Why do men feel so threatened by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez?
Illustration: Cveta Gotovats

“Bitches get stuff done.”

This was the cool, calm and collected response Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted following an incident in which she was harassed by fellow Congressman Ted Yoho, who called her “a fucking bitch”.

Ocasio-Cortez, also known by her initials AOC, went viral last week for her response to Yoho’s sexist remarks and non-existent apology. Speaking on the House floor, she powerfully pointed out how Yoho’s remarks are representative of a larger culture of harassment and disrespect of women. “All of us have had to deal with this in some form, some shape, some way at some point in our lives,” she stated.

While Ocasio-Cortez testified that she “was not deeply hurt or offended by little comments,” she received particular praise for the way in which she set an example for others. In one of the most quoted parts of her speech, she explained: “Mr Yoho mentioned that he has a wife and two daughters […] I am someone’s daughter too,” she said. “I am here because I have to show my parents that I am their daughter, and that they did not raise me to accept abuse from men.”

“This violent language is about power”

Following this, fellow Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal took the floor and made a particular piece of commentary that drew my attention. “This violent language is about power,” she said. “It is about fear of people who may well be smarter than you, harder working than you, and more dedicated to achieving justice than you.” 

This is not the first time this language of fear has been used with regards to AOC. When asked about Donald Trump in an interview in December, Ocasio-Cortez observed: “He has a track record: he is afraid of strong women”.

If violent language is, as Tlaib says, the result of fear, it is unfortunately no surprise that Ocasio-Cortez has been the target of much harassment from Republicans. In July last year, Trump told her and other Democratic congresswomen to “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime-infested places from which they came,” despite her having been born in America. In September, he called the same group of women “do nothing democrat savages” and a month later Trump tweeted out calling Ocasio-Cortez a “wack job”.

So why are these men so afraid of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez?

While clips of AOC’s response to Congressman Yoho are now flying around the internet, this is far from the first time she has gone viral. Her questioning of ethics experts on corporate PAC money is the most watched political video on Twitter ever, with more than 37 million views, and if you simply type ‘AOC’ into Youtube you’ll find compilations of her ‘best moments’, ranging from 10 minutes to an hour long.

What then is it that makes Ocasio-Cortez’s speeches so popular? I believe the answer lies in another of her other most viral moments: her grilling of Mark Zuckerberg.

AOC reveals Zuckerberg to be incredibly incapable.

When Zuckerberg sat before the US House of Representatives for a hearing regarding Libra, Facebook’s new cryptocurrency project, AOC seized the opportunity to question him about their mishandling of the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Ocasio-Cortez’s simple questions were met with increasing confusion on his part as Zuckerberg tries to deny having any prior knowledge of the issue. He seems confused, repeatedly not understanding or not being able to recall the question he has just been asked. In short, AOC reveals Zuckerberg to be incredibly incapable.

Part of Ocasio-Cortez’s talent is being able to ask such simple, straightforward questions, phrased in a way anyone can understand. She omits pompous political jargon in favour of direct confrontation: “You don’t know? This was the largest data scandal with respect to your company, that had catastrophic impacts on the 2016 election. You don’t know?” she asks a “squirming” Zuckerberg.

As Poppy Noor explains, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has the ability to “turn complex political concepts into snappy soundbites and boring old politics into much-talked-about spectacle.” In other words, AOC makes politics accessible.

This is hardly surprising given her background. Ocasio-Cortez’s entry to Congress was remarkable and unprecedented: in a shock 2018 election she unseated 10-term incumbent Joe Crowley, at that time the fourth-ranking Democrat in the House. 

She is perhaps one of the most influential and important politicians in America.

By comparison, she had been working as a waitress in a bar before becoming the youngest woman ever to serve in Congress at a mere 29 years old. Now, having been a representative for less than two years, she is perhaps one of the most influential and important politicians in America.

While Republicans and others dismissed Ocasio-Cortez’s first electoral victory as a “fluke”, she rightly pointed out winning her primary for re-election in June “proves that the people’s movement in NY isn’t an accident. It‘s a mandate.”

You only have to look at AOC’s fundraising figures for further proof. Nearly 80% of her campaign funds have come from ‘small-dollar donations’ of $200 or less. That tells us that, in contrast to opponents like Michelle Caruso-Cabrera, AOC is being bankrolled by ordinary people.

While the concept of grassroots fundraising isn’t unheard of, Ocasio-Cortez has achieved it on a whole new scale. According to The Independent, top-fundraising House Democrat Adam Schiff raised 54% of his campaign funds through small-dollar donations.

Her fundraising was so successful that re-election opponent Michelle Caruso-Cabrera, despite being funded by “Wall Street CEOs, from Goldman Sachs to Blackstone” who “poured in millions”, raised only 20% of the funds that Ocasio-Cortez did. In a victory speech following the primary results, AOC powerfully stated: “their money couldn’t buy a movement”.

And a movement is exactly what this is. Ocasio-Cortez was elected to Congress at the same time as three other left-leaning, “progressive Democrats who unseated long-term, centrist incumbents”, all women of colour. Together, AOC, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley and Rashida Tlaib make up the ‘squad’ of Democratic women quickly rising to “political stardom” in Washington DC.

Ocasio-Cortez is not just one rogue politician; she is at the forefront of a political movement.

But the movement doesn’t end there. This year’s primary elections have seen a growing number of victories that mirror that of Ocasio-Cortez, including Jamaal Bowman, who has been described as “the next AOC”. Bowman unseated 16-term incumbent Eliot Engel, who was first elected in 1988, despite Engel’s endorsements from Hilary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi. Having been endorsed by AOC herself, Bowman drew particular attention from the press, who suggested that “a win for him would suggest that the progressive wave is by no means over” and “Jamaal Bowman Proves Ocasio-Cortez Was No Fluke”. Other primary victories that drew attention were those of Mondaire Jones and Ritchie Torres, who would be “the first openly gay Black men in Congress” if they are elected in November.

Clearly, Ocasio-Cortez is not just one rogue politician; she is at the forefront of a political movement. AOC, who embraces her label as a democratic socialist, supports gun reform, the abolition of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and 100% renewable energy policy. She has not been afraid to confront the Trump administration on injustices such as the separation of children from their parents in migrant detention facilities, nor has she shied away from calling out Trump directly on his racism.

Following the election of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez there has been a wave of progressive, Democratic politicians of colour, yet many Democrats feel disillusioned by the presumptive presidential nomination of Joe Biden, another old, white, moderate man who is accused of being a rapist. Where some feel that the party is being held back by moderates like Pelosi and Clinton, I think Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez offers a source of hope.

Being so remarkably young, Ocasio-Cortez has years ahead of her to make waves in politics, and rumours are already circling about a future presidential run. But AOC’s real success has been far bigger than herself. She has paved the way for a new breed of politicians, those that represent the diverse country that America is. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has shown that politics are for everyone –  regardless of class or ethnicity – and that is what really makes her such a threat.