Kellyanne Conway recently became the first woman to successfully lead a winning presidential campaign. It’s not the first time she’s been a ground-breaker: Conway started her polling company in 1995 when she was just twenty-eight years old. In different circumstances, she’d be feminist favorite and heralded as a role model. Yet because she’s an unapologetic conservative—and even worse, one that helped elect Donald Trump—she’s reviled by the Left, and a target for vicious attacks.
Conway’s latest sin is her candid remarks about why she decided not to accept a top White House job. According to Politico, here’s how Conway described explaining her decision to male colleagues:
I do politely mention to them 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 . . . Would you want the mother of your children to? You really see their entire visage change. It’s like, oh, no, they wouldn’t want their wife to take that job.
Slate‘s Suzanne Monyak bristles at Conway’s thought experiment and—surprise, surprise—finds a way to read an implicit insult of other working women into Conway’s remarks. In her piece entitled, “Kellyanne Conway Suggests that Women with Kids Shouldn’t Take Jobs in the White House,” Monyak writes:
Donald Trump’s former campaign manager Kellyanne Conway said that mothers should not accept high-powered career opportunities—a standard that does not apply to fathers, in Conway’s opinion . . .
The problem with Conway’s comments is not that she values her family or spending time with her young children. It’s that she seems to believe that it is the onus of the woman in a family to sacrifice her career opportunities so that her husband may have his. Even more troubling, Conway implies that no good mother should take on such a job—an attitude that feels ripped out of Mad Men.
Yet that’s not what Conway said at all, and it would be bizarre if she did offer such sweeping pronouncements about what constitutes a good mother. After all, Kellyanne has been running a major polling company the entire time she’s been a parent. She’s just spent the last several months leading a round-the-clock presidential campaign. This is hardly June Cleaver lecturing other women not to lean in.
Rather, what Conway dared to do was to describe honestly how most married couples approach major work-life decisions without the politically correct caveats that the Left wants people to use. If that had been her style, she might have added: “Of course, there are women who would jump at the chance for a West Wing job and they could still be wonderful mothers, and there are some husbands who would happily cheer them on. That’s great for them!” Or, “Certainly plenty of women, upon hearing that their partners are considering such a time-consuming job, would forcefully object. Men have balancing acts too!”
But she didn’t bother with that. She spoke about her own experience and her desire to be the hands-on parent, which she knows is also how many women approach such decisions. We can debate endlessly why women disproportionally assume the primary parenting role, if it’s nature or nurture or some combination thereof, and how it might possibly change. Yet that’s reality today, and Conway simply has the sense and candor to put it out there.
President Obama’s senior advisor Valerie Jarrett encouraged Conway to reconsider: “I encourage Kellyanne to try it . . . You can always leave. You can always leave if it doesn’t work out.” And that’s great advice—especially for those of us who would like to see Kellyanne Conway in a leading role in the next administration.
But Jarrett isn’t the only woman who’s had something to say about the experience of balancing work and family life while working in an Administration, even under a supposedly in-tune-to-women’s-needs boss like President Obama. Anne Marie Slaughter, who had been the director of policy planning at the State Department, wrote “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All” in The Atlantic after quitting her job because she felt she had lost too much time with her sons. Slaughter wrote that she’d been told, “You can’t say that!” when she described her plans to write the article, but she did write it. Naturally, Slaughter (a liberal feminist in good standing!) was mostly applauded for her piece, especially since she intoned about how the work world should change to make it easier for parents (but particularly women) to balance powerful jobs and family life.
Conway recognizes that such demanding positions aren’t easy to reshape, even when people are committed to helping working women balance their work and home lives, as Conway says the President-Elect is. She also knows she’ll have a role to play the next four years, but is waiting to make sure that whatever position she accepts fits her goals, both professional and private. Good for her. She’s not discouraging other women from pursuing their dreams; she’s showing how a powerful woman doesn’t have to settle and can instead shape the life she wants. Isn’t that what feminism is supposed to be about?