Is Megyn Kelly a feminist hero or villain? That’s a question that many feminist writers have been grappling with for the past year, but one that has become more pressing as the host of Fox News’ popular “The Kelly File” has just released a memoir, Settle for More.
As Anna Silman writes in New York magazine:
liberals, perhaps grateful to hear from someone who doesn’t always toe the party line, have rushed to claim Kelly as a feminist hero, a breath of fresh air wafting through the dank chambers of Fox News. ‘Kelly has emerged as an unlikely feminist warrior’ writes Emily Nussbaum in The New Yorker. Others are less enthused. ‘Megyn Kelly Is Hardly A ‘Feminist Icon,’’ argues Media Matters. (Conservatives have similarly strong feelings.) Indeed, nobody seems to know what to make of Kelly, a confusion that feels tied up in feminists’ broader struggle to understand how so many women in this country could have cast their ballots for President-elect Trump.
Silman tiptoes toward the larger issue in that last sentence: Really, all the machinations about Kelly tell us a lot more about the modern feminist movement and its attitudes toward women than they do about the Fox News star.
Silman dissects how Kelly has upheld feminist standards—“defending maternity leave, advocating for working women, and eviscerating misogynists on air”—and weighs this against her sins against feminism, such as questioning statistics about the wage gap and “affirmative consent” policies on college campuses, and not being sufficiently fixated on how sexism has been an impediment to her career.
This process for determining if Kelly deserves the title of feminist is exactly why Megyn Kelly herself affirmatively rejects the term, which she describes as “exclusionary and alienating.” Kelly is exactly right: For all their talk about diversity and tolerance, the progressive feminist movement has a rigid view of how women should think and seeks to divide women into two camps. Only good women who embrace the entire progressive political agenda and carefully adhere to all the rules of political correctness deserve to be called feminist. Those who don’t follow their rules, the non-feminists, are traitors to their sex, and feminists prefer to depict them as cartoonishly conservative: white, church-going, middle-aged mothers who lack college degrees and professional jobs, vote Republican, and wear pearls. These backward women are feminism’s antithesis and can be dismissed as either the tools or the unwitting victims of the patriarchy; they are too far gone to be salvaged.
In a way, female Republicans almost bother me more than their male counterparts. I can almost understand why a bunch of rich, religiously conservative white men wouldn’t care about the reality of women’s day-to-day lives—they’ve never had to. But throwing other women under the bus? For what? Lower taxes? Three minutes on Fox News in the 3pm hour? It makes me wonder what is wrong with you.
What’s really wrong, however, is Valenti’s inability to fathom that anyone—but particularly women—could have a different, but still legitimate, approach to public policy issues. The feminist movement seems unable to conceive that women might actually believe that government’s workplace mandates backfire on women, or object to forcing nuns to pay for contraception, or think people are better off with more freedom and lower taxes and fewer regulations. For feminists, these issues are not open for debate, and failure to agree with them is taken as evidence of avarice or some kind of pathology.
In fact, it’s this agenda—not the broad cause of women’s equality—that is the centerpiece of today’s progressive feminist movement. That’s why they can imply that women have a duty to vote for Hillary Clinton, but then decry the election of Republican Joni Ernst and pile on against a Sarah Palin or a Nikki Haley.
When these priorities are considered, then it’s easy to navigate the liberal take on Megyn Kelly: They cheered for her when she challenged Donald Trump on his sexist comments, but will dismiss her anytime she fails to be useful for their cause. Undoubtedly, Kelly bothers them because she can’t be written off as a repressed, old school housewife. She’s smart, hardworking, successful, and unafraid to challenge political leaders of all stripes.
Megyn Kelly is exactly the kind of woman that a legitimate women’s movement would celebrate—which is why the feminist movement never will.