Is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez running for president in 2020? No, but that hasn’t stopped hopefuls from within her own party challenging her to a debate. But she doesn’t owe anyone her time, and this obsession with challenging her to a debate needs to stop.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is busy.
The youngest congresswoman elected to the house of representatives in US history is busy. She’s busy crafting her Green New Deal to protect the environment for future generations. She’s busy working to break down systematic inequality across the US. She’s busy fighting for the rights of those in the service industry, whose ranks she was a part of just over a year ago.
Ocasio-Cortez is busy. Which is why she isn’t going to debate any of the myriad of men – many from within her own party – demanding that she give them her time for reasons unknown.
Take John Delaney, for example, a presidential hopeful who was booed for calling universal healthcare “not good policy… nor good politics.” On Twitter, Ocasio-Cortez called out Delaney’s comments for their “awful, untrue” subject matter, and suggested that it might be time for Delaney to retire his presidential bid once and for all. “Since there’s so many people running for President (and not enough for Senate), instead of obsessing over who’s a ‘frontrunner’, maybe we can start w some general eliminations… John Delaney, than you but please sashay away”.
Delaney’s response? “Let’s debate the way forward. Any show of your choosing. Healthcare is too important for tweets, we need real discussion,” he responded, somewhat ironically on Twitter. (Delaney then went on to do exactly what he said he didn’t want to do, outlining his platform in a series of tweets.)
Ocasio-Cortez refused, and quite rightly too. “Lord no,” the politician’s communications director Corbin Trend said. “I think she’s said her piece.” The congresswoman doesn’t owe anyone her time, and she shouldn’t be forced to engage with people – especially men – just because they are demanding her attention.
But Delaney’s request for a debate, despite the fact that Ocasio-Cortez isn’t running for nomination in the 2020 elections – partly because she’s not eligible to do so – is a disappointing sign of how women in politics are treated by their male colleagues. Men continue to demand Ocasio-Cortez’s attention, but she does not owe them anything.
Ocasio-Cortez said as much herself back in 2018 when Ben Shapiro, a conservative political commentator offered to pay her money to debate her in a public forum. “Just like catcalling, I don’t owe a response to unsolicited requests from men with bad intentions,” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted at the time. “And also like catcalling, for some reason they feel entitled to one.”
Her decision to bar Shapiro from monopolising her time incensed the commentator to no end at the time. But Ocasio-Cortez was right to draw boundaries around who she engages with and how she spends her precious time. So why are men still demanding so much from her?
Delaney’s request for a debate is doubly strange because it isn’t clear what he hopes to achieve by such a conversation. Both Ocasio-Cortez and Delaney want universal healthcare, he just wants an option for private insurance, too. How much of a debate would a discussion between these two people really be?
Ocasio-Cortez has spoken on many occasions about her support of universal healthcare based on a single-payer plan. She doesn’t need a platform to further her argument. She’s said it, plain and simple, on enough occasions for everyone to know how strongly she feels about the subject.
But herein lies the rub – Delaney does. Admit it, did you know who he was before you saw Ocasio-Cortez’s tweet about him? And if you did… did you care? The men who want to debate Ocasio-Cortez, from Shapiro to Delaney, want to leverage Ocasio-Cortez’s impressive personal platform and network of support for their own personal agenda.
This is why Ocasio-Cortez is right to turn down these debate requests. Ocasio-Cortez does not owe these men anything. Just as how women do not owe anything to the men who question why they aren’t likeable, or exhort them to smile, or pester them for favours incessantly.
Toxic masculinity has taught men that they are entitled to the time of everyone around them, in particular women. It’s why men with no realistic claim on Ocasio-Cortez’s attention believe that they are worthy of it.
And it’s why Ocasio-Cortez’s response is so powerful. Because she ignores them.