Kellyanne Conway, Donald Trump’s campaign manager and now his de facto spokesperson during his transition to the presidency, is not liked by those who identify as feminists.
It is being noted by some that Conway should be celebrated by feminists as a successful woman who holds one of the most influential positions in America. “Conway was the first woman in history to successfully manage and win a presidential campaign in America. She was promoted from Trump’s senior advisor and pollster to campaign manager, and successfully did what no one believed was possible,” writes columnist Melissa Lantsman in the Toronto Sun.
Yet, she is not celebrated. Why? Lantsman goes on to explain that it is “because feminism has become a brand of the left wing and Kellyanne Conway is not part of that brand.” Conway works for Donald Trump, enemy No. 1 of feminists, and helped him win the presidency of the United States, no less. Conway is a Republican. “Conservatives who are also feminists have been silenced by the left,” writes Lantsman.
“Kellyanne Conway has exposed the hypocrisy of a crusade more concerned with political ideology than with supporting strong women in positions of influence… There should be nothing partisan about feminism; it’s about women having equal power and influence,” Lantsman concludes.
Liberal feminists clearly don’t like the fact that conservative women are feminists too. They are though, because as Lantsman points out, feminism is not partisan.
Or is it?
Before I answer that question, I first want to establish that Conway is indeed a feminist.
Whatever attacks liberal feminists may throw at her, Conway is living the feminist dream of “having it all”—a successful career and a family—and whether or not she identifies with the feminist movement proper, she is a near perfect product of feminism.
Feminists don’t burn bras and hate men. They are your average working mother who chooses a career over staying home with her children.
Suzanne Venker and Phyllis Schlafly put it well in their 2011 book, The Flipside of Feminism:
If you ask any woman today who has young children and a full-time job, or any woman who sleeps around indiscriminately, or even the average middle-class single mom who most likely initiated her divorce, she’s likely to say she’s not a feminist…Indeed, she has probably never joined a feminist cause in her life, nor does she necessarily have a strong opinion on the matter. But her lifestyle is a direct result of feminism’s influence in her life. That is the insidious nature of the feminist revolution, and it is the reason why it’s the most significant social movement of our time.
Danielle Crittenden wrote about this in her 1999 book, What Our Mothers Didn’t Tell Us: Why Happiness Eludes the Modern Woman. While doing research for an article she was writing she spent time talking to young women on university campuses, and had this to say about what she found:
While it was true that most of the students I spoke to—women who said they were going to be doctors and lawyers, professors and bankers—declined to describe themselves as feminist… every opinion they expressed would have warmed the heart of the most fiery “libber” a quarter century ago… the students I interviewed had neither adopted nor rejected feminism. Rather, it had seeped into their minds like intravenous saline into the arm of an unconscious patient. They were feminists without knowing it.
During media interviews, Conway often raises the fact that she is concerned about achieving the right “work-life” balance—having four young children at home amidst a burgeoning career with the emerging Trump administration. This is the feminist dilemma par excellence that gets discussed in the media every now and again. Feminist Anne Marie Slaughter famously wrote about it in a 2012 article “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All” in The Atlantic. Slaughter had quit her job as director of policy planning at the State Department because she was missing out on being with her children.
One of the misconceptions about feminism is that it is not “family-friendly.” True, it encourages women to abort their children if they are not “wanted.” However, the leader of second wave feminism herself, Betty Friedan, talked about the importance of women as mothers.
Friedan, who was a mother of two, made statements such as, “Feminism was not opposed to marriage and motherhood…You want a feminism that includes women who have children and want children because that’s the majority of women.”
Friedan preached that women must reject the housewife role, but not necessarily reject marriage and motherhood.
When Conway talks about her children at home needing her and about wanting to be a hands-on mother, she is not speaking outside of accepted feminist rhetoric.
If Conway were to say something like, “I’m going to take a less time-consuming position, or take no position at all, in the Trump administration, because I want to take care of my husband, and be there for him when he comes home tired from his day at the office,” then I might think she is not a feminist.
As I discussed in my essay, Why Women Shouldn’t Work, according to feminist ideology, “mom” can be part of a woman’s identity, it just can’t define who she is. She must have some kind of career. However, what is absolutely forbidden by feminism is for a woman’s primary or sole role to be that of “wife.” It is okay to sacrifice one’s career or outside interests for a while for one’s children, but it is not okay to make any sacrifices to be “just” some man’s wife. The main function of a loving and dedicated wife is service to her husband—this is anathema to feminism which requires women to be independent.
Conway herself speaks of her life as if she is reading from a script written by Betty Friedan. She said the following in an interview with the blog Bergen Mama:
I am also thrilled that my three daughters see examples of different life choices. They see my cousin who, like our grandmother, did not work outside of the home, and then they see their mom who works, and they know we both are happy. My girls should learn that yes, they can have it all but just not at the same time. I worked plenty of weekends and delayed marriage and motherhood by nearly a decade. Also, and maybe this is because my father left my mother when she was just 25, it seems important to have a way to support my family in case my husband loses his job or I lose my husband.
Now that I’ve established Conway as a feminist, let’s get back to the fact that, despite her success, she is shunned by liberal feminists. “Conservative” feminists, such as Melissa Lantsman, say that feminism at heart is non-partisan.
Does feminism only belong to the “left wing?” Can there be “conservative” or “right wing” feminists? Can Kellyanne Conway, an “unapologetic conservative” who helped elect Donald Trump, ascribe to liberal feminist ideology?
To answer that question one must first look at the roots of feminism.
The roots of feminist ideology are firmly planted in the ideas of the Enlightenment and its child, liberalism.
“The tradition that most obviously nourished woman’s rights advocates was Enlightenment rationalism, its nineteenth-century political legacy liberalism, and its social representation bourgeois individualism,” wrote feminist historian Nancy Cott about the roots of feminism in the U.S. in her 1987 book The Grounding of Modern Feminism.
One of the first feminist manifestos was written by liberal thinker John Stuart Mill, who wrote The Subjection of Women in 1869 in which he argues for “perfect equality” between the sexes.
Liberal feminists, the ones that have influence and have shaped our world into a feminist-ruled one, hold to the liberal ideology of John Stuart Mill and follow his lead of applying liberalism to the woman question.
The roots of feminism are clearly in liberalism. How then can conservatives be feminists?
The immediate roots of conservatism in the U.S. are generally traced to the ideas of Russell Kirk; however, Kirk’s ideas do not necessarily translate into conservatism as the political force that we are familiar with today. (Kirk himself said conservatism is more of a mood or a habit than a movement.) American conservatism is such a confused idea at this point, being different things to different people, its ambiguity renders it almost meaningless.
For example, Barry Goldwater was hailed as a hero of true conservatism, much like Trump has been hailed by some, but Goldwater turned out to be a libertarian who procured an abortion for his own daughter. Goldwater’s first wife, Peggy, co-founded Planned Parenthood of Arizona in 1937 and in 1955 Goldwater helped his daughter Joanne get an illegal abortion. Later in his political career he was openly pro-abortion. Is this what we associate with a “conservative?”
The origins of “right wing” and “left wing” are found in the French Revolution. Those who supported the status quo, a monarchy and the primacy of the Catholic Church in the social order, sat on the right of the French parliament, while those who wanted to tear the old order down and build a new, secular one sat on the left. Given this background, one can easily see how Francisco Franco was right wing, but what does that make Ronald Reagan? As Thomas Storck points out in his essay, “How I Did Not Become a Conservative,” “If General Franco, for example, whose regime certainly was not ideologically committed to free-market economics, is a conservative, how in the world could Ronald Reagan be one too?”
The now-tired narrative of Trump’s victory being a victory of “true conservatism” in the U.S. (as opposed to neo-conservatism), that is, of non-establishment Republicans, is a political narrative created to help Trump win. Meanwhile, others have been pointing out that Trump is not a conservative, but is better described as a pragmatist than a conservative, for example, and that he has won the presidency on a wave of nationalism, not conservatism.
Another commentator, in an article titled, “Russell Kirk Would Not Recognize These ‘Conservatives’,” pointed out, “personal freedom and financial gain” are elevated “far above other values” in what is now being called conservatism.
Another example of the confusion around conservatism is Trump and women. Despite Trump’s reputation for a “locker room” attitude toward women, which may be true in some private settings, he is very much a liberal when it comes to his public policies on women, in the tradition of John Stuart Mill and Betty Friedan. He appointed a woman to head his campaign, for one, and is peppering his new administration with women appointees.
Just as feminists are flummoxed by a Kellyanne Conway—a “conservative” feminist—they are discombobulated by Donald Trump’s pro-woman policies as announced by his liberal feminist daughter, Ivanka, during his campaign.
When Ivanka Trump addressed the Republican National Convention she announced that her father would “fight for equal pay for equal work” and “focus on making quality childcare affordable and accessible for all”—two all-important feminist planks. These planks put Trump in liberal territory, the same territory as Hillary Clinton.
Then there are the “social conservatives”—those who are especially concerned with pro-life issues such as abortion and euthanasia as well as protecting “family values”—who have thrown in their lot with the Republican Party, although this a fairly recent phenomenon. Much of the pro-life movement, however, expressed grave concerns with Donald Trump and viewed voting for him, the so-called “true conservative,” as a lesser of two evils.
With such confusion and ambiguity, what does it mean to be “conservative” and vote Republican today?
The following is Milton Friedman’s description of classical liberalism from his 1962 book Capitalism and Freedom:
As it developed in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the intellectual movement that went under the name of liberalism emphasized freedom as the ultimate goal and the individual as the ultimate entity in the society. It supported laissez faire at home as a means of reducing the role of the state in economic affairs and thereby enlarging the role of the individual: it supported free trade abroad as a means of linking the nations of the world together peacefully and democratically.
The Encyclopedia Britannica defines liberalism as a “political doctrine that takes the abuse of power, and thus the freedom of the individual, as the central problem of government.”
But the “conservatives” that wholeheartedly support Trump would likely ascribe to the ideology described in these definitions of classical liberalism. Perhaps the question shouldn’t be, does feminism only belong to liberals, but, are conservatives actually liberals?
What might seem like a complicating factor, that is, the idea that classical liberalism and modern liberalism are two separate liberalisms is actually false. Catholics who call themselves “social conservatives” tend to fall for this lie.
Thomas Storck, in his 2015 book From Christendom to Americanism and Beyond, discusses this confusion. He addresses Catholics in particular, stating that “uncomprehending Catholics” are “unable to distinguish between a Catholic view of the social order and that of classical liberalism, simply because the latter seems to be at odds with the trajectory of more recent and obviously harmful liberalism. That both forms of liberalism are rooted in the same errors is seemingly impossible for many to grasp.”
Storck further states that, liberalism “includes many of the doctrines of what Americans call conservatism.”
Storck’s own definition of liberalism is:
Liberalism is that general movement in Western civilization, which has sought freedom from the restraints imposed by Christian teaching, and therefore has attacked Catholic culture, first on the level of Christian economic morality, secondly on the level of the political rights of God, and lastly on the level of the human person itself.
To further illustrate the point that conservatives are actually classical liberals, I include another excerpt from Storck’s book:
And finally, I quote from a very recent statement by Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, Antonin Scalia. In the same speech in which he opined that the state should permit abortion if that is what the electorate wants, Scalia gave his view of the task of government, which was summed up as “protecting person and property and ensuring the conditions for prosperity.” This, of course, is nothing but a restatement of John Locke, and demonstrates the fact that conservatives in America are simply one variety of Lockean liberals.
Conservatives in the U.S. are really liberals, that is, they are classical liberals, and classical liberals are not that different from modern liberals—they merely differ on how much the government should intervene in the market and in their lives. The essence of liberalism, however—the freedom from restraint to find one’s own happiness—is found at the heart of both American “conservatism” and American liberalism. They are two sides of the same liberal coin.
Democrats like Hillary Clinton want power and money with the aid of government. Republicans like Donald Trump want power and money with government keeping its nose out and giving free rein to the market. Both want power and money to do as they please. To do as they please—the essence of liberalism then and now. Democrats want to control government for individual, material gain, while Republicans want government to give control back to the people for the people’s individual, material gain.
The American individualistic impulse “to get ahead” materially for oneself and one’s family reigns throughout American culture, whether conservative or liberal, Republican or Democrat. The idea that an individual has a right to liberty “to get ahead” is the so-called American Dream.
The roots of America’s individualism and love of liberty go back to the country’s founding.
Whether they identify themselves as liberal or conservative, vote Democrat or Republican, with few exceptions Americans have imbibed the false ideas of the Enlightenment and its child liberalism. Americans, again with exceptions, relate to and are proud of their Declaration of Independence—a document based on the mistaken thinking of the Enlightenment philosophes. The principle of individual liberty, not the truth about freedom—that it is given to us to obey and love God, is entrenched in the Declaration of Independence and in the hearts and minds of the American people.
Christopher Dawson, in a 1960 lecture titled, “America and the Secularization of Modern Culture,” said:
…individual liberty…was the ruling principle which dominated every other consideration in the Declaration of Independence and the forming of the Constitution. It was with this principal in mind that they separated the executive and legislative powers and set the judiciary above them both. It was for this that they divided sovereignty itself between Federal and State governments. Everywhere they tried to reduce government to a minimum and to leave the individual American free to carry on his own life in his own way.
This is liberalism, not conservatism. If conservatives in America are ruled by this principle, they are liberals.
Liberalism is based on the idea of having the freedom to fulfill oneself rather than to fulfill one’s duty to God.
Kellyanne Conway is a good example of fulfilling oneself. She “has it all”—marriage, children, and a career that feminists, whether they admit it or not, find enviable. She also has wealth. She is living the feminist version of the “American Dream.”
However, let’s call a spade a spade. The reason feminists can be “conservatives” and Republicans is because conservatism in America is similar to or the same as classical liberalism.
But this post is about more than using the historical definition of liberalism or showing that conservative women can be feminists because conservatives in America are actually liberals (America itself being a social and political experiment in liberalism).
Thomas Storck’s description of liberalism rests on liberalism’s rejection of Christian teaching and its attack on Catholic culture. If an attack on Catholic culture is implicit in liberalism, then liberalism can be viewed as an, or the, opposing force to Catholicism in the world. Storck hints to this when he says, “Liberalism is responsible for the modern world and its pervasive secularism and is perhaps Satan’s greatest success since the tempting of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.”
Hence, is it this ambiguous “conservatism” that is the opposing force to liberalism? Or, would it be more accurate to say that Traditional Catholicism is the opposing force? That would mean redrawing the dividing line in America, and elsewhere in the West, to Traditional Catholicism vs. liberalism, not conservatives vs. liberals or Republicans vs. Democrats. (With its roots in the French Revolution, right vs. left, if it is understood properly, that is, as it was used during the French Revolution to mean for the King and Church on the right vs. destroy the King and Church on the left, could still have usefulness as terminology).
During the Trump ascendancy a handful of Catholic commentators did not get caught up in the Hillary vs. Trump spectacle, and were able to see that electing Trump is of little importance if the Social Kingship of Christ—which both liberalism and conservatism deny—is not recognized.
As Catholic blogger Louie Verrecchio wrote in his post about the 2016 election:
Lastly, the Republican Speaker of the House (and Catholic), Congressman Paul Ryan, said that Trump’s election is a victory for the U.S. Constitution.
That may very well be the case, but I will never tire of making it clear:
When the Constitution of the United States is reigning supreme; the Sovereign Rights of Christ the King are necessarily being denied.
As such, we must pray constantly for the conversion of all who do not presently embrace the one true Faith in its fullness, including the President-Elect and all who exercise civil authority in the various nations.
“When once men recognize, both in private and in public life, that Christ is King, society will at last receive the great blessings of real liberty, well-ordered discipline, peace and harmony.”
– Pope Pius XI, Quas Primas
Redrawing the line of battle to Traditional Catholicism vs. liberalism would serve us well since the real battle taking place now and until the end of time is the battle for souls. Redrawing the battle line thusly would refocus the war in perhaps a very helpful manner—lessening ambiguities and corresponding more with reality. The reality is American conservatism does not descend from the right wing of the French parliament at the time of the French Revolution, and what that right wing stood against then is what we still need to stand against today. Meanwhile, modern politics is a mere spectacle compared to the very real, very concrete war between heaven and hell. And with religion relegated to the private sphere in liberal democracies such as the U.S., hell appears to be gaining ground.