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Kellyanne: Victim of Sexism?

Vivia Chen

March 6, 2017



To all of you who think you've got me pegged, be prepared for a jolt: I don't think Kellyanne Conway is getting a fair shake. Really. Compared to the boys in the Trump administration, she's getting a whipping.

I know she's not easy to love. Her glib defense of all things Trumpian is tiresome. She's got a tenuous relationship with truth, though she did contribute the term "alternative facts" to our lexicon. She crossed the ethics line with that infomercial she did for Ivanka Trump's fashion line. She wore a goofy Napoleonesque outfit to the inauguration. (Believe it or not, it was a Gucci, not something she picked up at the Halloween shop.)

ThAnd, oh, just a few days ago, she was photographed in that weird pose (left) in the Oval Office during a meeting with representatives of black colleges and the president. (Seemingly oblivious to the people around her, she looked like a distracted teenager at cheerleader practice.)

That unorthodox pose led The Wall Street Journal’s Bret Stephens to to tweet: “If Rice or Jarrett had sat like this in Oval Office conservatives would have screamed themselves hoarse for weeks. Now we own trashy.” And another pro-Trump publication, The New York Post, carried this headline about the incident: "Was Kellyanne Conway Raised in a Barn?"

"Trashy" and "Raised in Barn"? Ouch. Are we talking unlady-like?

Conway is also getting grief from the legal establishment. Last week, 15 law professors filed an ethics complaint against Conway, a graduate of George Washington Law School, for her misrepresentations to the public and endorsement of Ivanka products, according to Law.com's Marcia Coyle. Though the suit is essentially a political statement and will likely go no where, it's puzzling why academics would pick on Conway to make their point. She hasn't been a practicing lawyer for decades, so why create this fiction that she should be held to the standard of the bar?

I'm not trying to defend Conway's action. But here's my question: Is she worst than a lot of other top officials in the administration?

I think the answer is No. Yet, she seems to be singled out for scorn. Last month, Joe Scarborough banned her from Morning Joe because, he says, Conway "makes things up." (Query, would the show ban Donald Trump, Sean Spicer, Jeff Sessions—who was just caught lying about meeting with the Russian ambassador during the campaign—and others who've strayed from the truth?)

Of course, other luminaries in the Trump administration have been criticized and mocked. (On Saturday Night Live, Melissa McCarthy played an out-of-control Spicer, and chief strategist Steve Bannon was depicted as the Grim Reaper). But the difference is that Conway gets blasted in distinctly sexist and sexualized ways. In a recent SNL skit, Kate McKinnon (above) portrayed Conway as the crazed Fatal Attraction character—the proverbial unhinged, scorned slut. (Okay, it was quite funny.)

And in a recent New Yorker satire, the fake headline reads: "Americans Overwhelmingly Say Their Lives Have Improved Since Kellyanne Conway Went Away."

Conway is polarizing, but should she be drawing this much ire? Arguably, she doesn't have nearly as much power as some of the boys. She's not the White House counsel who should be steering the ethics ship. Nor is she Bannon, who's pulling the strings. Though she's often just parroting her boss's position (and lies), she's the one who's mercilessly criticized. Guess she's simply not likable.

Fundamentally, we don't like women who aren't nice. Fact is, we expect them to be more honest and morally upstanding. Someone like Bannon can play the Dark Prince, and it's more or less acceptable in the political game. But the idea of a conniving woman who's plays dirty? Shocking. Unacceptable.

Perhaps Conway is suffering from the Hillary Clinton syndrome—the stain that attaches to women whose honesty and character have come into question. I know it seems like ancient history now, but remember how we kept hearing that Hillary just couldn't be trusted? And how many times was she faulted for not being humble?

Such quaint concerns. Who would even bother to inquire about Trump's veracity or humility?

Anyway, let's be fair to Kellyanne. If the boys on her team can get away with their nonsense, shouldn't she get the same courtesy?



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I believe Kellyanne deserves every criticism she get. You ask if others aren't as bad....only one in my opinion, Steve Miller and he got creamed by the press and we never saw him again. Perhaps Trump is also as low as these two, but while I find his acts and statements obnoxious, and he lies, lies ,lies....he falls a tiny bit short, in my opinion, of being completely obnoxious and condescending, as those two are.


I can't think of a counterargument, although I wish I could.

Vivia--i had been thinking exactly this myself. i am so glad you raised this. You didn't mention that college official in the meeting who said something about her being on her knees and implying that she was performing sexual acts on trump in that room. that's when i decided that liberals were just as sexist/misogynist as the conservatives. in fact, our society is so steeped in sexism, that we don't really even see it. Thank you for naming it and calling it out. Feminists need to take a page from the ACLU playbook--ignore the acceptability of the target, focus on what the speaker is saying. the problem is, the way we criticize women is so thematically based on sexism, it's hard to critize Conway without resorting to sexist tropes. We can, we must and we can lead the way!!! Thank you!!! (PS--I'm a 64+yo white woman who is ridiculously liberal.)

Vivia, You are right. But wait. Not only is Kellyanne Conway rich (you left that out), powerful, and unladylike, but in fact, most of her days are bad hair days. Wouldn't her line of palaver go over better if she looked like Megyn Kelly? Oh, and by the way, the New Yorker also picked on her for being Catholic.

While the photo is deplorable, she got more press than the Congressman who called out the women wearing white at the state of the union: Rep. Kevin Kramer: “But by the way, did you notice how poorly several of them were dressed as well?” he asked while speaking about areas where bipartisan cooperation might be possible. “It is a syndrome. There is no question, there is a disease associated with the notion that a bunch of women would wear bad-looking white pantsuits in solidarity with Hillary Clinton to celebrate her loss. You cannot get that weird.”

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The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: VChen@alm.com

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