Elise Stefanik, a representative from upstate New York, tried to speak at the impeachment inquiry this past week. She tried several times to ask a question, and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff kept cutting her off.
He was annoyed. She persisted or rather, #andyetshepersisted, like Sen. Elizabeth Warren who tried to get a word in edgewise with Mitch McConnell during a Senate hearing. There were T-shirts printed with the pithy saying, and children’s books telling the brave tale of She Who Was Shushed Up But Fought Back, but I somehow don’t think the same thing will be happening with Elise.
That’s because the same people who celebrate strong progressive women with booming progressive voices have little time for conservative women with equally fierce voices. You only have to look at the reaction some high-profile men had to Stefanik’s attempts to be heard to understand the level of misogyny that exists in the current society against right-of-center females.
Kellyanne Conway’s husband, also known as George “Kellyanne’s Husband” Conway, tweeted out that the New York congresswoman was “lying trash,” and urged people to support her challenger in the upcoming election. Journalist Matthew Dowd tweeted, and then deleted, a post saying that “Elise Stefanik is a perfect example of why just electing someone because they are a woman or a millennial doesn’t necessarily get you the leaders we need.” He later apologized in another tweet.
The irony is that I absolutely agree with the sentiment in his original comment, namely, that supporting someone simply because she shares your gender is a ridiculous way of doing business. I have penned many columns espousing that same principle, and I would normally congratulate Dowd for making a cogent point.
But the fact is, the only reason he felt comfortable making that point in the first place was because he made it on the back of a conservative woman who, not coincidentally, was scoring points against Democrats intent on impeaching Donald Trump. I would imagine if she were a progressive like the now-retired Katie Hill, she of the “throupie” fame, we would not have heard him tweeting about how “just electing someone because they are a woman or a bisexual doesn’t necessarily get you the leaders we need.”
The point is that conservative women are regularly ridiculed and discounted by progressives, particularly progressive men who are otherwise solicitous of the feelings of their left-of-center sisters, wives, girlfriends and House Majority leaders. Stefanik may very well have been out of order when she insisted on speaking at the impeachment hearing, but the backlash from liberals aimed at this Harvard graduate was disgusting, and quite telling.
It amazes me in this #Metoo era that some women are still fair game for below the belt attacks. The aforementioned Kellyanne Conway is regularly vilified in the press and in social media. A journalist from the Atlantic decided to describe her as a “casino worker’s daughter who hasn’t quite shaken her South Jersey accent.”
“Saturday Night Live” depicted her as a sociopathic nympho in one sketch, a homicidal clown in another. And these were just the descriptions I can print in a family newspaper.
Another famous conservative, the one who triggered that whole “Conservative Chick Derangement Syndrome” is Sarah Palin, who was parodied, slandered, ridiculed and targeted for character assassination because she was unabashedly pro-life, pro-gun, and anti-PC. Yes, she did make some major PR mistakes and courted disaster with her shoot-from-the-hip delivery, but the hostility directed toward the former Alaska governor was unprecedented.
I have had my own brush with conservative misogyny when a feminist website labeled me “Republic— Christine Flowers.” It’s another phrase we don’t use in the newspaper. And I get called Sarah Palin all the time, and not as a compliment.
You can argue that Hillary Clinton has been treated badly as well, and that Liz Warren had to deal with that Pocahontas stuff, and that Kamala Harris is still saddled with snide comments about her relationship with Willie Brown, and that Christine Blasey Ford was slandered by right-wing media, and so forth, and so on. The difference is, however, that for every offensive comment made about these liberal icons there are 10 arguments raised in their defense. Conservative women rarely get apologies.
In the end, Adam Schiff did us a favor in silencing Elise Stefanik. For conservative women, her muffled voice has become a mighty roar.
Christine Flowers is an attorney and a columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer, and can be reached at email@example.com.