis. A media throng follows her every move, and she can command a national audience practically at will…Indeed, Ocasio-Cortez’s willingness to take on her party establishment with unconventional guerrilla tactics is what got her here.”
What exactly is the nature of these “guerrilla tactics?” Winning an election? Calling the President out as the racist he is? Publicly advocating for a Green New Deal and/or Ocasio-Cortez using her legislative platform to call for a progressive tax rate? If AOC has been out there in combat gear physically taking out moderate liberals (in high heels no less), I guess I missed those reports. All I see is a woman, elected explicitly for her political positions, clearly and frequently articulating them. You know, doing the job she’s been hired to do.
As Ocasio-Cortez continues to demonstrate her media savvy while learning the ropes of her new job, we can expect more breathless coverage of her unmitigated gall, her lack of respect for legislative tradition and the “outstanding rules” that have brought the country to its current financial and humanitarian precipice. And it will be our job to remind the hacks of all political stripes and genders that the New Yorkers in AOC’s district – rather pointedly – cast a vote for real change.
At the outset of her campaign, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez introduced herself to her constituents with an acknowledgement of the uphill battle her age, gender and race posed – even in a liberal, progressive district. “Women like me aren’t supposed to run for office,” she said at the time.
Thank goodness they do it anyway.