In Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, New York Times Sees Scheming Woman
Yesterday, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York) blew up the internet with her passionate condemnation of the misogynist culture that makes men like her colleague Rep. Ted Yoho (R-Florida) think they can get away with calling women horrible things and then be forgiven for it because, after all, look at my wife and daughters. It was brilliant and righteously sad and angry and (says this Doktor of Rhetoric) a hell of a tightly constructed argument, to boot.
And then the New York Times had to go and try to report on it. Oh lordy. You may have thought you saw a very smart member of Congress excoriating institutional sexism and the systems of power that have kept it in place, and carefully dissecting exactly why sexist men are so often able to get a free pass as long as they pretend to apologize. But the Times saw something a bit different. It saw a savvy political operator disrupting norms and enhancing her own prestige. Urgggh.
Mind you, the story, by reporters Luke Broadwater and Catie Edmondson, does at least acknowledge that Ocasio-Cortez connected with an audience of women who were glad to hear her calling this crap out, and that other women in the House backed her up with their own stories of having faced butthead men who didn't treat them as fully human. The reporters clearly get what she was saying, and recognize that the speech just might represent a real moment of cultural change. This is not your grandfather's old-boy dismissal of a silly little feminist bobblehead.
But hoo, doggies, did they have to frame Ocasio-Cortez as a calculating political operator whose biggest achievement was in advancing her own image? We're not above a teensy bit of cynicism around here, but look at this nonsense. Just look at it! We're going to toss in a big blockquote here so you get the full flavor:
Ever since Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez came to Congress as the youngest woman elected to the House, she has upended traditions, harnessing the power of social media and challenging leaders, including President Trump, who are 50 years her senior.
On Thursday, she had her most norm-shattering moment yet when she took to the House floor to read into the Congressional Record a sexist vulgarity that Representative Ted Yoho, a Florida Republican, had used to refer to her.
"In front of reporters, Representative Yoho called me, and I quote: 'A fucking bitch,'" she said, punching each syllable in the vulgarity. "These are the words Representative Yoho levied against a congresswoman."
Then Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, who excels at using her detractors to amplify her own political brand, invited a group of Democratic women in the House to come forward to express solidarity with her. One by one, they shared their own stories of harassment and mistreatment by men, including in Congress. More even than the profanity uttered on the House floor, where language is carefully regulated, what unfolded over the next hour was a remarkable moment of cultural upheaval on Capitol Hill.
She upends traditions and shatters norms! She harnesses social media! She punches each syllable of the vulgarity, and excels in using her detractors to amplify her own political brand. She even corralled her Democratic women colleagues, presumably to amplify her amplification of this cultural upheaval.
Again, partial credit to Broadwater and Edmondson for recognizing that this is indeed a cultural moment. But wow, those are a lot of verbs you could apply just as easily to a vandal as to someone making a cogent critique of institutional misogyny.
Also, how about this? As bestselling author person and New York magazine journalist Mark Harris points out on Twitter, Broadwater's two previous articles about Yoho's verbal attack on Ocasio-Cortez don't quote what he said at all, instead describing his comments as "a vulgar and sexist expletive," and "a pair of expletives."
Yoho's sexist obscenity finally gets aired here — but his offensive language is framed as part of Ocasio-Cortez's effort to shatter the norms of the House's "carefully regulated" rules of decorum. He may have said something terrible, but it only violates norms when a lady speaks it aloud on the floor of the House.
The piece improves a bit when it recounts the supporting speeches of other congresswomen who shared their own brief interludes with hideous mansplaining. Pramila Jayapal (D-Washington) recalled the time a Republican man (Rep. Don Young, though she didn't name him) called her "young lady" (she was 51 at the time) and angrily said she "doesn't know a damn thing about what she's talking about." Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Florida) said that "Few women here watching have not felt a man's bullying breath or menacing finger in our face as we were told exactly where our place was at work." And Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California) said "I can tell you this firsthand, they called me names for at least 20 years of leadership" — and more.
But then we're back to the tale of AOC the politician on the make, recounting the initial coverage of the insult and Ocasio-Cortez's tweet that "embraced the insult, remarking, 'But hey, 'b*tches' get stuff done.'" Even her invitation to other women to tell their stories is cast as political gameswomanship:
By Wednesday evening, the media-savvy Ms. Ocasio-Cortez had sprung into action to create a disruptive and viral event. Her aides emailed invitations asking her fellow lawmakers to join her on Thursday on the House floor, when she planned to discuss how she "was accosted and publicly ridiculed," according to a copy of the invitation.
So sure, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez connected with every woman who ever had to put up with a man's shit, at work or elsewhere, only to see him face no consequences for it. She was rightly recognized as having a sharp perception of just how insidious and pervasive it all is. And she pointed out the whole rotten system and says it has to change.
But that's kind of her brand, you know?
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Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.