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Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Dear Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

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Karen Lehrman Bloch
Karen Lehrman Bloch is a cultural critic; author of The Lipstick Proviso: Women, Sex & Power in the Real World (Doubleday) and The Inspired Home: Interiors of Deep Beauty (Harper Design); Editor of International Political Affairs at The Weekly Blitz; and curator of the book and exhibition Passage to Israel (Skyhorse).

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Mazel tov! You have become quite the media sensation since your unexpected New York primary win in June. Of course, instant celebrity does come with a price — hyperscrutiny, as you saw last week.

My Jewish Journal colleague Ben Shapiro, noting that you have been called “the future of the Democratic Party” and that you have repeatedly stated that Republicans are afraid to debate you, offered to donate $10,000 to your campaign if you would come on his daily podcast and discuss issues for an hour.

You responded with a now notorious tweet: “Just like catcalling, I don’t owe a response to unsolicited requests from men with bad intentions. And also like catcalling, for some reason they feel entitled to one.”

Shapiro then tweeted: “Discussion and debate are not ‘bad intentions.’ Slandering someone as a sexist catcaller without reason or evidence does demonstrate cowardice and bad intent, however.” Shapiro also pointed out that, as an Orthodox Jew, he’s never made a catcall in his entire life. 

Thus ensued an epic Twitterfest that was often not very nice to you. Perhaps the funniest came from the parody Mossad account: “Well that was confusing. We just offered the Palestinian Authority $1,000,000 to sit down and negotiate with us and then they accused us of catcalling.”

Though I disagree with nearly everything you have said, and perhaps more important, how you’ve said it, I do feel bad that you’ve been taught that playing the victim card is the best way to win — and that your progressive acolytes have indeed responded as though it was.

But guess what? It’s only a win for anti-feminists. Real feminists don’t play the victim card, especially since this was hardly victimization. How is an invitation to debate or a donation to your campaign sexist?

See, this is the problem, Alexandria: You and your millennial cohort were never taught real feminism. You were taught platitudes about “the patriarchy” that aren’t even true. You were taught to see anything you don’t like as sexist.

When I was your age, 28, I was a writer and editor at The New Republic. There were a couple of men there who didn’t think women were up for writing about politics. My female colleagues and I spent every day there proving them wrong. And it is because we did prove them wrong that young women like you are able to win congressional districts today.

But here’s the thing: We worked extremely hard to make that happen. And if we were asked questions that we didn’t know the answers to, we didn’t giggle and flip our hair back or arrogantly spew out assertions that have no basis in reality. We did this thing called research. 

I know that research wasn’t prioritized when you were in college. Theory was. But you’re now out in the real world, and post-modern theory just doesn’t cut it out here. You can’t reduce everything to sexism (ironically while running around getting your picture taken everywhere).

By falsely making yourself into a victim, you not only demeaned real victims of sexual assault, but all female candidates who actually know the issues. My generation of women worked hard to show our equality. Your answer seems to be: Why work hard when I can just play the victim card?

Can you imagine Nikki Haley ever doing this? Or more to the point, Hillary Clinton?

Is this how you’re planning to handle yourself in Congress? If a Republican asks for more information on a bill you’re sponsoring, will you respond, “Stop catcalling me!”

I don’t want to be harsh. You probably regret your tweet. But I must still ask you, as a woman, as a feminist, as a human interested in bettering humanity: Stop undoing everything we did for your generation. 

While you run around campaigning for others, find time to do in-depth research on issues, both domestic and foreign. Your assertions have ranged from nonsensical to unrealistic. Even The Washington Post has marked each of your “eye-raising claims” as false or misleading.

You’re now in a somewhat difficult situation. Overnight, you’ve become politically prominent, with reporters (justly) expecting you to be familiar with lots of complicated issues. It’s OK to slow down and catch up.

Then, when a conservative pundit invites you to debate, you can say, “No, I’m too busy,” or even better, “Absolutely.” 


Karen Lehrman Bloch is an author and cultural critic living in New York. 

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