This month marks the one-year anniversary of the confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court.
What Barrett faced during her nomination and confirmation to the Supreme Court is a great case study in how the Left attacks conservative women on their way to leadership positions. The arguments against Barrett quickly became personal and ran beyond questions about her qualifications and credentials. The Barrett confirmation example shows that when the Left doesn’t have a legitimate case to criticize qualifications or credentials, they don’t acquiesce, but instead try to shake up the nominee by going after her personally — her family, religion, and fashion, among other lines of attacks. Conservative women should be ready to face down and defeat these attacks.
Barrett was criticized in her role as a mother.
Before Barrett was formally nominated, she was attacked for her work-life balance.
One commentator questioned how she could be a good mom to seven kids and a good Supreme Court justice. Vanessa Grigoriadis, contributing writer to the New York Times Magazine and Vanity Fair, tweeted: “I guess one of the things I don’t understand about Amy Co[n]ey Barrett is how a potential Supreme Court justice can also be a loving, present mom to seven kids? Is this like the Kardashians stuffing nannies in the closet and pretending they’ve drawn their own baths for their kids”
Grigoriadis implies that a woman can’t be both a good mom and good leader at the top of her field and that Barrett is somehow lying about her family life. That’s not an empowering message for women. In fact, in different circumstances, it would be quickly and correctly identified as old-school sexism. Not every woman can or would want to be Barrett and balance such a big family with a high-achieving career. But every woman should fight back against the idea that there is one way to be a woman and a good mom.
Barrett’s family life was attacked from multiple angles.
The criticism of Barrett’s family came quickly, some attacks more subtle than others.
On the day of Barrett’s nomination, Kelly O’Donnell, White House correspondent for NBC News, specifically pointed out her “large” family in a tweet: “NEW: Judge Amy Coney Barrett and her large family left their Indiana home this afternoon dressed up for a special occasion.”
More directly, and cruelly, Dana Houle, a Democratic consultant, questioned the adoption of her two children from Haiti in a tweet: “So here’s a Q: does the press even investigate details of Barrett’s adoptions from Haiti? Some adoptions from Haiti were legit. Many were sketchy as hell. And if press learned they were unethical & maybe illegal adoptions, would they report it? Or not because it involves her children.”
John Lee Brougher, a Democratic activist, also questioned her adoptions: “As an adoptee, I need to know more about the circumstances of how Amy Coney Barrett came to adopt her children, and the treatment of them since. Transracial adoption is fraught with trauma and potential for harm, and everything I see here is deeply concerning.”
Ibram X. Kendi, Boston University professor and author of How To Be An Antiracist, tweeted: “Some White colonizers ‘adopted’ Black children. They ‘civilized’ these ‘savage’ children in the ‘superior’ ways of White people, while using them as props in their lifelong pictures of denial, while cutting the biological parents of these children out of the picture of humanity.”
These are hateful tweets. There is no other way to describe them.
During her confirmation hearing, Barrett shared how devastatingly painful these accusations are: “Senator Kennedy, it was the risk of people saying things like that, which would be so hurtful to my family, that when I told Senator Graham this morning that my husband and I had to really weigh the cost of this, it was saying deeply offensive and hurtful things, things that are not only hurtful to me, but are hurtful to my children who are my children, who we love and who we brought home and made part of our family and accusations like that are cruel.”
Barrett’s faith was mocked and misconstrued.
Before Barrett was formally announced as President Donald Trump’s nominee, Newsweek falsely smeared her religious association as the supposed inspiration for Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. Bill Maher called her a “f—–g nut” and continued that, “Amy Coney Barrett, Catholic. Really Catholic, I mean really, really Catholic. Like speaking in tongues.”
Others echoed this message on Twitter, such as @SisterUnity who tweeted: “So either her husband will be making her Supreme Court decisions for her, or they will be submitted for his approval, or else she’s faking that she’s this type of Christian?”
Liberals accused Barrett of not thinking for herself.
The National Organization for Women put out a statement that Barrett would submit to men: “From our feminist perspective, Amy Coney Barrett is the female justice that will obey what the white male conservatives on the Court want in court rulings that will protect the wealthy, powerful and the system that sustains the men in charge.”
Barrett was portrayed by Democrats as a mini-Scalia, someone who would copy exactly what he did. During her confirmation hearing, Sen. Chris Coons said: “When we spoke on the phone last week, you said you couldn’t think of any specific issue of law where you disagreed with Justice Scalia. Do you agree with him that Griswold was wrongly decided and thus states should be able to make it illegal to use contraceptives if they so chose?”
She replied to this line of questioning from Coons: “I hope that you aren’t suggesting that I don’t have my own mind or that I couldn’t think independently or that I would just decide like let me see what Justice Scalia has said about this in the past because I assure you I have my own mind.”
The statement “I assure you I have my own mind” resonated with conservative women across the country who are tired of being accused of not thinking for themselves when they don’t march in lockstep with liberals.
The Left tried to shut down any acknowledgment of Barrett as a leader or trailblazer.
Any women’s organization that dared to congratulate or highlight Barrett faced backlash and pressure to delete their comment. There is no tolerance for recognizing the accomplishments of conservative women. During her time at Rhodes College, Barrett was part of Kappa Delta sorority. The sorority tweeted out a weak acknowledgment: “KD alumna Amy Coney Barrett was nominated to serve on the Supreme Court. While we do not take a stand on political appointments, we recognize Judge Coney Barrett’s significant accomplishment. We acknowledge our members have a variety of views and a right to their own beliefs.”
After complaints, the tweet was deleted, and an apology was issued: “To our sisters and others who were hurt by yesterday’s social media post or its subsequent removal, we are deeply sorry. Our approach was disappointing and hurtful to many.”
Some of her sorority sisters went so far as to start a change.org petition to denounce her. As of May 2021, more than 13,000 people had signed it.
A similar pattern happened when the Girl Scouts, who are self-described as an organization preparing girls for a “lifetime of leadership,” congratulated Barrett. With a picture of the other female justices, the Girl Scouts tweeted: “Congratulations Amy Coney Barrett on becoming the 5th woman appointed to the Supreme Court since its inception in 1789.”
They caved to the angry backlash by deleting the tweet.
As Barrett shined, the attacks became pettier — including attacks on her fashion.
Former Rep. Katie Hill tweeted about Barrett’s style: “I hate to be someone who judges women on their clothes but I’m sorry ACB’s outfits are all way too handsmaid-y.”
Lawyer Leslie McAdoo Gordon attacked Barrett for wearing dresses: “Women lawyers & judges wear suits, including dresses with jackets, for work. It is not a great look that ACB consistently does not. No male judge would be dressed in less than correct courtroom attire. It’s inappropriately casual.”
InStyle devoted an entire article to her fashion choices during the confirmation. Her dress on day one was “womanly,” and her clothes gave off the message that since “she is a woman, so how could she be bad for women?” In contrast, the magazine said that female Democratic senators’ clothes were a “mix of masculine shapes and feminine colors” which gave “off an air of defiance: Women can be feminine, and still powerful.” That’s an awful lot of subjective analysis about some suits.
The liberal logic on dress seems to be that it is not sexist to criticize a woman’s dress if she is conservative.
Why does this all matter?
The attacks that Barrett faced show what conservative women should be prepared for when in the spotlight.
In the last election, Democratic women won double the number of seats in the House and Senate as Republican women. There are 88 Democratic women in the House and 16 in the Senate, compared to only 31 Republican women in the House and eight in the Senate. In state legislatures, which often serve as a pipeline to federal office, women make up 31 percent of state legislators in 2021. Of the women state legislators, 33.1 percent, or 758, are Republican, while 66 percent, or 1511, are Democrats, meaning Democrats make up two-thirds of the female state legislators.
People often speculate why fewer women, and particularly fewer conservative women, are in top elected leadership positions. Some suggestions include more limited access to campaign dollars, fewer organizational connections, and a negative correlation between power and likeability for women.
But for conservative women, the potential for unfair personal attacks is another big barrier to throwing their names (and their personal lives) in the ring.
If we want to see more conservative women in leadership positions in government, then conservative women candidates need to be prepared to face these attacks, as it doesn’t seem like the Left will do anything to reverse course anytime soon. Barrett’s confirmation experience shows women what is coming and how they can successfully handle it.
Karin Lips is the president of the Network of Enlightened Women, a senior fellow with Independent Women’s Forum, and the editor of She’s Conservative: Stories of Trials and Triumphs on America’s College Campuses. Follow her at @klips.iwf