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Is SNL parodying how we tweet about women in Congress? Or perpetuating it?

SNL’s “Women of Congress” sketch captures the internet obsession with turning politicians into cartoonish memes of feminist badassery. Unless it’s actually doing just that. Hard to tell.

Is SNL parodying how we tweet about women in Congress? Or perpetuating it?
Host and Musical guest, Halsey [Photo: courtesy of Rosalind O’Connor/NBC]

A considerable percentage of the reason Joe Biden is somehow among the front-runners for the Democratic nomination in 2020, despite having not even announced yet, is because of The Onion. The satirical publication’s ongoing portrayal of the former VP as a relatable working class goofball and rapscallion has created a positive association for millions of internet-addled liberals. Biden has undoubtedly benefitted from becoming a meme.

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For women in politics, though, it doesn’t always work out that way. For every Notorious RBG, who has even more Biden-esque goodwill than Biden and has arguably earned it way more, there are several Hillarys Clinton, for whom people can’t stop pointing out the gulf between her politics and her regrettable pantsuit anthems. In general, women who are in the public eye tend to be scrutinized more, which is why being elevated into meme territory only leaves them further to fall.

Nancy Pelosi has lately become someone the internet has fixated on as a political superhero, rather than a real human being in a tough position who makes some good moves and says some unfortunate things. The people who treat her like a literal saint mean well but probably don’t realize they are giving ammunition to their opposition for the next time Pelosi makes the wrong move. Which she inevitably will. Because she’s a human being.

Pelosi is far from alone in being the recipient of patronizing depictions of feminist badassery. She is joined lately by an abundance of women who were recently elected to Congress and are making a lot of noise. You may have noticed them all dressed in white during last week’s State of the Union address, a nod to the suffragists of a century ago. For anyone clamoring for more diverse representation, it’s exciting to see such a broad range of women in power. However, some people don’t quite know what to do with that excitement, except to do what they do when they’re excited about anything: meme-ify it.

Last night’s episode of SNL made fun of this temptation. Or at least I hope it did.

The “Women of Congress” sketch gives Pelosi, Maxine Waters, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and many other women a Charlie’s Angels-style opening credits sequence, which is either parodying the way the internet portrays these women or further perpetuating it. Each introduction comes complete with impossibly shitty nicknames that make me think this can’t be meant to be taken at face value. (The one for Ilhan Omar, one of the first Muslim women ever elected and the first Somali-American, is particularly egregious, to the point where someone should feel ashamed about it.)

I’m choosing to believe that this sketch is a misguided but well-intentioned effort to caution SNL’s mostly young audience against applying celebrity stan culture to politicians, and to instead treat them like people. I would love it if screenshots of Kate McKinnon as Nancy “Madame Clapback” Pelosi don’t get tweeted out in the future every time she says something mean about The Orange Buffoon™  or whatever. I truly hope this was intended as satire. Because if not, we are in trouble.

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UPDATE: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez apparently loved the sketch.

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