I’ve tried to give Kellyanne Conway the benefit of the doubt. She’s well-educated and professionally accomplished, so maybe she’s just floundering and out of her element as a political leader. But her latest headline moment during Thursday’s Conservative Political Action Conference was the last straw for me.
On the early end of an otherwise fluffy interview, Conway told Mercedes Schlapp she doesn’t consider herself a feminist “in the classic sense because it seems to be anti-male and…very pro-abortion.” (At 4:50 in the video below.)
The fact that the conservative attendees applauded the comment is a statement on how even bright, successful women can mislead the conversation on equality.
The fact that Conway then tried to define her own version of feminism is a testament to how out of touch she is with today’s feminist movement. Sadly, I don’t think she’s alone.
Conway’s short-sighted remark describes the feminism we knew in the 1960s and '70s. That’s the kind of feminism Conway is afraid to align with. A movement notorious for its vigilante tone and barely checked rage.
A movement marked by rebellion.
A movement characterized by backlash against suffocating roles women felt they’d been raised with and to which their mother’s still subscribed.
That feminism was also depressingly white and largely ignored the unique challenges faced by minority women. But just a quick look at the recent Women’s March is indicative of how much things have changed. It was a kaleidoscope of ages, colors and genders. It was peaceful, if a touch dirty... (Ladies, pick up your trash!) And much of the surrounding conversation highlighted the unequal burdens still shouldered by marginalized women. That’s today’s feminism. It fights to uplift women around the world, works to end female genital mutilation and child marriages and spotlights partner abuse and human trafficking. Any woman should be proud to support it.
To anyone who remembers the history of the women’s movement, Conway’s remarks sound dangerously familiar.
Quick review: The organized work of first-wave feminism ended after women earned official rights like voting, public service and property ownership. Second-wave feminism petered out in the 1980s, poisoned by infighting over sexuality and pornography. Women couldn’t come to an agreement or agree to disagree, and efforts on all fronts ground to a halt. The feminist movement splintered.
Third-wave feminism, what we have now, has been defined by a woman’s right to make her own choices about her family, job, personal presence and beliefs. The whole idea is to support women in becoming whoever they choose, so no self-respecting feminist should be telling another woman what she has to be.
But Conway’s comments accuse feminists of doing just that — holding out a membership clause demanding everyone be on the same side of all issues. The sad truth is, she’s not entirely wrong. There is a feminist faction who’d like everyone to subscribe to the same beliefs. Heck, they managed to get anti-abortion groups barred from participating in the Women’s March. Both are wrong for attempting to split the gender (and male supporters, we see you!) over a single issue.
We’re allowed to be members of a political party, church, civic group, family, community or partnership while strongly disagreeing over one or more positions... unless it’s about sports, in which case declaring someone dead to you is totally fine.
But the real question — why can't this be the same for feminist issues?
The whole thing is sad because recent performance aside, Conway could be an inspiration to girls. She came from a home full of strong women, being raised by her mother, grandmother and two aunts after her parents divorced. She started working when she was 16. She excelled in school, earned her law degree with honors and worked in the male-dominated field of political polling.
She co-authored a book with Democratic strategist Celinda Lake called What Women Really Want. The description says the authors “discover common causes with which women are inventing a new age of opportunity,” so she’s not ignorant of that conversation. She could have a lot to say and be a respected example if she’d settle down and think. Some female examples who come to mind are Condoleezza Rice and Michelle Obama.
But right now, Conway's flailing, more interested in talking points and impressing her party than having informed conversations. Her latest move – shunning the label worn proudly by women who earned her the right to vote, work and have a voice — is a gigantic, massive... dare I say, yuuuuge misstep.
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