NATIONAL HARBOR, MD — At the Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) on Thursday morning, White House Counselor Kellyanne Conway laid out why she doesn’t call herself a feminist — namely, that’s somehow both anti-male and anti-powerful woman.
When asked about the people who participated in the massive Women’s March protests the day after President Donald Trump’s inauguration, Conway said one of the “disappointing” factors driving the current feminist movement is the fact that women don’t like other powerful women.
“One thing that’s been a little bit disappointing and revealing — and that I hope will get better — is it turns out a lot of women just have a problem with women in power,” she said. “You know this whole sisterhood, this whole let’s go march for women’s rights, just constantly talking about what women look like or what they wear, or making fun of their choices or presuming that they’re not as powerful as the men around, this presumptive negativity about women in power is very unfortunate.”
Conway’s leap from the Women’s March and concepts of sisterhood to women having issues with women in power is difficult to follow — but seems to be a veiled complaint about the criticism of herself, as a woman in power, that is currently coming from the left.
Conway is currently the highest ranking woman in the White House, and was the first female campaign manager to lead their candidate to victory. Trump bragged that, as such, his victory “shattered the glass ceiling for women.”
Trump ran against Hillary Clinton, who would have shattered the highest glass ceiling had she become the first female president. During the campaign, Trump called Clinton a “nasty woman,” implied he didn’t think Clinton was attractive, and spent the latter few months defending a leaked audiotape of him bragging about sexual assault.
Conway, however, worked during the campaign to spin Trump as a champion of women, particularly pointing to her own position and the trust that Trump places in his daughter Ivanka.
Since Trump’s inauguration, Conway has been heavily criticized for a series of high-profile gaffes, including making up a terrorist attack, breaking government ethics laws on live TV, and a general propensity to twist the truth on air, leading some TV networks to sideline her.
In her comments at CPAC, Conway seemed to suggest that feminists were hypocritical for not being satisfied with her position of power.
Among the crowd at CPAC, however, the reception for Conway was entirely different. She was hailed as model of “conservative feminism.”
“I like that there’s actually a female leader out there who’s a conservative who isn’t pushing feminism on people and can actually tell us to be individuals,” Mackenzie Angelo, a student at Chandler-Gilbert Community College told ThinkProgress at CPAC. “Not because we’re women and we should all just band together because of our gender. That’s ridiculous. She’s amazing. I loved every part of it.”
“It’s difficult for me to call myself a feminist in a classic sense because it seems to me to be very anti-male”
Conway got rousing applause at one point in her interview on Thursday when she said she never heard the word “feminist” growing up. (When she used the word “feminist” in her own comments, she bracketed it in air quotes.) Later in the interview, she elaborated that she didn’t like calling herself a feminist because the term was anti-men.
“It’s difficult for me to call myself a feminist in a classic sense because it seems to me to be very anti-male and it seems to me to be very pro-abortion,” she said.
This is a popular line among conservative women. Megyn Kelly — another conservative female icon — made the same argument in her recent autobiography Settle for More. While Kelly once went viral for defending maternity leave, she also rejected feminism because she said she didn’t want her daughter’s empowerment to come “at the expense of my sons.”
In reality, feminism is defined as a belief in equality between the sexes. It is not inherently anti-male.
Conway’s interpretation, however, was the prevailing one at CPAC.
“I would say that modern feminism, third wave feminism is what she said. It pushed abortions and it pushes this anti-male culture where you blame males for your problems and not yourself. And I hate that,” Angelo told ThinkProgress at CPAC. “So I agree with her completely.”
Conway also characterized feminism as a desire for handouts — and held up her own mother as an example of why she didn’t buy into it.
“My mother didn’t feel sorry for herself. She was left with no child support and no alimony at a very young age with a child to raise, a high school education, and she just figured it out. She didn’t complain. She didn’t rely upon government, she relied upon her own skill set, her own self confidence, her own drive and moxie.”
Conway’s description of her mother’s individual, self-driven success is a typical line in American political rhetoric. Functionally, however, stories of success against such incredible odds are often outliers.
One of the major goals of modern women’s movements is to lower the barriers that many women face by building support systems around child care, parental leave, and education to ensure women aren’t left in the same dire situation as Conway’s mother. For most women, “drive and moxie” aren’t enough to ensure success in a society that isn’t currently built to value the issues that disproportionately affect women.
This policy approach, however, is typically progressive. And that leads some conservative young women to conclude, like Conway, that the feminist movement is anti-woman: They object to the fact that feminism stands for values, policies, and systems that support women, rather than providing a blanket statement of support for all women’s personal opinions.
“I actually attended the women’s march in Los Angeles,” Karina Lopez, a student at Santa Monica College, told ThinkProgress. “I didn’t go disguised as a feminist. I actually went as a conservative. I had a sign that said ‘I don’t need government to succeed.’ And I think the nasty looks that I was getting from some of the young women there and some of the comments I was getting just show how they’re not standing for all women. They’re standing for women who fit into the progressive ideology.”