Throughout the campaign and into these first weeks of the Donald Trump presidency, Kellyanne Conway has made her problems with feminism clear However, that hardly makes her immune from the sexism that feminism battles against. While crass jabs about her appearance have certainly proven that before, multiple events this week have, unfortunately, highlighted how Conway is very much a target of sexism.
First, during a meeting between the president and leaders of many Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Conway was criticized for putting her knees up on an Oval Office couch by many who thought the posture was inappropriately casual. Fortune magazine asked its readers to weigh in, and many were displeased with Conway's behavior. "As a member of the president's staff, male or female, the posture is over casual and unprofessional," said Fortune reader Dave Schreck.
Personally, I thought the controversy was a bit overblown. other images from the event, such as the one below, later made it clear that Conway was only kneeling on the couch because she had been asked to take a picture of the group in attendance.
There, see? Controversy over.
Well, not quite. At a Press Club Foundation Dinner Wednesday night, Rep. Cedric Richmond, a Democratic congressman from Louisiana, made a wildly inappropriate joke at Conway's expense:
It's a gross, inappropriate joke that recalls comments made by Donald Trump, who once told an Apprentice contestant that it "must be a pretty picture, you dropping to your knees."
Richmond's comments are a reminder that sexism affects conservative women as well as liberal ones — and that liberals can be as guilty of casual sexism as conservatives.
Richmond has since argued that his joke was misunderstood:
But if Richmond was merely saying Conway looked too comfortable, it's hard to see why the statement would qualify as a "joke" at all. Furthermore, his reference to the "'90s" came moments after Sen. Tim Scott seemed to reference the Monica Lewinsky scandal, which makes the original interpretation of the "joke" seem likelier.
While the Democratic party is the one that has made equal pay, maternity leave, and access to reproductive care hallmarks of its policy platforms, its members, too, are far from perfect when it comes to sexism. Ultimately, Richmond's comments are a reminder that sexism affects conservative women as well as liberal ones — and that liberals can be as guilty of casual sexism as conservatives.
His political support for women's issues is laudable and important, but that political action must be followed up with personal respect for women — including conservative ones.
Moreover, that this sexism is casual is significant — if you compare the two figures on policy, Richmond has a better record on many women's issues than Conway. He is in favor of equal pay, sought to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, and describes his commitment to ensuring that women have access to health care, including reproductive health care, on his website. Conway, conversely, believes that she has no need for feminism, and she stands up for a president who has said truly appalling things about women, including that abortion patients should be punished.
Conway should rightly be criticized, as a public figure, for many of the things she says and does — but Richmond's making comments about her looking "familiar" on her knees crossed what should be a very obvious line. His political support for women's issues is laudable and important, but that political action must be followed up with personal respect for women — including conservative ones.