The lawmaker isn’t the only new member unafraid to speak her mind. Unlike the women who paved the way, the young, female politicians sworn into Congress this week don’t seem to care what you think about them. They aren’t cautious with their words or apologetic about their emotions.
It’s a notable shift. The Hillary Clintons and Nancy Pelosis of the world came up in politics when it was mostly a man’s game. They spoke in measured tones and were strategic about their ambitions. They rarely showed a lighter side of themselves as a means to be taken seriously. (Then, of course, they were criticized for not being likable enough.)
Tlaib and her peers are different. They were raised in a world where girls could grow up to be anything. They were encouraged to speak their minds and challenge the status quo. And they’re doing so, even in a stodgy institution like Congress.
No one has embodied that more than Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), who basically live-streamed the experience of becoming a member of Congress. She taunts and teases her haters and offers up big ideas and policy prescriptions. Though she just took office, she doesn’t seem to worry about waiting her turn.
When right-wing outlets began circulating a video of a college-age Ocasio-Cortez replicating the dance moves from “The Breakfast Club” with friends, mocking her as vacuous, Ocasio-Cortez hit back. When asked about it by Olivia Beavers of the Hill, the congresswoman said, “It is not normal for elected officials to have a reputation for dancing well and I’m happy to be one. It is unsurprising to me that Republicans would think having fun should be disqualifying or illegal.”
A few hours later, she tweeted a video of herself, dancing in front of her congressional office.
When she was booed by GOP House members when she cast her vote for Pelosi, she later tweeted: “Don’t hate me cause you ain’t me, fellas.”
These women also celebrate their diversity rather than seek to blend in. Tlaib (D-Mich.), for example, wore a traditional Palestinian dress to be sworn in. Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), who wears a hijab, got Congress to lift a 181-year ban forbiding headwear on the House floor.
“We’ve reached a point where voters want authenticity, and it may have been the case that when women were such a small proportion, they didn’t feel comfortable showing who they really were,” said Jennifer Lawless, professor of politics at University of Virginia. “The fact that women are now one-quarter of the members of Congress might open the door for more variation of what these women look like and allow them to be more authentic.”
Of course, speaking freely and without filter means you’re more likely to say things that a seasoned politician never would. Ocasio-Cortez has made several comments since coming to the national stage that have raised eyebrows. On 60 Minutes Thursday night, she called for a 70 percent tax on the wealthiest Americans to pay for a climate change initiative. Such a dramatic proposal is not one the Democratic Party wants to put out there.
But the young congresswomen didn’t come to Washington to be wallflowers.
There’s also power in numbers. Tlaib and a group of other new Democratic congresswomen including Ocasio-Cortez, Omar, and Ayanna Pressley (Mass.), have described themselves as a “squad.” Their female solidarity seems to be contagious. When asked about Tlaib’s explicit comment, Pelosi said she didn’t like the language but wouldn’t condemn Tlaib.
It’s “nothing worse than the president has said,” Pelosi added, during an MSNBC town hall event.
These empowered women is a generational phenomenon, but it’s also a byproduct of Trump’s election, which emboldened women who felt disrespected by the president’s own lewd comments.
Now that they’re in the door and have a seat at the table, they’re going to make themselves heard.
(Correction: An earlier version said Rep. Ilhan Omar wore a Palestinian outfit.)