Rightwing Media Tries to Slut-Shame Ocasio-Cortez | The Mary Sue
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The Blatantly Gendered Slut-Shaming Attacks on Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Are as Predictable as They Are Gross


Member elect Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) talks to fellow members of Congress during the first session of the 116th Congress at the U.S. Capitol January 03, 2019 in Washington, DC.

The constant attacks on freshman Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have officially reached a new low.

Fox News and other rightwing voices have long tried to attack her for her opinions, which inevitably, only end up serving as a convincing ad for her policies.

They’ve tried attacking her for involvement in working-class Bronx communities, claiming her “image” is fake, as if she hasn’t been open about her family’s struggle to move into a better school district and how that experience shaped her view of economic disparity.

They’ve tried attacking her clothes, her age, the fact that she danced with friends in college. They’ve attacked her voice, which is a criticism that’s likely familiar to many women. Women’s voices always seem to have some quality–too high-pitched, too shrill, too much vocal fry, too much upspeak–that others deem too egregious to be able to listen to our words.

And now the rightwing media has come at Ocasio-Cortez with another predictably gender-based mode of attack: slut-shaming.

Someone recently posted a picture of a woman vaping in a bathtub with the caption “alexandria ocasio-cortez.instagram.post.9-3-2016” to Reddit. The photo is taken from the woman’s perspective, showing just her legs and feet and her hands holding the vape pen, but her breasts are vaguely visible in her reflection in the faucet in front of her.

Earlier this week, Motherboard ran the story as having been debunked by foot fetishists. Indeed, a political activist and cam model named Sydney Leathers confirmed that she was person in the picture. Leathers was also a major player in Anthony Weiners sexting scandal and subsequent conviction. (That will be relevant later.)

Despite the fact that this years-old photo was quickly and easily proven not to have any connection to Ocasio-Cortez beyond what some Reddit rando wrote as an overlay in MS Paint, the rightwing outlet The Daily Caller, founded and funded by Fox News’ Tucker Carlson, ran an article with the headline, “Here’s The Photo Some People Described As A Nude Selfie of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.”

(Update: A Fox News spokesperson asked us to include this correction on a relatively minor point, verbatim, which we think says more about them than it does about us: “Tucker Carlson does not finance The Daily Caller in any way, nor does he have any role whatsoever in its editorial operations. She would have known that if she’d bothered to check.” Cool.)

Yes, some people did describe the photo that way. They were 100% wrong, though, and the Daily Caller’s headline did nothing to indicate that. AOC rightly called the site out for “completely disgusting behavior.”

In response, The Daily Caller said they changed the headline “as soon as editors noticed” it. They changed the headline to read “Anthony Weiner Mistress Stands Up for AOC After Evil Internet Trolls Spread Fake Nude Photo” and offered a correction at the bottom of the article, which may have meant more if this were an isolated incident, rather than one entry in a series of attempted tear-down pieces.

The decision to draw attention to Ocasio-Cortez’ sexuality is beyond transparent. It’s similar to the way in which the video of her dancing was edited to exclude her friends, setting her now-solo dance to a porn-ish drum beat rather than the original pop song. By depicting her as a sexual being, they’re trying to delegitimize her political worth.

None of this is to say that there aren’t valid criticisms one could have for Ocasio-Cortez. But these rightwing media figures aren’t coming after her actual politics. They’re coming after the political power being held by a young woman of color. That terrifies them and they’re attacks are distinctly not just about her, but all women who might find themselves inspired by her.

But try as they might, their tear-downs aren’t working. They edit a video of her dancing and they’re mocked while she’s celebrated. They post a fake nude photo and she remains unshamed.

Sady Doyle wrote a fantastic piece on the “sexualized assault on Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez” and other powerful women for Dame Magazine. She writes about how the rules for women have changed.

A woman wearing shoulder pads and a boxy polyester skirt suit is a woman in armor; we’re just too young to remember the war she was fighting.

Men pressured women to look androgynous at work, then they mocked successful women for lacking femininity. So it goes. But for millennial women like Ocasio-Cortez, those workplace rules are as outdated as fax machines. A woman in an office is not strange or exceptional, and dressing up is just a way to appear put together. It’s why women with Ph.D.’s post complicated skin-care routines online—or why Ocasio-Cortez tweets out the brand and shade of her lipstick. Women of her generation haven’t been taught that feminine self-presentation is incompatible with intelligence or seriousness.

Ocasio-Cortez didn’t ask for any of this. She asked to be elected to represent New York’s 14th congressional district and the voters there decided she should. Still, she’s handling all of this other baggage supremely well.

(image: Win McNamee/Getty Images)

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Vivian Kane (she/her) has a lot of opinions about a lot of things. Born in San Francisco and radicalized in Los Angeles, she now lives in Kansas City, Missouri with her husband Brock Wilbur and too many cats.