While speaking to a crowd at the Family Leadership Summit in Des Moines, Iowa, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway shared her thoughts on criticism of her, Donald Trump, and the present political climate of the United States. Conway was talking to Bob Vander Plaats, described by USA Today as an "evangelical political activist," and while there were several main takeaways from the conversation between Conway and Vander Plaats, one bit people found the most interesting was when Conway said criticism of her is gender based.
Conway said that the majority of the criticism directed her way was explicitly about "how I look or what I wear or how I speak." She went on to say that the critiques are astounding and trivialize feminist efforts: "It's really remarkable and totally undercuts modern feminism."
And she's got a point: There are critics who often pick on her appearance. On social media, Conway's appearance or manner of speaking is frequently and brutally mocked. Tweets are often used to make fun of her face or to liken her to fictional characters.
The issue became so rampant that even Harper's Bazaar issued an imploring essay by Jennifer Wright asking people to end the mockery of Conway's face and focus on her political positions which are much more significant. "If you're going to mock [Kellyanne Conway]," Wright wrote, "do it in a way that points to the missteps she commits."
But while there are critics who zero in on Conway's appearance, there are also other critics who focus on Conway's work as a counselor to Donald Trump. In POLITICO, Conway was criticized neither for her looks nor the way she speaks but for giving a "free commercial" for Ivanka Trump's clothing line. The Washington Post made sure to center its attention on Conway lying about a non-existent terrorist attack she called the "Bowling Green massacre." The Atlantic zeroed in on Conway's notorious coinage of the term "alternative facts," which was rapidly picked up by Trump supporters and used for bashing news media. The list goes on.
While speaking about her belief that the criticism against her is gender-based, Conway went on to talk about how the current political climate in the United States has entered a downward spiral of bitterness from both liberals and conservatives. So it seems like it isn't political disagreement that Conway has a gripe with — it's the vicious and personal attacks she finds unsettling.
"If you want to disagree on policy — if you disagree on tax reform or health care reform or immigration or you're for abortion and I'm not — then say that," Conway said to the audience.
Being a woman in politics is no easy feat. Whether you lean conservative, liberal, or right in the center of the political spectrum, criticism toward female operatives within the realm of politics is often personal and vindictive, as both Democratic and Republican congresswomen have made clear. While male political figures are mostly castigated for their policy-work and positions on political and social issues, female political figures are frequently attacked for their physical characteristics.
That said, it is also important to remember that amid the noise of ad hominem attacks, there are objective critics who evaluate female political personalities based on their political work. To assume that there are none of those is an alternative fact.