On Thursday, a writer for the Washington Examiner took a jab at freshman congressperson-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s fashion choices in a photo posted to Twitter.

In a now-deleted tweet, Eddie Scarry captioned a photo of the young Latina walking down a Washington DC hallway with the statement, “that jacket and coat don’t look like a girl who struggles” — which many interpreted to be a comment on what Ocasio-Cortez has described as her working-class background. (Scarry has since denied that this was his intention.) And while the comment has provoked backlash in the form of a hilarious meme, yesterday’s petty criticism is just one of many lobbed at the 30-year-old breakout politico.

It seems that, where the soon-to-be House representative of New York’s 14th Congressional District is concerned, the audacity of a young woman of color vying for (let alone obtaining) elected office challenges too many of Washington’s longstanding assumptions of what it means to be an elected official, and who gets to enter politics at all.

US politics has often been described as an “old boys’ club.” And while the 2018 midterms certainly showed that the country is shifting in favor of more diverse candidates and legislators, the entire system is still set up to the advantage of white men.

In a 2017 study, researchers with the Reflective Democracy Campaign noted that while the US was changing in terms of its demographic makeup, politicians still skewed white and male. In fact, the study found that 90 percent of elected officials remained white and male last year, despite the population being wildly diverse. A large reason for that? The financial support that candidates get.

“Politics is not the kind of open, competitive playing field we’d like to think of it as. It’s more like trying to be inducted into a fraternity,” Brenda Carter, director of the Reflective Democracy Campaign, told The Washington Post when the study was released. “I think the number one problem is the political parties and other gatekeepers who choose candidates. I always say the parties are like hiring committees, and they’re doing a really bad job of presenting voters with a range of candidates who look like the American people.”

And although the 2018 midterms have been a breakthrough election for women, people of color, and LGBTQ+ people running for office, there’s still a sense of white, male privilege associated with the political machine.

Reflective Democracy’s 2018 midterm report points out that while women of color have increased their visibility in politics by a whopping 75 percent, they still only make up seven percent of Congress. Meanwhile, nearly 40 percent of Americans are non-white, and over 50 percent of the population are women.

With Ocasio-Cortez gaining national attention for her bold political stances, her honesty about what it’s like to be a working-class politician, and even her ability to pull back the veil on how Congress works, she’s become an easy target for pundits who seem to want to maintain the status quo in DC.

Though the old boys’ club continues to manage everything from voter rolls to who gets their names on ballots, some pundits and policy makers appear determined to try to deflect from gains won by politicians like Ocasio-Cortez because, ultimately, she terrifies them.

A champion of the environment, women’s rights, low-wage earners, and immigrants, Ocasio-Cortez could subvert the power held by the wealthiest people in the country. But instead of admitting that the Democratic Socialist‘s politics — ideas that ultimately protect the most vulnerable members of society — scare them, it’s easier to deride her for being Latina, young, or, heaven forbid, dressed in a way they don’t like. But it’s Ocasio-Cortez’s refusal to buy into the negativity lobbed against her that may ultimately be the biggest threat to the old boys’ club of all.

“If I walked into Congress wearing a sack, they would laugh & take a picture of my backside,” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted Thursday evening. “If I walk in with my best sale-rack clothes, they laugh & take a picture of my backside. Dark hates light – that’s why you tune it out. Shine bright & keep it pushing.”

(Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)