Sexism isn’t a partisan issue; speak out for conservative women


Graphic by Charlotte Alden.

By Hannah Feuer

Kellyanne Conway kneeling on the Oval Office couch to snap a picture of President Trump during a meeting wasn’t an outrageous action. It shouldn’t have mattered. But a photo of Conway kneeling soon became an Internet sensation; Twitter users pounced on the new meme, remarking that Conway’s pose wasn’t “ladylike.” Representative Cedric Richmond, a Democrat from Louisiana, made a lewd reference to the Monica Lewinsky scandal, declaring Conway was in a “familiar” position from the 1990s.

Several conservative women have risen to positions of power in Trump’s administration alongside Conway: Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley and Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, among others. Just like prominent liberal women, these conservatives face frequent sexism.

Yet, mainstream media, likely paranoid of being perceived as supporting a conservative agenda, seems reluctant to call out sexist comments directed at conservatives, says Carol Stabile, chair of the women’s’ studies department at the University of Maryland.

At the same time, many liberal Americans feel strongly about eliminating the negative stigma associated with feminism. I agree: feminism should be recognized as the simple premise that men and women should be treated equally. But if I call myself a feminist, I don’t think I can choose to whom this equality extends.

Incident after incident show us that sexism has no political ideology. Conway, habitually compared to the Wicked Witch of the West and criticized for her supposedly garish outfits, faces sexism just as Hillary Clinton does; Chao, questioned at her confirmation hearing about her relationship with husband Mitch McConnell, faces sexism just as Michelle Obama does. Some snide remarks come from women themselves: Debbie Wasserman Schultz suggested in 2016 that then-governor of South Carolina Haley was only picked to give the rebuttal to the State of the Union address because she was a woman.

Of course, there is an important line between legitimate criticisms and comments with sexist undertones. Recognizing that alternative facts are not facts, Haley lacks foreign policy experience and DeVos’ education policies are counterproductive doesn’t require demeaning these women’s clothes, voices or postures. Men, after all, don’t typically hear complaints about their suits when they outline a policy or complete an interview.

Ironically, many of these conservative women denounce feminism as an anti-male cause and support a president notorious for his derogatory remarks towards women. But their personal opinions are, quite frankly, irrelevant. Just because some political figures are hypocritical doesn’t mean we should be. Calling either Hillary Clinton or Kellyanne Conway a witch is equally unacceptable. Selective feminism isn’t feminism at all.

Sexism isn’t constrained by party lines, and our collective battle against it shouldn’t be either. It’s time feminists stick up for the ideals they profess to stand for and speak out against sexist remarks on both ends of the political spectrum.

Feminism, at its core, is a call for equality, and equality by definition can’t be achieved if it’s reserved for a select few.