Ocasio-Cortez: Change and Courage

Ocasio-Cortez is a beacon of strength for young women in US politics.

Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez endeavours towards justice for women in politics. Her repeated deflection of criticism from senior, male members of Congress has made headlines since her election in 2018. She unquestionably stands out as a key voice for women’s rights and equal treatment in both congress and wider society. It is not surprising that her latest comments about sexism have brought renewed interest in her character.

Ocasio-Cortez and politics

Following her viral speech condemning sexism, discussions about how men in politics address women have become increasingly pertinent. Virtually anonymous before her election, Ocasio-Cortez has made an irreversible impression on American politics. Her unprecedented election victory in 2018 led many careerist politicians to scrutinise her inexperience and progressive views, and many remain sceptical of her position. Despite this, she has remained steadfast in her work and adamant of her abilities and has arguably proven herself worthy of her position.

It is evident that her courage has altered the country’s perception of young women in politics. With every attack, she remains defiant and is unafraid to speak up against oppression. Consequently, her outspokenness and willingness to challenge entrenched ideas have alarmed the senior and male-dominated 116th Congress. This frustration caused her fellow congressman Yoho to launch a personal and offensive attack on her. In his response to congress, he seemed to judge the matter unworthy of a genuine apology. Ocasio-Cortez was quick to note how his disrespect was typical and normalised behaviour towards women.

On July 23rd, Ocasio-Cortez delivered a full and frank response to Congressman Yoho’s comments. His superficial and unfeeling apology had left many frustrated, including the congresswoman herself. Taking to Twitter, she detailed how he did not even mention her by name. In her unplanned speech, she relayed the insulting language Yoho had employed towards her and firmly displayed her refusal to stay silent in front of the House. The representative recounted how he called her a ‘fucking bitch’ in front of their colleagues and the press.

With skill, Ocasio-Cortez highlighted the severity of the language used by refusing to censor these insults. This increased the impact of her words and portrayed her as an authentic speaker. As a result, the speech went viral, unsettling thousands who were unaware of the blatant disrespect directed to female politicians. It is undeniable that it takes considerable courage to appeal to the public conscience and show how this behaviour is unacceptable. She has achieved this time and time again and presents a tangible challenge to the outdated attitudes of Congress.

Her speech

“This is not new, and that is the problem…This is a pattern of an attitude towards women and dehumanisation of others.”

– Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (July 23rd, 2020)

Furthermore, Ocasio-Cortez illustrated how this incident was simply a reflection of society’s mistreatment of women. Her description of a ‘pattern’ resonates with the repeated attempts by men to silence women in the political realm. Indeed, incidents such as these are not isolated. In her speech, the congresswoman likens the behaviour of her male colleagues to those of abusive men in bars.

In reducing Yoho’s words to nothing more than they were – ignorance – Ocasio-Cortez has exposed the deeply rooted disrespect towards women. Despite his title and political prestige, he is nothing more than the men who taunted her in her previous job. Being a congresswoman has not relieved her of this treatment but has given her the means to turn her courage into change. This speech is just one action of many needed to permanently alter the treatment of women in politics.

Women and Congress

The dismissive and offensive rhetoric adopted by Congressman Yoho stems from centuries of systemic sexism in America’s system. Since the country’s formation, women have been repeatedly disenfranchised and silenced. Shockingly, out of the 12,000 plus people who have served in Congress, only 325 were women. Their historical lack of representation could demonstrate why women are not taken seriously enough in politics as their voices were, and continue to be, overshadowed.

In addition, 63% of these women were elected after 1992, highlighting the recency of their impact. However as Ocasio-Cortez made clear, the historical subordination of women in politics is not an excuse for sexism today. All women have the right to speak their mind on policy and political issues in congress without being harassed. Their fellow congressmen need to take her message seriously and take accountability for the way they address and treat women. They are not entitled to their respect and must earn it by demonstrating a commitment to equality.

Her use of social media

One way Ocasio-Cortez is attempting to change attitudes is through social media. Without her online presence, it is doubtful that her speech would have received such attention. Its apt use enables her not only to communicate with supporters but also to fend off her haters. In addition, she has transformed the social media presence of congress and subsequently increasing its accessibility. Ultimately, social media is another channel for her courage and a modern catalyst for change which she is leading.

Image of ‘The Squad’ posted by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@aoc)

Furthermore, she is well-known for collaborating with other Congresswomen and raising their voices. For example, she coined the term ‘The Squad’ for an informal group of progressive, freshmen Congresswoman. Almost immediately, the group received attacks from President Trump, who suggested they “go back” to their own countries“. Nevertheless, the group have achieved many viral moments and represent an emerging generation of young, female, Democrats of colour. They certainly reflect several new ‘firsts’ for American politics and present a positive future for the involvement of women.

The future

Yoho’s abuse of Ocasio-Cortez is a sign that little genuine change for women has occurred since Trump’s election. Anger at the blatant sexism and neglect of women’s issues in his administration has promoted further calls for change. This arguably manifested two years ago, where a record 23.6% of the 116th Congress were women. This suggests positions in government are becoming more accessible to women, although still underwhelming when compared to the population ratio.

“And so what I believe is that having a daughter does not make a man decent. Having a wife does not make a decent man. Treating people with dignity and respect makes a decent man.”

– Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (July 23rd, 2020)

In the closing of her speech, Ocasio-Cortez condemned the shallow excuses used by Ted Yoho. Furthermore, she argued against using other women as a “shield” against criticism and redefined these historically masculinised ideas of decency. She asserted herself with eloquence and grace, aligning herself with the dignity that her opponent lacked. Being an exemplar has allowed her to show the strength of young women in politics. Moreover, it suggests their current and future influence has been underestimated. Certainly, further positive changes to how we treat women in both politics and society will occur if this level of courage and dedication is maintained by young, female politicians such as Ocasio-Cortez.

Ocasio-Cortez is a beacon of strength for young women in US politics.