Those who had warned about an uptick in sexism under President Trump may have been on to something. As the era of Trump dawns, some women already are being singled out for criticism and scorn that is tinged with sexist assumptions and seems intended to force them back into roles that society decrees are a must for good women.
Yet this isn’t a Republican “war on women,” as some predicted. It is, rather, progressives and left-leaning media elites who are targeting conservative women. Take the recent Saturday Night Live skit ridiculing Kellyanne Conway, the first woman to have led a successful Presidential campaign. (Full disclosure: I’ve met Kellyanne professionally.)
SNL depicts Conway—the president of a successful polling company she launched at age twenty-nine—as an airhead, publicity-hound, and gold digger. Never mind that Conway has had plenty of opportunity over the years to pursue political celebrity and instead chose to focus on leading her business, or that she graduated magna cum laude from Trinity College in Washington, D.C., and received a J.D. from George Washington University Law School. Conway’s classic American story of working her way from a modest background to professional and personal success doesn’t fit the media and progressive left’s stereotype for conservative women, which means she’s fair game for scorn.
Were Conway a Democrat who had helped Hillary Clinton become the first female President, she now would be a revered feminist icon. There would be glowing profiles in the weeklies and flattering photo spreads in women’s magazines. Conway would be heralded as a role model and as a trailblazing woman. Her frank statements about the challenges of balancing work and family life would be billed as brave indictments of women’s struggles in the workplace, rather than as evidence that she is, somehow, anti-working woman. But since Conway isn’t advancing the feminist political agenda, the supposedly enlightened left overlooks her accomplishments and recasts her in whatever cartoonish conservative stereotype it finds convenient.
The left’s double standard on women is also evident in their treatment of the new First Lady, Melania Trump. Out are commentators swooning over Michelle Obama’s dresses. In are condescending memes and twitter rants implying Melania has been duped into a relationship with Donald Trump and cannot possibly mean it when she says she supports and loves her husband. As The Atlantic has written, Melania Trump poses a real conflict for feminists and those on the left:
“The ‘poor little rich girl’ treatments in that sense do indeed engage in a kind of concern-trolling. Yet they are also decidedly feminist in their tone. The jokes pivot on the idea that Melania Trump is miserable and cornered, and therefore pitiable, in part because the alternative requires imagining a woman who is happy with her husband—that is, a woman who refuses to be as offended as they are at ‘grab them by the pussy’ and ‘such a nasty woman’ and ‘Miss Piggy.’ The alternative requires seeing her as a woman who tolerates such talk, and who Stands By Her Man in the fullest, Wynettiest sense—a woman who has, according to the mandates of choice feminism, made a choice, even if it chafes uncomfortably against the ideals of progressive feminism more broadly.”
It’s grimly amusing that feminists now have such difficulty imagining a woman happy with her husband, even when he has behaved badly, to the point they would deny her free agency. They clearly didn’t mind a woman “standing by her man” when that man was a Democratic President. Bill Clinton’s decades of demeaning treatment of women, including his treatment of his wife, were studiously overlooked because Mr. Clinton claimed to support the feminist political agenda. Mrs. Clinton’s loyalty to her husband was therefore not a sign of weakness or evidence she was a hapless dupe, but rather a badge of honor signifying service to the greater cause. Mrs. Clinton parlayed that sentiment into a Senate seat and two runs for the White House.
One might think Hillary Clinton’s background as a woman who rode her husband’s coattails would have made her an awkward feminist heroine. But it didn’t, because today’s progressive feminism isn’t so much about women and their accomplishments as it is about raw political power. Support the progressive agenda on reproduction, health care, and workplace regulations, and a politician can literally get away with crimes against women—as opposed to mere words—and still be a feminist in good standing. But fail to fall in lockstep with the feminist platform, and you’re a traitor to women, simple as that.
Kellyanne Conway and Melania Trump are hardly shrinking violets: They can take whatever hate the left throws at them, cloaked as humor or not. This includes barbs that, in another context, women’s studies scholars would label not just as dreaded “microaggressions,” but as rank sexism. Ultimately, these attacks tell us nothing about Conway or Trump; but they do reveal an awful lot about the hypocrisy of their critics.