Shortly after a number of newly-elected US Congresswomen were sworn in, a video hit social media that showed Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez recreating a dance scene from The Breakfast Club while she was a student at Boston University. The video’s release, meant to undermine her newly elected status, had the opposite effect and the attempts to humiliate her instead prompted an outpouring of support. Instead of reducing her credibility, the video seems to have bolstered her popularity.
Observers know, this attempt to undermine the suitability of Rep. Ocasio-Cortez is nothing new. During her campaign, critics were quick to critique her words and question whether she should have a voice in the public debate at all. Vox reported a tweet about her by the often-quoted voice of the Washington establishment Norm Ornstein: “This is a person not ready for prime time, certainly not ready for Congress. She should stop campaigning & do a crash course on basics, including economics and foreign policy. Otherwise, she will stumble badly out of the blocks and do major damage. Early impressions hard to erase.”
Criticism of Rep. Ocasio-Cortez hasn’t only come from men, or Republicans. Even former Senator Claire McCaskill weighed in, describing Rep. Ocasio-Cortez as, ““a bright and shiny new object who came out of nowhere and surprised people when she beat a very experienced congressman.”
In fact, Rep. Ocasio-Cortez has pulled off an incredible political achievement: she waged an effective campaign and won a seat in the House. But that’s not good enough. All women in the public eye draw criticism and commentary, not just for their politics and policies, but also for their appearance – as is the case with Senator Krysten Sinema, who was called out by a prominent Arizona Republican who took exception to what she wore when she was sworn into office.
Bruce Ash, a national GOP committeeman resorted to name-calling and said that “dumb ass people” helped get Sen. Sinema elected, she looked more looked more like “Senator Madonna” than the “Senator Barbie Doll” of her campaign.
Call me crazy but I can’t recall reading a single news story questioning a newly elected man’s attire. And as for Rep. Ocasio-Cortez being “not ready for prime time,” what about Rep. Paul Ryan, who was 28 when first elected in 1998 and has failed fact-checks for years. PolitiFact Wisconsin has collected some of his “pants on fire” claims on a special web page. Yet, he is considered an idea man, and no one has said he is unfit to serve in Congress or that he isn’t ready for prime time.
Everyone has biases and some of the issues that these women are facing are a direct result of those biases (the rest is just flat out sexism, but that’s a topic for another day). As we explain in In This Together: “It’s hard to see and talk about the stereotypes that create gender bias because we have absorbed them with every breath since birth. Some of these are internal and limit the aspirations and expectations we have for ourselves as women. Our culture has for a long time assigned men to every power position, so it’s no surprise that we automatically attribute authority to males of any species and see women’s helping roles as normal. Men certainly still run the worlds of business and politics, but many women are in denial about this because they just can’t believe that gender bias is still so widespread.”
The rush to criticize the women who were just elected shows how widespread gender bias is in the politics. If we are to create equality for all women, we have to call out the comments that seek to undermine women, name them as biases and talk about them. And if we want to see more women step into leadership roles, we need to encourage them and counteract the public ridicule they often face. Rep. Ocasio-Cortez, Sen. Sinema, and all of the newly elected women need our support beyond the ballot box. We need to defend their credibility and together change our perception of leadership. In my new book, we provide scripts and strategies for counteracting behaviors that undermine and denigrate women.
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Elisa Parker, who has co-founded several organizations to support women, including the award-winning multimedia program “See Jane Do,” has called Dr. Nancy’s new book “a game changer,” and Gloria Steinem has said it will “help us create community, success, and well-being.” Find out why and order your copy (and gifts for your friends) of In This Together: How Successful Women Support Each Other In Work and Life–thoughts, advice, and stories from 40 successful women across a variety of careers—from authors to actresses, CEOs and professors—encouraging women to support each other in the workplace and in life. Learn about action plans on how all women can work together to break free from the bonds of gender inequality.