Kellyanne Conway became the first successful female campaign manager in U.S. history last November — but it wasn’t the feminist victory we hoped for.
Conway courted controversy last week in her discussion of feminism and related issues at the Conservative Political Action Conference. Throughout the week, the comments moved explosively through social media, making hard-to-ignore headlines. Among the less critical headlines were articles such as “Kellyanne Conway: Feminism associated with being ‘anti-male’ and ‘pro-abortion’” from the Washington Post.
The Post may have put it best — her remarks were a strangely feminist approach to anti-feminism. She at once refused to identify as a feminist and implored women to demand equality, telling her success story in pursuing equal pay to her male counterpart.
Instead of adopting feminism, she explained her vision of “individual feminism,” calling on women to consider themselves products of their decisions rather than victims of their circumstances. But the brand of feminism that Conway preaches doesn’t look anything like the feminism I’ve come to know through personal experience — or one that takes into account any intersectional aspects of our society, excluding all perspectives except for the most privileged in her conclusion. Feminism, for me as a cis-gendered male, has been a force that drives critical thought, respect for others and inclusivity.
My personal, explicitly male perspective, combined with those of women close to me and feminist theorists, make Conway’s comments appear poorly thought-out at best — and deliberately exclusionary of less-privileged women at worst.
In a discussion about her work-life balance in the White House with President Trump, she said, “Many of my male colleagues … appreciate the fact that they were raised by moms who either worked or didn’t,” in a defense of her male colleagues’ understanding of women in the workplace as fundamentally more devoted to the home than the workplace.
“But at the same time, [there] is different a set of considerations for women [than for men,] and you have to — you have to put yourself last,” she added.
Conway was seriously debating whether or not to continue working for President Trump after his election. She said it was a difficult decision both because of Trump and because of the difficulty of balancing work and home life — a stress that’s been imposed on women far more often than men, historically. And as a mother of four children, Conway is obviously no stranger to these competing priorities.
For other women struggling to strike this balance, she recommended “putting your priorities in order.” But Conway’s advice to aspiring women directly contradicts a truly feminist point of view. Nobody should ever feel the need to put themselves last consistently, and it certainly isn’t a viable work ethic for driven women. Conway is crushing the self-worth of anyone listening, particularly young girls.
Equality and self-value go hand in hand. An individual who both seeks out equality for all and also values themselves is a successfully empowered feminist. A key aspect of feminism is empowering and allowing space for women to make their own choices, and this includes the decision about self-prioritizing. Considerations for men and women should never be different. Saying that women should put themselves last implies that men should put themselves first — and that women shouldn’t question that.
This dangerous power dynamic continues the social cycle of misogyny, promoted by both the male excessive self-value and the female degraded self-value.
Conway’s discussion of putting others before herself gave way to a more explicit comment on feminism: “It’s very difficult for me to call myself a feminist in the classic sense, because it seems to be very anti-male, and it certainly is very pro-abortion in this context.”
The perception of feminism as an anti-male or pro-abortion movement is a failure to recognize the intersectionality of feminism. When my partner heard these comments, she could barely gather the words to dispute it. She and I have learned a lot from each other by discussing feminism, and inherent in all of our conversations are considerations of race, justice and equality. Together we’ve developed a conception of feminism as a movement to equalize all people regardless of race, gender or sexual orientation, because everybody benefits from more equal representation.
What Conway is describing is misandry.
Feminists want to raise women up, not tear men down. But the distinction is lost on Conway, whose critiques of the movement seem to be shaped by men’s fear of losing relative social power.
According to intersectional feminist theorist Barbara Smith, true feminism must be “the political theory and practice to free all women: women of color, working-class women, poor women, physically challenged women, lesbians, old women — as well as white, economically privileged heterosexual women,” like Conway.
“Anything less than this is not feminism, but merely female self-aggrandizement,” said Smith in her 1998 book, “The Truth That Never Hurts.”
Conway’s feelings about feminism are self-aggrandizing, a recall of the “I’m not a feminist because I don’t feel unequal” mantra, which is her personal prerogative. But chastising other women for their priorities while disavowing their struggles is detrimental to us all.
Christian primarily writes on social justice and campus issues for The Pitt News.
Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.