Kellyanne Conway, Donald Trump's campaign manager, unwittingly gave a window into her outdated thinking about women and work at a Politico event on Wednesday. At the event, Conway was asked why she didn't want to take a job in the Trump White House. Her response, according to Politico:
"I do politely mention to them the question isn't would you take the job, the male sitting across from me who's going to take a big job in the White House. The question is would you want your wife to," Conway said, describing conversations she's had with male colleagues. "Would you want the mother of your children to? You really see their entire visage change. It's like, oh, no, they wouldn't want their wife to take the job."
If Conway doesn't want to take a big White House job because it would take too much time away from her family, that's her decision entirely. That's a real, tough choice, and no parent, assuming they have the economic security to turn down the job, should have to defend it.
Stephanie Jarrett, a senior Obama advisor who was also at the event, suggested that Conway could work at the White House and also make it clear that family was important to her. In that way, Jarrett pointed out, Conway would be setting a positive example for other working women. And, Jarrett told Conway, Conway could always quit if the White House gig didn't work out.
But Conway implied the question wasn't exactly about a busy professional parent taking an all-in job. Her answer showed that she saw it more as a mother taking on a big job, and that such decisions were inherently different than when a father faced a similar situation.
Conway's comments also imply that all marriages follow a neat, one-size fits all pattern. In that setup, the man is allowed to be as ambitious as he wants, and the woman's first priority is to take care of the kids. It's kind of hard to square that with Conway's recent run as Trump's campaign manager.
It's also hard to square it with much-quoted data from a 2013 study by Pew Research, which found mothers are the breadwinners in 40 percent of U.S. households with children under the age of 18. Thirty-seven percent of these women were married, and their income was higher than that of their husbands. Had Conway directed her question to one of those dads--whose families' economic security is overwhelmingly tied to their wives' careers--they might have been downright excited at the prospect of a big career boost for their wives.
Let's leave aside, for now, the question of whose decision this really is. Conway doesn't want a White House job because she has four children. That is totally fair. But it goes off the rails when she asks men to compare her decision to a similar one that might be made by their wives.
This doesn't consider that those wives might have nothing in common with Conway, might not have remotely the same value system, and might not share any of her feelings about work and family responsibilities. Then Conway asked the men to compare their reaction to that of her husband--even though those men, again, might not have anything in common with her husband, and their family situation might not be remotely similar to Conway's.
It seems ridiculous to point out, after an incredibly divisive election, that people are different, have different priorities, and run their lives and their careers according to different value systems and different economic realities. But somehow, that's just the point that seems to have been missed.