#HeForShe: What We Can Learn from the Treatment of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

#HeForShe

Ever since Alexandria Ocasio- Cortez was first elected to the House of Representatives, she’s had a spotlight put on her. Her victory over Democratic Caucus Chair Joe Crowley, a 10-term incumbent, was seen as the biggest upset victory in the 2018 midterm election primaries. She then went on to defeat Republican opponent Anthony Pappas in the November 6, 2018, general election. Ocasio- Cortez became the youngest woman ever to serve in Congress at 29 years old. When she took office on January 3, 2019, she brought with her a massive social media following, something many members of Congress didn’t have. Social media has allowed her to connect with more than just her constituents and has kept her a focal point of the public eye.

Ocasio- Cortez comes from very humble beginnings. She was born to a Puerto Rican family in the Bronx, where she lived until she was five and her family moved to a house in Yorktown Heights. Although she graduated cum laude with a degree in International Relations from Boston University, Ocasio- Cortez, like many other Millennials, struggled to find a well-paying job after college. Even having experience working as an intern for US Senator Ted Kennedy didn’t seem to be enough to land her a job. She ended up moving back to the Bronx and working as a bartender and a waitress to help her mother fight foreclosure of their home.

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You would think that people who love to tell others to “pick themselves up by the bootstraps” would commend Ocasio- Cortez for doing just that. However, that doesn’t seem to be the case. Time after time Ocasio- Cortez has been ridiculed for her modest upbringing. If you were to go on her Twitter page and click on a tweet at random, chances are you’ll find at least one comment referring to her as “just a bartender” or saying she should go “make someone a drink.” It seems people are willing to just overlook her work as an activist and an intern for a US Senator in order to highlight her former job as a bartender. As if that should disqualify her from serving as a member of Congress. The American Dream is supposedly based on the idea that anyone can achieve their highest goals and aspirations. Apparently that doesn’t apply to a young woman from the Bronx.

Many of these specific attacks come from conservatives and members of the Republican party. President Trump himself has had lots to say about Ocasio- Cortez and her “squad,” the name given to Ocasio- Cortez and her fellow freshman Democrats, Rep. Ilhan Omar, Rep Ayanna Presley, and Rep Rashida Tlaib. On one of his infamous Twitter rants last year, President Trump suggested that the progressive Democrats "go back" to their "corrupt" and "broken and crime infested" countries. Of the four women he mentioned, only one of them was born outside of the United States. Rep Ayanna Presley was born in Ohio, Rep Rashida Tlaib was born in Michigan, and Ocasio- Cortez was born in New York, just like President Trump was. It seems like he forgot about that fact when he was telling her to leave this country and go to another one.

Republicans aren’t the only ones who have problems with Ocasio- Cortez. She has also come under attack from members of her own party. Ocasio- Cortez has butted heads with Nancy Pelosi, the 80-year-old Speaker of the House, on several occasions. Pelosi was once quoted as saying that a “glass of water would win with a D next to its name” when speaking about Ocasio- Cortez’s victory in her district. Many people took this as a snub towards Ocasio- Cortez, implying that she won due to her party, not her platform. That might have more credibility if she hadn’t beaten a 10 term Democratic incumbent to secure her victory and her place in Congress.

Being a woman in a patriarchal society is not easy. Women are constantly forced to prove their worth in order to be seen as equal to their male peers. Their mistakes are not easily forgiven and rarely, if ever, forgotten. Former US Representative Katie Hill was forced to resign from her position as an elected official after reports of alleged sexual indiscretions with a congressional staffer and an admission to a relationship with a campaign aide. To make matters worse, several lewd photos of her were leaked to the press. If the indiscretions weren’t enough to end her career, the photos surely did the job. Her reputation will probably never recover. It’s disappointing, but not surprising, that something like this is enough to ruin the political career of a woman but not that of a man. It’s much more likely for a man to get away with something like this. A few male politicians, including some presidents, come to mind.

Ocasio- Cortez is a perfect example of a woman saying to hell with the patriarchy. She has never been afraid to speak her mind and is known to leave powerful men speechless when she questions them before Congress. Almost everything she does goes against what women are expected to do in a male dominated society. She’s unmarried and doesn’t have any kids. She’s rejected the notion that women aren’t meant to be in positions of power. Ocasio- Cortez is a young, successful woman who is focused on her career and doing her part to make the world a better place. It’s a shame so many people have a problem with that.

Recently Ocasio- Cortez was accosted on the steps of the Capitol building by Republican Representatives Ted Yoho and Roger Williams. Rep. Yoho reportedly hurled several profanity-laced insults at her. Ocasio- Cortez took it all in stride and remained calm, telling her fellow Congressman that he was being rude before walking away. This incident brings to mind the old phrase “A man is allowed to react. A woman can only ever overreact.” If Ocasio- Cortez had fired back at Rep.Yoho for his comments, in the same manner, the media would have painted her as a hysterical woman. She later responded to Rep.Yoho’s comments in a speech that condemned male privilege, sexist behavior, and violent language towards women.

Ocasio- Cortez has always been unapologetically herself. Her time in Washington hasn’t changed who she is inside. She’s still the same girl from the Bronx. Since she was first elected to the House of Representatives, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has made headlines in the news. She has endured harsh criticism and cruel treatment during her first term but still keeps her head high. We can learn a lot from this young woman who's a symbol of everything the patriarchy is against.

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Geneva Brumfield

Geneva is a current journalism student at NYU. She is interested in literature, film, pop culture, and social justice topics.


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