Expensive Outfits, Dancing Videos, and Twitter “Burns”
“Conservatives are kind of 404-ing over me — like, they just don’t understand what’s going on.” — Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on Pod Save America
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (“AOC”) turned the American political world on its head when she beat incumbent Joe Crowley in the NY-14 Democratic primary. With no Republican challenger, she was then guaranteed electoral victory. At twenty-nine years old, she’s the youngest elected official to be sworn into the House of Representatives. That was certainly not the end of her turning heads and making waves, however. She gets ever bolder in over policy proposals, and her appeal in the Democratic base broadens and deepens. At the same time, over and over, bad-faith and just about laughable Conservative attacks have demonstrated how much they fear her. This, in many cases, is perhaps a fear that they don’t even recognize as fear — rather, an anger, a confusion, a bitterness, an exasperation.
Why the fear? She represents a complete shift in this country’s conception of its political leadership. Number one, as a person of color. Number two, as a woman. Number three, elected by a grassroots effort and not by corporate funding streams (tying her to quid-pro-quos, as is sadly all too commonly the case). Number four, as someone so young and (understandably enough) relatively inexperienced. Number five, having grown up just about at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder.
Looking at the nature of those Conservative attacks, number one and two are have arguably been the most prescient aspects of why Ocasio-Cortez is feared. For instance, much of it has centered around her appearance, clothing, emotion, and intelligence — classic racist, misogynist targets. Yet in any way they can attack, Conservatives have done so. One example — several have attempted to undermine her claims that she grew up (and has lived at) lower socioeconomic status by pointing to the expensive nature of the clothes she’s worn on the Hill and in photo shoots. Her response on Twitter, as usual, was incredibly witty and strong — “….obviously these people don’t understand how photo shoots work — you don’t get to keep the clothes….and get used to me slaying lewks.”
A similar attempt at undermining her lower-class status claims was Conservatives pointing towards the suburban home where she lived in high school — obviously not belonging to a poor family, these critiques went. Her brother gave a response even more biting and defensive than his sister’s response to comments about her expensive outfits, reasonably so; he described how hard his parents worked for him and Alexandria to have a good life, and said “don’t even try”.
Other attacks have just tried to paint her as unintelligent and naive, without much concrete, convincing evidence. Yet she knows that her national appeal is strong, and will nevertheless stand strong in who she is and what she believes. Her Twitter response to a few Republicans booing her when she voted in Nancy Pelosi as speaker evinced that self-assurance; “don’t hate me ’cause you ain’t me,” she tweeted.
Arguably the biggest AOC stir came with an anonymous QAnon Twitter profile releasing a video of her dancing on a rooftop while in college at Boston University — America’s “favorite Commie know-it-all”, the tweet labeled her. That was the response to this young woman having fun, confident in her skin, enjoying the life in the body with which God has graced her. There is absolutely nothing “lewd” about the movement, what she’s wearing, context, anything about the video at all. She is a soft yet effervescent mover. The video is art.
Fox News tried to claim that the liberal view of Conservatives “freaking out” over the video was completely exaggerated. If it was at all exaggerated, it was in being justifiably anticipatory; much else that Ocasio-Cortez has said and done, the Right has blown out of proportion. She’s been a fanatical focus of the Right-wing media ecosystem. Even so, it was undeniably a member of the Alt-Right who tweeted the video, along with pretty extreme language (“Commie know-it-all”). Then, many Conservatives re-tweeted it, and that Right wing media ecosystem was churning with it - as it does with everything about her. That aside, her response to the controversy felt like a perfect trolling of trolls — she posted another video of her dancing as a Congresswoman.
Much of this stir boils down to that within patriarchy, women can do no right. If you don’t put yourself out there, you’re no fun, even “prudish”. If you show “too much skin”, you’re attention-seeking, maybe even promiscuous. Either way, if you assert your truth, you’re viewed with suspicion and distaste. And, of course, patriarchy just loves to control the female body. That’s a patriarchy pretty clearly intertwined with Conservatism.
Just look at key parts of the Conservative agenda — abortion and birth control restriction, failure to uphold accountability for sexual assault, and general restriction of what women can do or not do with their bodies (“What were you wearing?”, “Why were you in that situation in the first place?”). None of that is about being “pro-life” or upholding “family values”; the policy proposals would be quite different if it were (such as comprehensive sex-ed and birth control access, for instance, which a large body of research demonstrates are more effective ways of reducing the rate of unwanted pregnancy).
And when we women manage to undeniably strike some sort of graceful balance, like AOC did in that dancing video, the only reaction that patriarchy can manage is fear. Fear of the power of the feminine spirit — that can birth a child and go back to work, that can work full days and come home to feed the whole family with love and joy. Of the power within us, that could come to undermine patriarchal supremacy — oh, how horrific!
Yet not all of that patriarchal fear comes from the Right. On both sides, as discussed, misogyny mixes with smears about her age and level of experience within commentary about her. Joe Lieberman tweeted “Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez isn’t the future of the Democratic party,” for example. Her re-tweet response? “New Democratic party — who dis?”. It’s a legitimately funny comeback. But there’s also poignant truth there. Joe Lieberman is an older white male politician, whose centrism notoriously scuttled the possibility of a public option way back with original ACA negotiations — not a Republican doing so, but a moderate Democrat. He’s perhaps second to only Joe Manchin in being vilified from the Left (and even Center Left). Ocasio-Cortez, on the other hand, has broad, notably enthusiastic support within the Democratic base.
If the 2018 midterm results are any indication, the party’s future looks a lot more like Ocasio-Cortez than it does Lieberman; Democrats elected young women of color in larger numbers than ever. Additionally, two prominent older white male incumbent Democrats were resoundingly defeated in primary battles. One was Michael Capuano (“progressive champion” to the media and many on the Left, though that classification is arguably disingenuous), by Ayanna Pressley — the first woman of color to be elected to represent MA-7 (Boston and parts of surrounding suburbs). In only her early forties, she has the potential for a bright political future. The second was Crowley, prominent House Democrat and being groomed as Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s successor, by AOC herself. The spirit behind Lieberman’s statement illustrates how, though it’s far more present and powerful on the Right, The Left is also not free from white patriarchal fear.
There might be a legitimate argument that Conservative attacks against AOC are more about her uncompromising Leftist policy positions, rather than because she’s a young woman of color. Conservatives similarly attacked Beto O’Rourke, after all, who dared challenge Ted Cruz for a Texas Senate seat — a middle-aged white man. They tried to paint him as frivolous and incompetent, not a “real politician”, by sharing around that he was in a punk rock band and has skateboarded in the parking lot of a Whataburger. Even more laughable was Cruz claiming that O’Rourke would ban barbeque in Texas.
Their attempts backfired, as they made many across the nation think that O’Rourke is simply a cool guy. That’s a similar outcome to their attacks on AOC; many in the Democratic base now just appreciate her more. Her genuinely witty and biting responses to these attacks are most likely a big part of that effect. So, the situations being quite similar in attacks on a white man and a woman of color, is it really about white patriarchy? As Conservatism falters, so does white patriarchy, and vice-versa. Even without defeating Cruz to represent Texas in the Senate, O’Rourke awoke a dormant Blue coalition in the Lone Star State, and emboldened the Blue coalition nationwide. He did this despite predictions that he would never even come close to being elected (he did), as a fairly young and inexperienced Representative challenging a Conservative Senatorial lion.
Even if not a successful, capable woman like Ocasio-Cortez, O’Rourke has threatened Conservative patriarchy by challenging its old guard, and refusing to acquiesce to its ideology. The good old boys don’t like the fresh young boys or girls — both threaten their power. Yet there is nothing they so fear as the embodiment of their loss of power and privilege, by their embodied opposite gaining power and collective love. Good old boys, meet Ms. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. She does not, and nor will she ever, fear you. As we meet more and more women like her, that just may be something that you’ll need to get used to.