Pavlov’s Right-Wing Dogs and the Conditioned Response to Smart, Strong Women in Politics

Read a news headline about Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the first-term Congresswomen from New York’s 14th District, and watch the right-wing bots and humans salivate their maliciousness like Pavlov’s dogs on hearing a bell. By way of background, the dogs used in Pavlov’s experiments were conditioned to respond to a bell in anticipation of a food reward, stimulating the flow of the dogs’ saliva.

The young Congresswoman has already built herself a reputation for speaking her mind and standing up for her constituents regardless of political hierarchy. All of the qualities that Republican voting males said they loved in Trump are shown with more class and intelligence in Ocasio-Cortez, but she draws a very different response from that group. Words like “c—, piece of a–, ignorant sl–” and a myriad of other derogatory and demeaning terms drop from the mouths of Trump-nation men like saliva. On the rare occasion when one of them attempts to make an argument rather than just spew hatred, the tired phrase of “socialist” springs out as if it conveyed the ultimate evil even though many of these same men had no problem with Senator Bernie Sanders avowed socialism in his presidential campaign. The fact Ocasio-Cortez is intelligent, a savvy rhetorician beyond her years, and attractive makes her all the greater target for men who seem angry at their prospects related to relationships with women.

Ocasio-Cortez is not alone, however, in this Pavlovian response to the mention of her name. Perhaps no one woman in the country elicits more of this disgusting, conditioned response than former New York State Senator, First Lady, former Secretary of State, and former presidential candidate than Hillary Rodham Clinton. She is not only incredible smart, she is powerful, wealthy, and actually won the last race for President of the United States if we count the popular vote. The mere mention of Clinton’s name takes less time than Pavlov’s bell to witness the slobbering hatred drip, drip, drip from the mouths of right-wing men.

Nancy Pelosi, the 55th Speaker of the House and the only woman to hold that high office, not once but twice, also draws a conditioned response from the right. As one newspaper is quoted, “Nancy Pelosi has earned undying hatred from the right,” the response focuses on the word “earned” as if the Pavlovian response had a logic outside of conditioning.

Read the “conservative” responses to any mention of Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, who just declared her presidential candidacy for the 2020, or California Senator Kamala Harris, and the saliva of hate, sexism, and denigration flows from the right-wing like a river of mucus.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, also draws conditioned vitriol from the right-wing. Her sharp, intellectually precise dissents to right-wing court decisions have earned her nasty names from the right-wingers. Liberals, however, have embraced this Justice and turned the negative name given to her by right-wing pundits into a badge of honor: “a left-wing jurist who has notoriously ruled for abortion and against the consciences of employers” into a badge of honor, citing the “Notorious RBG” with love and respect.

The irony of Ivan Petrovich Pavlov’s national identity as a Russian is not lost in this time of Russian/Putin-love by right-wingers. The next time you see any of these powerful women leaders in the news, check out the Pavlovian responses that follow.

Nancy Avery Dafoe

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