At Wellesley College, one of the premier institutions for women in the world, we are constantly pressed to find female role models that embody the qualities we most value. For many years, we have venerated figures such as Hillary Clinton, Michelle Obama, or Sonia Sotomayor for their contributions to our nation. However, we have been quick to reject the accomplishments of other female trailblazers whose ideals do not align with our own. These women have, in one way or another, reshaped the American political climate in an indelible way. However, many of their successes have been rooted in misogyny and undermined the fundamental mission of a Wellesley education. While we should admire them for paths they have blazed, celebrating them would be a disservice to our principles of progress and equality.
Perhaps one of the most infamous figures in government right now is Kellyanne Conway, the first woman to hold the title of Counselor to the President of the United States. This achievement is now added to her already formidable list of accomplishments: CEO of the Polling Company Inc./Woman Trend and former Republican Campaign Manager. Conway’s placement as both Campaign Manager and Counselor marked significant firsts for women in the realm of politics. However, President Donald Trump, the candidate for whom Conway campaigned, has been famously labeled as a misogynist and accused of sexual harassment in both his professional and personal engagements. Conway thus finds herself in the position of hinging her success on a man who has disparaged women throughout his career and structured his campaign around removing their basic rights. She has achieved political power by championing a campaign whose ideology discourages women from following a similar path. Although the feminist movement conditions us to celebrate the achievements of women everywhere, this contradiction raises difficult questions for our belief system. Indeed, while Conway’s position is indeed a triumph for gender equality, we refuse to celebrate her because the ideologies which got her there undermine the very existence of other members of her sex.
This refusal to celebrate Conway initially presents itself as the logical choice. Proponents of gender equality and social justice have no place acclaiming a woman whose work has led us to a seemingly dystopian state of political affairs. However, this is not a decision to made with haste. Becoming contrary to Conway as an act of instinct would undermine any rationality behind the feminist views that we work so hard to propagate. Rejecting Conway simply because she labels herself as a conservative seems irresponsible given her achievements on behalf of women. It would be narrow minded of us to refrain from celebrating the achievements of women who don’t embrace our political views, especially if our feminism purports to be inclusive.
Kellyanne Conway has built her career around advising Republican candidates on how to engage with the female voting base, work which has involved more conservative women in politics. In an interview with the New Yorker, Conway revealed that while she was proud to be the first woman to run a Republican Presidential campaign, she was “not hung up on it. “I’ve been in a very male-dominated business for decades,” she said. At first glance, Conway’s attitude is reminiscent of any Wellesley student’s. She embodies the pervasive belief that a woman can accomplish anything that she sets her mind to. For her and for us, womanhood is not a handicap to success. In that sense, we might see a glimpse of ourselves in Kellyanne Conway.
At the same time, we refuse to endorse Conway’s work not simply because of her political alignment, but because her conservative politics fail to uphold the basic tenets of conservatism. Conway’s values are far more radically right than those typical of the Republican Party, to the extent that her conformation to the party is questionable at best. In line with her boss, Conway has repeatedly labeled the free press as untrustworthy and encouraged the firing of political analysts and pundits. As Conway commented in a recent interview with Fox News, “Not one network person has been let go. Not one silly political analyst and pundit who talked smack all day long about Donald Trump has been let go,” she added. “I’m too polite to mention their names, but they know who they are, and they are all wondering who will be the first to go.”
While we disagree with Conway’s personal ideals, we should admire her for her conviction and accomplishments in a patriarchal party. She has distinguished herself as one of the finest political operatives in the nation. At the same time, her career has hinged on supporting a candidate who has engaged in overt sexual harassment and has made misogynistic comments. For that reason, we must be wary of how much respect we give her, and certainly should not celebrate her work.