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The Schmooze

Ben Shapiro Wasn’t Cat Calling Ocasio-Cortez — He Was Peacocking

To a certain kind of man, a woman’s worth is calculated by how much attention she’s giving him.

On August 8, in a 49 second video that’s been watched over half a million times, right-wing pundit Ben Shapiro begged Democratic Congressional candidate for NY-14 Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to appear on his Sunday night talk-show.

The video is dripping with Shapiro’s signature sacharine sarcasm: He notes that Ocasio-Cortez has been heralded as the future of the Democratic Party, and adds, “I’m really excited that you’ve been elevated to that position!” Shapiro offers a $10,000 donation to her campaign if she’ll agree to debate him on his show. With faux-generosity, he offers Ocasio-Cortez to “really probe your belief system.” The video ends with an all-caps appeal, written in Impact, the font popularized by its use in internet memes: “SHAPIRO VS. OCASIO COMING IN 2018…PLEASE?”

The next evening, Ocasio-Cortez dared to point out that this stunt, and subsequent appeals by other members of The Daily Caller, is brutish.

Fewer than 10 minutes later, Shapiro proclaimed that her reply constitutes slander:

Shapiro is partially right — he wasn’t acting like a sexist catcaller, with nothing to offer but an unwanted wink and a grin. Rather, like a businessman dangling a crusty $100 bill at an exhausted female bartender, he’s peacocking for a woman who wants nothing to do with him.

Catcalling has never been about sex — it’s a cry for dominance and attention, an attempt to get a woman to stop what she’s doing and acknowledge you. By loudly announcing that they find someone physically attractive, catcallers aren’t actually imagining that they’ll get lucky — the thrill is in making a woman blush, in making her uncomfortable, in eliciting fear, anger or embarrassment. When peacocks display their plumage, they’re hoping for more — in Shapiro’s case, a lucrative T.V. special — but it’s about dominance and attention all the same.

Shapiro claims he’s only “asking for a discussion or debate,” and that he doesn’t have bad intentions. Given that, fewer than two weeks ago, he spliced a “satirical” interview making fun of Ocasio-Cortez, and given that he responded to news of her securing the Democratic nomination with a gif of Will Smith screaming into the camera, this claim lacks credibility.

Even assuming Shapiro’s intentions are pure, Ocasio-Cortez doesn’t owe him the time of day. Shapiro is not running against Ocasio-Cortez, he’s not a resident of New York and I’d wager that the overlap between the people Ocasio-Cortez represents and Shapiro’s audience is virtually nonexistent. Shapiro’s interviews aren’t earnest fact-finding missions — they’re attempts to “own the libs.” What good does it do for the people of NY-14 for Ocasio-Cortez to argue with a “gotcha” troll? If Shapiro fancies himself a journalist, it’s odd that he’d want to debate Ocasio-Cortez in the first place — journalists typically interview potential members of Congress rather than debating them.

Should Ocasio-Cortez have dignified Shapiro’s publicity stunt with a response? Perhaps not. But the backlash to her saying “no” perfectly illustrates what women already know: there’s nothing peacocks love more than attention, and being acknowledged in any form is just another feather in their cap.

Laura E. Adkins is the Forward’s deputy opinion editor. Contact her at or on Twitter, @Laura_E_Adkins




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