Recently, Kellyanne Conway, who made history as the first female campaign manager of a winning presidential campaign, explained why she turned down a senior role in the Trump White House. During Politico’s Women Rule Summit she made a point to say that while all women—from single women to working mothers—are welcome in a Trump White House, she didn’t feel that taking a high profile White House job was compatible with her family life. Conway said in part:
“And when I was discussing my role with other senior campaign folks, they would say, “I know you have four kids, but...” I said, “There’s nothing that comes after the ‘but’ that makes any sense to me, so don’t even try.” Like, what is the “but”? But they’ll eat Cheerios for the rest of life? Like, nobody will brush their teeth again until I get home? I mean, it just—what is the “but”? And I do politely mention to them that the question isn’t, would you take the job? The male sitting across from me who’s going to take a big job in the White House. The question is, would you want your wife to? And you really see their whole—would you want the mother of your children do that? You really see their entire visage change. It’s like, oh no, they wouldn’t want their wife to take that job. So, it’s all good.”
With that some liberal and feminist critics pounced. New York Magazine’s headline read, “Kellyanne Conway suggests Mothers Shouldn’t Take Jobs in the White House.”
The Huffington Post blared, “Kellyanne Conway Slips Up Implies Trump White House will be Terrible Place for Women.” Refinery 29 said, “Kellyanne Conway Doesn’t Think Moms Should Work in the White House.” And Slate announced, “Kellyanne Conway Suggests Men Don’t want their Wives to Work in the White House.”
To be clear, there is very little that has come out of Kellyanne Conway’s mouth the last couple of months I have agreed with. But of all of the things for feminists, including myself, to take issue with, her comments about motherhood should not be on the list. The fact that liberal leaning publications attacked her shows just how out of touch they are with many women across this country and their values, and it explains why so many in the East Coast media bubble remain shocked these women didn’t vote for Hillary – and their specific brand of feminism.
What I mean is for plenty of women around the country being the kind of mother they want to be is not compatible with an incredibly demanding job, plain and simple. That doesn’t mean they don’t believe mothers should work, or that other mothers shouldn’t take demanding jobs, if that works for their family. But for plenty of women, including my own mom, having the flexibility to attend my dance recitals and school plays, outweighed her desire for the corner office. She worked, and worked hard outside of the home, but she didn’t pursue jobs, that required heavy travel or being on call 24/7. You know like being a White House Press Secretary.
She doesn’t think women who have pursued those jobs are bad mothers. Nor do I. But just as most feminists would denounce a publication for shaming a mother who has multiple nannies while climbing the corporate ladder, can we all agree that we shouldn’t shame a woman for saying she doesn’t think working 24/7 is compatible with raising four children, particularly while her husband has a demanding job as well? (Conway’s husband is a partner at a major law firm.)
It is worth noting that Conway will remain a part of Trump’s inner circle in what is being colloquially dubbed “the Kellyanne role.” But it is also worth noting that previous women in senior White House roles have acknowledged the difficulties of balancing motherhood – or more specifically parenthood—with one of the world’s most demanding jobs. Karen Hughes and Mary Matalin both served in senior roles in the administration of George W. Bush before leaving citing family demands.
The misfire on this latest round of coverage of Conway is indicative of a larger gulf between those of us in the media bubble who cover women, and other women in other parts of the country who have chosen different paths—including voting for Donald Trump.
Since the election there has been endless handwringing about how any woman could vote for Trump, whose rhetoric about women would make your run-of-the-mill sexist pig blush with embarrassment. (See “Access Hollywood” tape.) A lot of the ire has been directed at white women – specifically women like Conway, who are educated and therefore, the thinking goes, should know better.
But as I have had to remind a number of my outraged and heartbroken progressive friends in recent weeks, not all women define gender equality and feminism on the same terms. There are women who care passionately about pay equity and were outraged about Gretchen Carlson’s experience with sexual harassment but don’t support abortion rights. I know some of these women. I may not agree with their final calculation in the voting booth, but that doesn’t mean that when it comes to their worldview and the values most important to them, they made the wrong choice.
Let me put it another way to any woman reading this who is passionately pro-choice. If the presidential race had come down to a candidate who made racist and homophobic remarks, but promised to stack the courts with pro-choice justices, would you vote against that candidate in favor of a nice-non-bigoted person who promised to only nominate pro-life justices? I’m guessing your calculation in the imaginary voting booth just got more complicated.
For many women, their feelings about balancing their attitudes toward empowerment, equality, feminism, motherhood and politics are complicated as well. Which is why those of us who proudly wear the feminist label have a responsibility to cover these issues—and women—responsibly. These attacks on Conway were irresponsible, and are a perfect case study in why some younger women eschew the feminist label. After all, why would they want to be part of a group that seems like a less-fun sorority?
Kellyanne Conway broke a major glass ceiling this year. And while I may not celebrate the candidate she worked for to break it, I’m not going to knock her or her choices as a wife and mother every step of the way because I don’t agree with all of her politics. Little girls need to see women like her in positions of power as much as they need to see the Hillary Clintons of the world.