Politicians weeping, hugging and dancing? More of this please

Seeing politicians weep, hug and dance was a different kind of politics to Trump’s machoism

A video showing US Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez featuring in a college dance video has triggered a political storm online. The video was reportedly posted on Twitter seeking negative feedback, the opposite happened.

 

Did you hear the one about the American politician who was captured on video dancing while she was in college? Or the one about the first two native American women to be sworn into congress, who hugged one another, and cried actual tears?

Imagine that: politicians with past lives, who appear capable of exhibiting the full spectrum of normal human emotions. Something will have to be done.

The kind of people who worry about developments like these did attempt to shame the dancing politician – Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who was sworn in this week as the youngest ever US Congresswoman. But, gratifyingly, it almost instantaneously backfired.

A Twitter user called @AnonymousQ (who has since taken Hillary Clinton’s famous advice to Trump, and deleted their account), came across a video showing Ocasio-Cortez dancing on a roof, in a spoof of the dance scene in the Breakfast Club.

“Here is America’s favorite commie know-it-all acting like the clueless nitwit she is... High School video of “Sandy” Ocasio-Cortez,” the plucky anonymous user said, posting it to Twitter.

Instead of social media users piling on to agree that roof-dancing is a sign of clueless nitwittery and possible communist sympathies, they leapt on the video to say how much they loved it.

Shot when she was a student at Boston University, it shows Ocasio-Cortez as an enviably happy, fun, young woman, doing nothing more scandalous than having a great time with her friends. Not only that, she actually seems to know how to dance.

Russell Crowe said: “Hahaha she’s fantastic . The more politicians we have like @AOC the sooner we’ll all be dancing. This is a real person, in touch with her roots.”

Ocasio-Cortez is “officially done. She’ll never recover from the world seeing her... (watches video) ...dancing adorably and having fun with her friends in high school?” said comedian, Patton Oswalt.

The outpouring of emotion by the first two native American women ever in Congress, Deb Haaland of New Mexico and Sharice Davids of Kansas – who hugged one another for a long moment, right after the were sworn in, and openly wept, until Haaland had to dry her eyes on Davids’ scarf – was another touching moment of “real people in touch with their roots” on the first day of the 116th Congress.

Children pose with member-elect reps Deb Haaland (L), Sharice Davids, Barbara Lee (R) during the first session of the 116th Congress. Photograph: Win McNamee/Getty Images
Children pose with member-elect reps Deb Haaland (L), Sharice Davids, Barbara Lee (R) during the first session of the 116th Congress. Photograph: Win McNamee/Getty Images

At a time when US politics is dominated by Trump’s macho, my-button-is-bigger-than-yours rhetoric, seeing politicians weep, hug, have fun and dance on rooftops was a reminder of not just a different kind of America, but a different kind of politics.

You may have noticed something else about these examples: they’re all women and they’re all from atypical political backgrounds. At 29, New Yorker Ocasio-Cortez is the youngest woman ever in Congress, and has spoken about her experience growing up in a wealthy New York suburb and scrubbing toilets with her cleaner mother. The rooftop dancing wasn’t the first time something from her past was used to try and discredit her -- she has been accused of lying about her financial circumstances on the basis that she once wore a nice coat. But every time, she has managed to turn it to her advantage.

Davids is not only one of the first Native Americans, she is lesbian, making her the first openly LGBT member of Congress from Kansas. Also sworn in this week were the first Muslim women, Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar, who came to American 23 years ago, from a refugee camp in Kenya. Tlaid claims another first: first Palestinian-American.

Meanwhile, so many of the 116th congress are the parents of young children that a new childcare facility has just opened exclusively for employees of the House of Representatives.

Why does all of this matter? It matters because people with a different range of life experiences bring a different way of thinking and a different approach to public life.

It matters, too, because for a long time, women were seen as too emotional, too volatile, too thin-skinned, too preoccupied with raising their families for the serious business of politics. This meant that the few women who did manage to break through the barriers – in the US, in Britain and here -- frequently felt they had to suppress any evidence that they were women. And so, displays of ‘feminine’ emotion were out. Crying was out. Hugging was out. Any mention of family responsibilities were out. Nobody, as far as I know, ever attempted it, but dancing on rooftops was almost certainly out.

Trump’s displays of machismo – his latest being a Game of Thrones-themed tweet about how ‘The Wall is coming’ – typically elicit smug sniggers here, but we shouldn’t be too complacent. The US might be lumbered with a president with a Neanderthal attitude to women, but it now has a Congress into which a record 102 women have just been sworn, bringing the proportion of female representation to 23.7 per cent, slightly more than our 22 per cent.

It’s now 28 years since Padraig Flynn accused Mary Robinson of having “a new-found interest in her family”;  26 years since Albert Reynolds responded to an interruption by a female deputy with a “there’s women for you”; eight years since the incident that publicly became known as “lapgate”. But while those kind of attitudes are now thankfully much less prevalent, as anyone who has spent time in Leinster House will tell you, they haven’t entirely vanished. And they won’t, until Ireland has a government that reflects the diversity of its people.

Newly sworn-in Democrat senator Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez dances on a rooftop while at college.
Newly sworn-in Democrat senator Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez dances on a rooftop while at college.

There is lots of analysis as to why the levels of female representation remain low. I think it boils down to this: here, as in America, women in politics still have to do more to prove themselves. They still come under much more scrutiny than their male colleagues. Their attitudes, behaviour and even dress are policed in ways that the attitudes, dress and behaviour of their male colleagues simply aren’t. The fact that, whenever the topic of a female Taoiseach comes up, it is frequently followed by discussion of whether it’s ‘time’ or Ireland is ‘ready’ for one, shows how far we have to go.

Voting for a more diverse range of representatives than the pale, stale and predominantly male landscape that still characterises most Western governments is not just the right thing to do, it is good for political life, and it’s good for public life. More crying. More hugging. More rooftop dancing, please.

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