Photo: Gage Skidmore, CC BY 2.0
Whenever you’re in any form of activism, you spend a lot (a lot) of time explaining things to people that you have already explained many, many times. Because even though the majority of the people who are going to confront you on the internet (or in a bar, or on a street corner, or in your office, or in your dentist’s office…) about a social activism issue have literally all of the world’s knowledge at their fingertips and are perfectly capable of using Google themselves, they just won’t do it, and demand that you produce, on the spot, evidence for your cause or arguments about things like “why women and minorities deserve rights.” It becomes your job to educate people, rather than their job to educate themselves. And because these people don’t have the decency to gather together in one spot at one time and demand that you tell them things that they could discover for themselves, you end up having the same conversations over, and over, and over. This week, since Vani Hari and Kellyanne Conway were not in the same room at the same time (though really, they should be, because they both don’t believe in science and do believe in saying incredibly dangerous things) I get to explain, again, that being criticized for being a woman and being criticized while being a woman are different things.
In the past week, Kellyanne Conway has gone on a one-woman crusade to demolish Mitt Romney, aka, The Closest Thing to a Sane Person Who Might End Up in Trump’s Cabinet. When MSNBC reporters on “Morning Joe” did their job and, y’know, reported, that Trump was mad at Conway for saying mean things about Mitt Romney (probably because that’s Trump’s job) and suggested that Conway was mad because she wasn’t getting the political positions she wanted, Conway texted the show (apparently that’s a thing you can do now?) and accused the report of being sexist.
Now, before we continue, I am sure that at some points, probably many points, Kellyanne Conway has been the victim of sexism. You do not get to a position of power in the Republican party as a woman without having survived some sexist shit. But what was happening on “Morning Joe” was not sexist. That was called “critical reporting” (which to be honest, “Morning Joe” doesn’t do for the Trump campaign very often) and would have been the same if Kellyanne Conway was a man. Calling the reporting sexist is an attempt to distract people from the real issue (Kellyanne Conway is the mouthpiece for a crazy person, and she herself is also pretty crazy) and an attempt to silence anything critical about herself or others.
What makes my blood boil even more, however, is that coming from Kellyanne Conway the accusation is incredibly freaking hypocritical. Like Gretchen Carlson, she is entitled to complain about sexism and sexual harassment if it happens to her. Also like Gretchen Carlson, she has spent her life making conservative craziness seem palatable, and has, on multiple occasions, said and done some pretty damn anti-feminist things.
Back in the days of Todd “legitimate rape” Akin, she suggested that GOP politicians simply stop talking about rape because it was a ‘“four-letter word.”’ Not “educate yourself on this vital topic.” Not “reconsider how you appear to female voters.” Simply stop talking about it altogether, so people don’t know how backwards your views are. She has called for “femininity” instead of feminism, and asked how Hillary Clinton could face North Korea if she couldn’t stand up to her own husband due to his extramarital affairs. (Imagine at this point my “not able to even” face.) She’s also suggested that women dress more femininely if they want to get ahead in business, and literally in the same week she accused a news outlet of being sexist for being critical of her in order to gain attention, she responded to a seventeen-year-old girl’s question about how Conway, as a woman, could reconcile herself with Trump’s sexism (which is an excellent question, seventeen-year-old girl) by saying “For you to use sexual assault to try to make news here is unfortunate.”
Did you catch that? The woman who used a false accusation of sexism to derail criticism of her comments accused a teenage girl of using sexism to try and “make news” when she asked an incredible important and relevant question about Conway’s implicit acceptance of her boss’s sexism. (Imagine my “not being able to even” face again.)
You know what’s really newsworthy? The fact that our future president stands accused of sexually assaulting a dozen women. That’s basically the definition of newsworthy. And horrifying. Super, super horrifying. It’s pretty clear that Conway is cynically manipulating the feminist impulses of the viewing audience (that impulses that she doesn’t actually believe in) to try and distract us from her own behavior, and the odious behavior of her employer.
Again, there is criticizing someone for being a woman and criticizing someone who happens to be a woman. No one should do the former. When it comes to Kellyanne Conway, we should not stop doing the latter.
Elle Irise is a regular contributor to This Week In Tomorrow. When she’s not telling you how to channel that anger for good, she studies gender in popular culture.
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