AOC's Weaponized Victimhood Undermines Women | Opinion

Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is in the news crying foul again, this time for an episode involving a heckler outside the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday.

The heckler in question was one Alex Stein, a professional right wing troll who called the Congresswoman a "big booty Latina" in a video that went viral on social media. The video shows Stein shouting "I love you AOC. You're my favorite" and "She wants to kill babies but she's still beautiful" and "Look at that booty on AOC, that's my favorite big booty Latina" as the congresswoman attempts to make her way into the building. In a video clip of the episode later posted to Twitter, AOC walks over to the heckler, says, "Why don't we do a little selfie?" and flashes the peace sign.

But soon after, her reaction changed: AOC tweeted a photo of the heckler along with a message: "This guy followed me up the Capitol saying 'look at your juicy a**', 'you *** Latina' & bunch of other disgusting garbage in front of an officer who let him continue, so I'm just going to share his photo here since there's no other protection."

She then deleted that tweet, and posted another one: "I posted about a deeply disgusting incident that happened today on the Capitol steps, but took it down because it's clearly someone seeking extremist fame." She then posted the video of the episode and claimed she was "walking over to deck him" because "if no will protect us then I'll do it myself." It would not be the only time she complained about Capitol police not taking the threat seriously.

Let me start by saying I sympathize with AOC. It is absolutely unsettling to be heckled and objectified by a stranger, and I hope it goes without saying that it is gross and inappropriate to talk about women the way Stein did.

That said, the congresswoman's response was part of a pattern of behavior on her part of weaponizing her own victimization as a way of wielding power. It does nothing to diminish the grossness of Stein's sexual comments to point out that AOC's reaction is part of a disturbing trend that is ironically harming women.

For starters, AOC seems to believe in safety for me but not for thee. Many pointed out that in 2020, AOC tweeted, "The whole point of protesting is to make ppl uncomfortable." And she bragged about her efforts to block legislation that would increase police protection for Supreme Court justices and their families—even after someone was arrested for attempting to kill Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. When protestors stood outside a restaurant where Justice Kavanaugh was eating and he had to be scuttled out the back, AOC mocked him for not getting to have dessert.

"Poor guy. He left before his soufflé because he decided half the country should risk death if they have an ectopic pregnancy within the wrong state lines. It's all very unfair to him. The least they could do is let him eat cake 🍰," she wrote.

WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 24: Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) leaves after speaking to abortion-rights activists in front of the U.S. Supreme Court. Nathan Howard/Getty Images

How to square the demand that the Capitol police protect her from mockery with her own refusal to help protect someone from assassination attempts?

It seems to suggest that for AOC, protection and safety are less universal ideals everyone should be entitled to and more words to be invoked for the social currency that being cast as a victim secures.

But she doesn't just demand a higher standard of protection. She has a history of sexualizing the criticism she gets, like the time the pro-mask, pro-mandate Congresswoman was criticized for enjoying a maskless holiday with her boyfriend, and she tweeted that "If Republicans are mad they can't date me they can just say that instead of projecting their sexual frustrations onto my boyfriend's feet."

It was an awkward thing for someone to say who insists that they are a victim of over-sexualization: to sexualize totally non-sexual criticism.

But she did it in the aftermath of the the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, too, making allusions to past sexual trauma in attempting to convey how traumatic Jan. 6 was for her—despite not actually being in the building where the riot took place.

This pattern of invoking sexual vulnerability and then complaining about sexual attention is not only hypocritical; it's also deeply demeaning to women.

Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez is an immensely powerful person, an elected official of the most powerful nation on earth. But her constant appeals to emotion, sympathy and compassion can make this easy to forget. Blurring the lines between actual threats and inconvenient or unpleasant encounters serves to further bolster AOC's image as a besieged victim while concealing her tremendous power and also muddying the waters for the people who point out her hypocrisy. Casting herself again and again as a victim of sexual attention and harassment makes it seem like she is weak and in need of saving, which is actually just another way of repackaging her power in emotional rather than political terms.

It may give her more power, but it makes female political power seem irrevocably bound up in disempowerment.

Sadly, this mode of operation is an increasingly common trend among women in politics and the media. The post-#MeToo climate has created an environment ripe for politicians and media figures like AOC to appeal to victimhood and weaponize vulnerability in a climate that demands we "believe all women," even at the expense of the truth and even if the positions of power those women occupy demand scrutiny for the benefit of the public good.

Women in all realms of public life, including politics, face sexism and undue backlash and this includes AOC. But it's also important not to conflate real incidents of harassment and harm with political dissent from opponents, or harmless heckling from sexists.

You can weaponize vulnerability to gain power—but not ultimately empowerment.

Angie Speaks is the cohost of the Low Society Podcast.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.