Another week, another instance of staggering hypocrisy when it comes to the treatment of conservative women by self-avowed feminists.
This week’s target of Twitter’s self-righteous derision is the first female campaign manager of a successful presidential campaign, Kellyanne Conway, who currently serves as a senior advisor to the Trump administration. At the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) last week, Conway took the stage down the street from the White House in National Harbor, MD, to discuss her experiences in politics, how being a woman has informed those experiences, and the impact of gender on her current position. The Washington Post, which has endured a great many accusations of bias in recent months, to their credit reported in the lede of their column on her appearance at CPAC that she “implored women to demand equal pay.”
In spite of her notable break from typical conservative talking points on the issue of equal pay, the remarks that made the biggest waves were Conway’s thoughts on the word “feminism,” saying, “It’s difficult for me to call myself a feminist in the classic sense—because it seems to be very anti-male and it certainly seems to be very pro-abortion.”
These sentiments from Conway—who rose to prominence as an expert in polling and messaging to women—are hardly surprising. Her adversarial relationship with the word “feminism” is well-documented. Among many discussions on the word, she told the Washington Post just a month ago that she feels like “the feminist movement has been hijacked by the pro-abortion movement or the anti-male sentiments”—language nearly identical to that which she used last week at CPAC.
It’s interesting that when Conway expressed those sentiments to the Washington Post, they were reported on by other media outlets, but somehow didn’t stoke the flames of hashtag rage quite like they did when she delivered nearly identical comments to a Conservative Political Action Conference.
This isn’t the first time that Wikipedia’s more boring brother has seized on Conway’s comments in an effort to go viral, jumping last month on Conway coining the term “alternative facts,” which, admittedly, was about as ill-advised as Hillary Clinton’s “basket of deplorables” speech:
Everybody is thirsty for attention on social media. In my political past life, I had more boring old, white guys running for office and discussing their desire to make a “viral video” than I can possibly remember. And Merriam-Webster’s cheeky Twitter strategy has been, by all accounts, a successful divergence from the unironically monotone and banal social media presence that it had previously cultivated.
However, had it been a Democratic or liberal woman who had been called out—not once, but twice—and publicly corrected for the sake of retweets, I can’t help but wonder if there would have been as many giddy articles coming from outlets like the Huffington Post, who successfully masked their schadenfreude for a whole nine words until the subhede, saying that “Dictionary knows best.” HuffPo went on to declare Conway “the newest victim” of Merriam-Webster’s Twitter account.
Or take prominent women’s magazine Glamour, which blatantly misrepresented and obfuscated Conway’s comments, playing a slice and dice game in a lede that turned “It’s difficult for me to call myself a feminist in the classic sense—because it seems to be very anti-male and it certainly seems to be very pro-abortion” into “After Kellyanne Conway stated Thursday that it’s difficult to call herself feminist ‘in the classic sense’ as the word is both ‘anti-male’ and ‘pro-abortion.” To cover their narrow asses, they did bury her exact quote in the second to last paragraph in the article, well below the tweet in which Merriam-Webster “clapped back at Conway.” The editorial liberty in this case is particularly insidious, as Glamour caters to a contingent of smart women who vote, but whose political bullshit radar may not so honed as to detect bias.
Merriam-Webster correctly pointed out that “’Feminism’ is defined as ‘the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities.” But based on the backlash to Conway’s speech at CPAC, it certainly seems that the right to an opinion and perspective is not equal for all women. Take, for instance, this year’s women’s march, in which pro-life feminist organizations were shut out of the demonstration because, in spite of opposing Trump, their position on abortion was objectionable to march organizers. Even liberal women have found themselves being targeted for committing the thoughtcrime of supporting a male candidate, with feminist icons Madeleine Albright and Gloria Steinem upbraiding young women who supported Bernie Sanders a year ago.
Conway is hardly the only woman with these reservations about calling herself a feminist. PRRI did a study last year that showed that “less than half of millennial women identify as ‘feminist.’” There was, unsurprisingly, a divide among women who identified as Republicans, Independents, and Democrats with only 30 percent of Republican women, and 43 percent of Independent women saying that the “’feminist’ label describes them somewhat/very well.” But what’s really surprising about this study is that just 62 percent of Democratic young women described themselves as feminists.
There’s no doubt that the sort of reflexive backlash against women who dare question elements of contemporary feminist expression or support a candidate based on the candidate’s qualifications rather than gender, has a chilling effect on the women’s movement. Taking these events into consideration, it is very hard to believe at this point that contemporary feminism really isn’t putting politics above principles.