Sarah Hopkins

‘It’s Time for One of Us’: A Feminist Rhetorical Analysis of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s First Term in Congress

April 3, 2021   /  

Name: Sarah Hopkins
Major: Communication Studies
Minor: Spanish
Advisor: Dr. Denise Bostdorff, Dr. Rohini Singh

After the 2016 presidential election, like many people, I felt defeated.I was 17, could not even vote yet, and already my faith in our political system was practically nonexistent. However, in the fall of 2018 I enrolled in a Political Rhetoric class, and that is where I first became familiar with Ms. Ocasio-Cortez.She had already defeated Joe Crowley in the primary election and was well on her way to becoming the youngest individual ever elected to Congress. She spoke her mind, defended progressive ideas, and dealt with her haters gracefully in a sphere dominated by well-connected white men. This is in large part what inspired me to study AOC’s rhetoric during her first term and, more specifically, how she maneuvered issues of sexism, racism, and classism. In this project, I look at three messages—her 2018 campaign ad “The Courage to Change,” a get-ready-with-me makeup tutorial she made with Vogue, and her response to Rep. Ted Yoho on the House floor in July 2020—to better understand the types of rhetorical strategies that enabled her to effectively push back against hegemony. Furthermore, my findings illustrate the importance of utilizing active rhetorical strategies, such as reframing, generating new perspectives, enactment, and juxtaposing incongruities, to resist hegemony and deconstruct it from within the very institutions that often perpetuate it.

Sarah will be online to field comments on April 16:
10am-noon EDT (Asia: late evening, PST: 6-8am, Africa/Europe: late afternoon)

42 thoughts on “‘It’s Time for One of Us’: A Feminist Rhetorical Analysis of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s First Term in Congress”

  1. Great presentation and wonderful study. Congratulations. How did you decide on those three messages for analysis?

    1. Hi Dr Johnson! I selected these three messages because they each represent a different type of public appearance and speak to a slightly different audience. Her campaign ad was an integral part of her 2018 campaign and spoke to her constituents in NY-14, her speech on the House floor provided an example of her rhetoric in front of colleagues in a professional setting, and the Vogue video shows a really down-to-Earth version of AOC speaking candidly to viewers online.

  2. Nice presentation, Sarah. It was a pleasure to work with you on this terrific project. I’ll be stopping by tomorrow, but wanted to wish you the best of luck with symposium!

  3. Congratulations, Sarah! Thanks for sharing your work, and congratulations on bringing this project to completions and all of your tremendous efforts at Woo!

  4. Congratulations, Sarah! This is such a cool topic and exciting to see ways that leaders can combat hegemony.

  5. Sarah! I can’t say I’m surprised that this is both exceedingly polished and incredibly fascinating, given both who you are and who your advisor was. I really like the entire conceptualization of this project, but your conclusion that you can create meaningful change even within institutions that perpetuate hegemony is something that’s absolutely going to stick with me—I see a lot of critiques of AOC that try to drag her for ‘caving to the establishment,’ when in reality I think she’s actually more effectively working to resist and reform it than any leftist outsider. Well done, and big congratulations! Hopefully we see each other in DC soon!

    1. Nick! This comment means so much to me, especially after watching you complete such an interesting and well-researched project on political polarization and late night shows last year. Fingers crossed I see you in DC soon!

      1. Old home week–I love it! (Hi, Nick). I really appreciated all three of your analyses,
        Sarah, and am partial to the one you featured here, but I think I learned the most from your analysis of AOC’s makeup video. The reader definitely comes away from that analysis with an appreciation of how smart AOC is in the way she integrates political messages into what seem like mundane genres.

        1. Definitely. I think she utilizes the medium itself in the most interesting way in her Vogue video. So savvy!

  6. So proud of you Sarah! I would just like to add that AOC’s vogue get-ready-with-me prompted me to buy the same lipstick she uses. I wonder what that means in the world of communications…Do I want to be like her and embody what she does? Or is it just a really fantastic lipstick?

      1. I was also wondering, did you happen to notice whether the products she was using in the Vogue video were ones made by Black and Brown owned businesses?

  7. Great job, Sarah! A clearly focused, well-argued presentation. Do you think (and I realize this is probably outside the scope of your project) that, in general, the rhetorical strategies Rep. Ocasio-Cortez employs make her a more effective advocate on the national stage than some of her fellow “Squad” members?

    1. Thanks for the Q, dad. I think a big reason why her rhetorical strategies pushing back agaisnt sexism, classism, racism work so well is that she has the biggest following of the members of the Squad. This is probably due to a variety of reasons–her district is in NYC as opposed to Minnesota or Michigan, she’s the youngest-ever member of Congress, etc. etc.–but I think it certainly ensures that anything she says is covered more readily in the news than some of her colleagues. I did do a little research on Ilhan Omar (MN), though, and the construction of their campaign ads and social media use possess a lot of similarities. Perhaps something a future Comm student can look into!

  8. This project is epic and I love that it’s developed from your own experiences (aka frustrations). Congratulations and all the best!!

  9. Sarah – I love this project and love that you included AOC’s Vogue make-up video. Do you think the message AOC conveys (double-bind for women, empowering oneself through the iconic red lip) can be successfully circulated outside of a “beauty & fashion” channel?

    Great work! I can’t wait to see you as a regular cast member on SNL commenting on all things women and politics!

    1. Hi Dr Hester! I definitely think AOC’s messages from the Vogue video can and should be circulated to a broader audience. The people watching fashion and beauty videos are definitely an apt audience to hear messages about self-empowerment and self-expression since fashion and beauty are clearly topics they care about, but it’s nonetheless an important message for everyone, specifically women and femme people. It’s difficult though because, as we know, a lot of women’s issues are seen as frivolous or unimportant.

      I especially think what AOC says about pink taxes and the economic, political, and social subjugation of women in the workplace should be discussed through more platforms, perhaps even on Weekend Update? 🙂

  10. Congratulations Sarah! This is an amazing project. Clearly, it dialogues with current issues of sexism, racism and classism, as you mentioned. I am really impressed how you organized your chapters. This is an important research. I am looking forward to reading your future publications! Congratulations!

    1. Muchas gracias, Profesor Medina! I am so glad I was able to take a class with you during my time at Wooster. Readings in Latin American Cultures was one of my absolute favorite classes!

  11. Congratulations Sarah! I really enjoyed going through your presentation and loved the topic, very very impressive work!

  12. How cool are you! Thanks for sharing this with the world and being my pal. You’re the brightest star!

  13. Sarah, it was such a pleasure being the second reader on this excellent project, and thank you for sharing your research ahead of symposium with the budding rhetorical scholars in my Rhetorical Criticism class a few weeks ago – they learnt a lot. Beautiful writing, thought-provoking analysis.

    1. I am so glad you were my second reader, Dr Singh, and feel so lucky that I weaseled my way into taking so many classes with you. 🙂

  14. This is such an important topic, I think AOC should hire you out of the gate :). It’s amazing being your friend and I can’t wait to see where you head next!

  15. Absolutely AWESOME!! Really, really interesting – I learned a lot from your presentation, Sarah. Don’t get me wrong, it’s disappointing and depressing stuff, but also so thought provoking and powerful. Thank you for sharing your research. So proud of you! 🙂

  16. I found your presentation engaging and appreciate such a timely project. Was there an incident with AOC after your data analysis was complete that you would have added if you could have?

    1. Oh, absolutely, Dr Weller. I would have loved to look at her IG livestream after the Capitol riots. Not sure if a feminist critique or some other method would best suit an analysis of that, but I thought her response on that topic (and chosen medium to do so) was so interesting!

      1. Nice job, Sarah. AOC, along with other progressives including Rep. Ilhan Omar, Rep. Ayanna Pressley and Stacey Abrams, represents the future of politics in the U.S. The times they are a-changing, thank goodness. I wish you could have included her IG livestream after the Jan. 6 insurrection. She spoke from the heart to any of us willing to listen. Here’s a link:

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