Conservatives sure are afraid of Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. They don’t like that she danced in college, they’re in an uproar over an old high school nickname — some are even spreading a false rumor about a nude photo.

The Republican, mostly male obsession with the 29-year-old Bronx native is more than run-of-the-mill misogyny; it’s existential panic. Because in addition to the young Democratic Socialist standing for (reasonable) policies that conservatives find terrifying, Ocasio-Cortez represents a vision of the future of the United States — a future that’s no longer centered around old white men.

The newest class of political representatives are more diverse than ever. Forty-two women were sworn into Congress this year. The freshman class also inducted 24 people of color, 23 of whom are Democrats.

Ocasio-Cortez — who is telegenic, talented, and unabashedly left — embodies a shift in power that terrifies the right. That’s why the sustained attack on the youngest woman ever elected to Congress is so very specific: making up sexualized rumors, calling her a “girl,” or referring to her as Sandy (I have particular ire for men to use nicknames as a way to belittle women). It is all meant to discredit and diminish her bona fides.

But this isn’t just about the politician herself. As Adam Serwer noted this week, the animus towards Ocasio-Cortez is part of the racist backlash that we saw in the 2016 presidential election. “More than simply a leftist to be opposed, Ocasio-Cortez has joined Barack Obama as a focus of the very same fear and anger that elected Trump in the first place,” he wrote.

And as screenwriter and actress Zoe Kazan put it, the attacks are also “designed to shame all young women into thinking they should not/could not run for office — that old videos or pictures or rumors of them would surface, that they could never dress/act/speak unimpeachably enough.”

It’s all a response to women’s growing cultural power and the pushback against white supremacy.

There is a reason that the frenzy around Ocasio-Cortez comes at the same time that conservatives spent near a week railing against Michigan Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib for calling the president a motherfucker, despite Trump’s history of using vulgar language. It’s the same reason Louis C.K. is railing against kids these days and their pesky pronouns and why some men keep insisting that #MeToo has gone too far.

Women — women of color, in particular — are amassing power across politics and culture, and those who have traditionally held that power are scared shitless.

Their hatred for Ocasio-Cortez, just like their pushback against #MeToo and the feminist movement, is a thin veil over what they really think, which is: How dare they. How dare women have the power to shape legislation? How dare they have the power to say no to sexual advances? How dare they hold men accountable?

But they can’t say those things, not out loud anyway — not without being taken to task. So instead, conservatives mock. And diminish. And discredit.

The good news is that this strategy seems to be failing. Ocasio-Cortez is well-versed enough in misogyny — and social media — that she’s been able to effectively push back on the smears, and if the new members of Congress are any indication, Americans are eager for younger, more diverse leadership.

The backlash is nasty and cruel, and I have no doubt that as 2020 approaches it will get even worse. But the more conservatives attack the women who represent the future of politics in this country, the more they reveal themselves as afraid. I, for one, am betting on the future.