Essay: AOC the Disruptor

Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is the youngest woman elected to the U.S. Congress. And it shows! 

It shows in the way she refuses to put up and shut up. It shows in the way she refuses to be grateful because the white boys let her in their club called Congress. It shows in the way that she calls out those white boys, whether they are the now former congressman Ted Yoho-- who called her a “fucking bitch” last year-- or Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley--who cheered on the January 6 insurrectionists--for the white supremacists they are. It shows in the way she refuses to put a “brave” face on the terrorist attack on the Capitol incited by Donald Trump and which she and other politicians narrowly survived. 

And it shows in the way she went on Instagram Live to insist we see her recount the horror of that day, when she did not think she would survive the white supremacist mobs. 

And it shows in the way she threatens men on both the right and the left. To see so many supposedly leftist men say “I don’t care if AOC was scared” or mock her for showing vulnerability or attack her for refusing to work with men who wished her dead is a reminder of the vicious patriarchy that is alive across the political spectrum and is especially virulent against this young Latinx woman.

And primarily, it shows because AOC is a Disruptor.

That so many media outlets made her sexual assault the headline to her IG Live - watched by 165,000 people - illustrates just how fucking clueless they are about the importance and power of AOC the Disruptor.

The takeaway from AOC's IG live is NOT that she is a sexual assault survivor, something she mentioned in one sentence, almost a throwaway because she knows “Who isn’t?” 

The takeaway is that AOC is a Disruptor who will not hide behind a “brave” face or hollow calls for “unity” and “healing” that diminish the terrorism of the January 6 insurrection. 

She is a disruptor whose candid recounting of the horrors of that day insists that we acknowledge the fascism of the white supremacist mob that was bent on overturning the election that ousted Donald Trump as a violence not just against lawmakers like her but by extension the people she represents. It was a mob that wanted to force white dominance on the voices of Black and people of colour who voted to oust Trump.

Thank all the good things that AOC is from a generation that is increasingly rejecting all of that and instead looks white supremacist patriarchy square in the eye and says "Fuck you, I will expose all this fuckery because it must end."

That so many media outlets made her sexual assault the headline to her IG Live - watched by 165,000 people - illustrates just how fucking clueless they are about the importance and power of AOC the Disruptor. Those media outlets will not say what we know and which AOC gave voice to.

If AOC was from an older generation, it is doubtful she would've exposed what she went through. She would have been inducted in the "Put up and shut up and be grateful we let you in the boys' club" school that has taught so many older women to put a "brave" face on it when they do make it into places once dominated by men, especially white men, such as Congress. How many older women, after they do make it into those institutions have been socialized to police their peers against showing “weakness” by talking about trauma and against being “pushy” because it would make it harder for them to advance or for other women to enter the boys’ club? How many older women have been socialized to think “If I put up with it, you should too?”

Thank all the good things that AOC is from a generation that is increasingly rejecting all of that and instead looks white supremacist patriarchy square in the eye and says "Fuck you, I will expose all this fuckery because it must end."

And thank all the good things for social media where AOC, who beat a 10-year incumbent in her district in 2018, can one day demystify politics while cooking on Instagram Live, effectively telling her followers “You can do this too.” and on another demand accountability for January 6. Can you imagine a male TV anchor grilling her “But how did you *know* they wanted to hurt you?” Her Instagram Live on February 1 was powerful and historic.

That is why I call her AOC the Disruptor.

The January 6 insurrection did not come out of thin air. 

When Yoho called AOC, who is a Latina, a “fucking bitch” on the Capitol steps in July, it normalized casual violence against her. But don’t think for a second that she was the first elected female lawmaker to be subjected to racism and misogyny by a fellow lawmaker. Racism and misogyny are veteran bedfellows. Nothing new there.

But what is new is the way that AOC and the “Squad,”--the other progressive Black and women of colour elected to Congress--are exposing that casual white supremacist patriarchy. Yoho was not the first man to call a congresswoman a “fucking bitch” or other epithets.

But I cannot recall another female lawmaker get up in Congress and say “Not today. Not me” in the way AOC did in response. Take the time to watch her full 10-minute speech. It is an incredible example of feminist rhetoric. She is exactly what I mean by a woman in power who subverts patriarchy. 

That is AOC the Disruptor.

Get 7 Necessary Sins for Women and Girls

I carry water for no politicians. And I owe no female politician my allegiance just because she is a woman. I support women in politics who dismantle, not uphold, patriarchy. I do not subscribe to the blanket “We need more women in politics” because under that blanket crawl footsoldiers of the white supremacist patriarchy like Marjorie Taylor Greene and Lauren Boebert who ran on a platform of being the anti-Squad, who have incited violence against AOC and others in the Squad, and who supported and cheered on insurrectionists.

The election of AOC, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, Ayanna Pressley, and more recently Cori Bush, was a big fuck you to white supremacists, misogynists, Islamophobes, racists, and those who believe politics are the domain of wealthy white men who seek to maintain an economic and social status quo that keeps the rest of us in our place. For too many old, white, wealthy male politicians, young powerful women of colour are terrifying. because they put patriarchy and its attendant oppressions on notice. 


These are women whose very existence says they refuse to stay in their appointed place.

And it’s not just old, white and wealthy male politicians that AOC et al disrupt and terrify. They disrupt and terrify white female politicians and not just from the GOP, like Greene and Boebert, but Nancy Pelosi and others; women whose whiteness offered some protection from white supremacist patriarchy, and women who knew how to play with and use rules created by that same patriarchy. 

Remember when Trump attacked the initial four members of the Squad and told them they should go “back to their countries” after they exposed inhumane conditions at the concentration camps on the border? 

When the leader of your own party, Nancy Pelosi (a white woman) attacks you - congresswomen of colour - she opens the way for the president - a misogynist and white supremacist “leader” of the country - to attack you. They might have patched things up since, but it is worth remembering that the four congresswomen that both Pelosi and Trump singled out are Black and women of colour who come from working class backgrounds. 

Race, class, gender. 

It is always about race, class, gender.

The disruption that AOC et al have caused to the US body politic is essential and incredible to see.

Which is why the January 6 insurrection happened. Which is why Marjorie Taylor Greene and Lauren Boebert were elected to be the anti-Squad. Fascists want that white female face to their white supremacist misogyny so that they can shrug and say “We can’t be misogynist. We have women on our side.” Which is why the presence of so many white women in the insurrection must be noted because it is the presence of these white women that gives cover to this vicious white supremacist patriarchy. 

After Trump attacked AOC and the Squad she told him “You cannot accept that we don’t fear you...” And there was power in that.

On her Instagram Live, AOC showed us fear and the trauma that it leaves in its wake. And there was power in that.

That fear and trauma must not be sanitized away with hollow calls for “unity” and “healing.” When Representative Katie Porter describes her time sheltering with AOC and says "We found her a pair of case she needed to run for her life,” understand that AOC needed to run not just from the violent mob, but also from the incitement of her fellow lawmakers. 

I am 53 years old and I celebrate in AOC the powerful combination of strength and vulnerability, fear and courage, that so many women of my generation and older were socialized to reject. Her Instagram Live, like her speech in Congress castigating Ted Yoho, served notice to white supremacist patriarchy: “You cannot accept that we are here and we are not going anywhere, because we do not fear you”

In conclusion and to all whether on the right or left:

- Fuck anyone who says she's overreacting

- Fuck anyone who says she's "using" her sexual assault to "score points"

- Fuck anyone who says she's manipulative for recounting what happened

- Fuck anyone who says "She looks fine to me"

- Fuck anyone who belittles her


Mona Eltahawy is a feminist author, commentator and disruptor of patriarchy. Her first book Headscarves and Hymens: Why the Middle East Needs a Sexual Revolution (2015) targeted patriarchy in the Middle East and North Africa and her second The Seven Necessary Sins For Women and Girls (2019) took her disruption worldwide. Her commentary has appeared in media around the world and she makes video essays and writes a newsletter as FEMINIST GIANT.  

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