Undeserved Criticism of Freshman Congresswomen

Rina Cakrani, Opinion Columnist

The new class of progressive congresswomen seem to be facing many issues with the mainstream media and a double standard that disregards the old establishment, while constantly attacking the ideas proposed by the new members.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is one of the figures who is constantly in the spotlight and heavily scrutinized with every ‘controversial’ thing that she says or any policy that she supports or pushes forward. AOC has become the center of attacks in the conservative media, a perfect character to represent a changing Democratic Party that is emphasizing expanding the social safety net in a very problematic way, at least according to the conservative media. Though most Republicans have never heard of her, National Review, Breitbart, the American Conservative and other right-leaning outlets have all written extensively on Ocasio-Cortez. National Review’s Charles C.W. Cooke wrote that he was doing so “because she’s being hyped as the Next Big Thing. Because she’s now within the Vanguard of the Extra Serious Committee for Democratic Socialism in America. Because she’s making videos with Bernie, and being toasted on the Sunday shows.”

AOC is seen as a threat because in many ways she represents what many on the left hope the future of America looks like: female, a person from a minority community, a woman who unseated a white male, energetic and from a working-class background. She is the embodiment of the anti-patriarchy, and that gets the media and Hollywood, along with university students, very excited. These are the qualities that are precisely why some members of the G.O.P. can’t stand her, but also why the old Democratic establishment is scared of her. Regardless of whether her proposed policies are achievable or not, the fact that she is one of the few members of Congress that we hear about constantly, is telling of these existing double standards. One rarely hears the media go after other congressmen (especially male and white members) as relentlessly as they do with AOC, who is obviously a woman of color. The thing is that she hasn’t done anything particularly newsworthy so far, meaning that most of the policies she wants to promote are simply ideas that will probably not receive enough support to be implemented, but she’s reached the point where everything she does, or doesn’t do, can inspire outrage, think pieces and clicks.

The same thing is happening to Ilhan Omar, Minnesota’s representative, a black Muslim woman who came to the US as a refugee and is basically the Republicans’ worst nightmare. And that’s why it is not surprising that she is constantly under attack and her life has been questioned, starting from her immigration history to her marriage. Being the center of attention has furthermore demonstrated not only how the right underestimates her abilities, but also the evident Islamophobia of some senators and congressmen who believe that Muslim people have no business being involved with the US, or who believe in the conspiracy theory that Muslims are trying to infiltrate the American government and implement Islamic laws. As much as they sound ridiculous, the widespread Islamophobia in the country makes people believe in these lies and when they see someone like Ilhan Omar, who wears her hijab while performing congressional duties, the focus becomes her identity and not her policies.

Omar’s unjust treatment can be observed after her statement that members of Congress are being influenced by pro-Israeli lobbyists, a statement that holds much truth to it, but for which she received considerable criticism from her own party as well and was labeled as anti-Semitic. I believe criticism of her is not simply because of the fact that she dared to express some sort of criticism of the pro-Israeli lobby. It is also the fact that she is who she is that makes her vulnerable in confrontation with other Congress members who are mostly representing white Christian America and see Omar as a threat. Unfortunately, the struggle of some of the new congresswomen of color is major: they have to face daily controversy over their policies but at the same time, they have to protect their identities, which are constantly under threat.