Why Conservative Men Are Obsessed With, and Afraid of, Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez

Screengrab via Comedy Central

"Conservatives respond to fear more strongly than liberals do, says one neuroscientist who studies political anxiety."

HuffPost - January 11, 2019

Conservatives’ bizarre, escalating obsession with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) reached a new level this week when The Daily Caller published fake revenge porn of the new congresswoman.

“Here’s The Photo Some People Described As A Nude Selfie Of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez,” the Caller’s original headline read, before it was changed and the site posted a “we regret the error” message on Twitter. For the record, the photo is not of Ocasio-Cortez, despite what “some people” have said.

Since Ocasio-Cortez, a 29-year-old working-class democratic socialist, unexpectedly toppled powerful white male incumbent Joe Crowley in a June primary, she’s become an object of fixation among Republicans, especially Republican men. Conservative writer Ed Scarry posted a photo of her backside on Twitter, questioning whether her black suit was befitting of a “girl who struggles.” Right-wing media discovered that she ― like a lot of people named “Alexander,” “Alexandra” or some variant thereof ― went by the nickname “Sandy” in high school. A self-proclaimed “proud Christian Dad” on Twitter circulated a video of her dancing in a T-shirt in college as if it would be a career-damaging revelation. A Republican strategist referred to her as “the little girl” on Fox News, which runs segments about her constantly.

In a way, Ocasio-Cortez is the most formidable opponent to President Donald Trump the Democratic Party has put forth yet. She has even more of a knack for social media than America’s first Twitter president; she’s anti-establishment like he is; she breaks all the rules of how a politician is supposed to behave; and she has an undeniably strong emotional appeal.

“She’s engaging attention and emotion in people at this visceral level,” Azarian said. “She has some combination of a lot of features that really seems to give her this ability to go viral. And I think that’s what Trump had.”  

That’s why conservatives want and need to undercut her influence. And the most time-tested way to undermine a woman’s power is to sexualize her, to make her an object instead of an agent. A 2013 study by the Women’s Media Center found that merely discussing a female candidate’s appearance has a negative effect on her support from voters.  

“The moment at which you turn someone into a sex object, you put yourself in a position of authority over them, which is why sexual harassment is classified as being a form of gender discrimination in the workplace,” Heldman said. “They are the object who exists for you, and you are validating their worth.”

Or, as former Hillary Clinton campaign staffer Jess McIntosh put it: “Defining a woman’s value by whether or not men want to have sex with her is the oldest trick in the patriarchy. Either way, she’s diminished.”

The problem for these men is that Ocasio-Cortez doesn’t seem interested in what they think of her. She doesn’t seek attention for anything other than her policy ideas and ambition, even though Americans still seem to dislike power-seeking women. The typical strategies men use to devalue women ― “sexualizing, dismissing, controlling, teasing, criticizing, interrupting, psychopathologizing, humiliating, abusing,” according to one psychologist ― seem to bounce right off her. ...
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