Following her nomination by President Biden for Director of Office of Budget and Management, Neera Tanden deleted over 1,000 tweets, changing her Twitter bio from “progressive” to “liberal.” If citizens weren’t enraged by her initial nomination, this pushed them to be. Soon, those controversial tweets resurfaced, and underwhelming Senate support caused her to request for her nomination to be withdrawn. Tanden’s words cost her a high-profile position, perhaps the biggest opportunity in her political career.
According to The Washington Post, 51 republicans voted to confirm Russell Vought for the same position just a year before, shortly after he said that “Muslims have a deficient theology and that they stand condemned.” The double standard is stark and undeniable.
This dichotomy is embedded within our government, in our society. It is the unfortunate truth for women in politics, and Tanden’s story is an example. Women in her position are subject to intense scrutiny and rumors – the kind that ruins careers and compromises the mass support that many politicians accrue. While many times these accusations and stories have basis in truth, are they just misogyny masked in wrongdoing?
Although Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar have undying fans (many of whom are too young to vote), a month on Twitter, TikTok, or Instagram will leave you noticing a trend. With each appraisal of the women comes a comment suggesting their alleged antisemitism. Searching the words “AOC” and “antisemitism” on Twitter brings up hundreds of comments calling her out in the prideful and concise way of Twitter politics. Many of these also mention Ilhan Omar and other members of “the Squad”: a group of five women and one man of minority backgrounds who are considered the most progressive members of the current American government. All the members of the Squad have been subject to generalized accusations of antisemitism, often stemming from their opposition to the Israeli militant presence in Palestine. Due to the complexities of the Israel-Palestine conflict, views like the Squad’s have been conflated with bigotry and antisemitism. The misconstruing of political opinions is nothing short of frequent for these congress members. Another source of this rumor, specifically directed at Ocasio-Cortez, is a January 9 tweet from Ted Cruz, where he accuses her of “block[ing] a resolution condemning antisemitism.” Ocasio-Cortez fired back with official voting records, confirming that she voted in favor of said resolution.. Despite the clarification, the swirling talk of her antisemitism hasn’t ceased. No matter the level of clarification and clearing of names, stains on the reputations of female politicians are difficult to wash out, affecting their political careers and pushing a generation of cancellers into schism.
The media loves to see demise and drama. Omar and Ocasio-Cortez’s immigrant and first-generation backgrounds, respectively, are bait for media outlets, waiting on their tippy-toes for failure. Subject to sexualization, racism, and misogyny, outlets like Fox News continually perpetuate their mistreatment. Some of the first articles that come up searching for Ilhan Omar are from the New York Post and Fox, twistedly reporting her supposedly corrupt financial choices, the lack of support from her Minnesota district, and even one asking if she married her brother. For Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the auto-generated searches include “AOC boyfriend,” “AOC father,” and “AOC nationality” as some of the first results. For Ted Cruz, they include “How do I contact a Texas senator?”, “Who are my Texas senators?”, and “How many Senators do we have in Texas?” Nothing about his identity nor private life.
Female politicians have the added struggle of appearance politics. In an article for DAME Magazine, Sady Doyle mentions the internet-breaking rumor of a leaked illicit photo of Ocasio-Cortez in 2019. The internet was split, debating if the photo was the congresswoman or not. Even after the person in the photo (who was not Ocasio-Cortez) disproved the rumor , conservative publications like the Daily Caller boosted it. Doyle continues to recount instances like these: “racist freak-outs” over Michelle Obama’s arm tones, jokes about the former attorney general, Janet Reno, being a man, and the constant portrayal of female politicians as “cold, frumpy, [and] matronly.” We are trained to objectify women in the spotlight, and we view female politicians as no different. We want to make women who fall out of society’s lines recede. We distance them from femininity or, on the contrary, hypersexualize them.
The first way we can begin to equate the political playing field is by examining the counterpart, the actions of men in similar positions. In Neera Tanden’s case, her allegedly inflammatory tweets never saw justice in comparison to Russel Vought’s statements. Both Tanden and Vought’s remarks had their issues but were not treated with the guaranteed equal protection under the law. Allegations of antisemitism based on hearsay could cause devastating issues in the future careers of Omar, Ocasio-Cortez, and the Squad, the kind of losses in opportunities that Neera Tanden just saw.
Women in government are forced back into the gender roles they defy. Not only do we stereotype them as coldhearted and bossy when they match the outspoken qualities of their male counterparts, but we peg them as “bimbos” and “airheads” when they put effort into their appearance or act quietly. The bracket we have created is an impossible barrier in the path to gender equity and equality. Even you reading might see me as incessantly spewing feminist complaints in writing this article. The double standard is not only experienced by female politicians. It is the truth of the girl in your history class who participates every day, the teacher who hints at her political beliefs, and the mother who has stood up for you.