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Here's What Kellyanne Conway Thinks About Feminism

“So when in doubt, just say, ‘I’ll have what he’s having.'"

Posted on February 23, 2017, at 12:38 p.m. ET

Kellyanne Conway, President Trump's ubiquitous counselor, on Thursday shared her thoughts on feminism and gave women several pieces of advice while speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Maryland. Here are some of the comments:

Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

"I was raised to be a very strong and independent woman without anybody ever saying the word 'feminist,' or having any political conversation."

Moderator Mercedes Schlapp: Well, I thought this was going to be an intimate conversation between you and me and over thousands of our closest friends. Thank you all for being here. We're just so honored to have Kellyanne Conway come join us today in this very special CPAC.And I want to start by sharing a little bit about yourself. You started picking blueberries in a farm in New Jersey, raised by these incredibly powerful women, your mom, your grandmother, your two aunts. Then you become CEO of a polling company, you worked with Republicans across the board, conservatives, then you become the first successful female campaign manager and now counselor to the president. Kellyanne Conway, what drives you?Kellyanne Conway: First of all, everything that you've just said is a complete and absolute blessing. You know, women in this country work so hard and not all of them get their shot. And I feel like I worked hard, but I also got my opportunity, which puts it in a different category of blessings. I was raised in a house. I call it South Jersey's version of The Golden Girls, with the house covers and everything.Nobody ever had a single political conversation, by my mom, her mom, two of my mother's unmarried sisters. My father left when I was very young; we have a great relationship now and he certainly does with my four children. But I was raised to be a very strong and independent woman without anybody ever saying the word "feminist" or having any political conversation.We were taught to be freethinking, independent, to look at your goals. And that old saying, you could never go home, was never true in my community. We always felt like we could go home. I believe that Donald Trump is someone who is not fully understood for how compassionate and what a great boss he is to women. He has been promoting and elevating women in the Trump Corporation, in the Trump campaign, in the Trump Cabinet, certainly in the Trump White House. It's just a very natural affinity for him. And I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity late in the campaign to work with an incredible team — I mean, really an incredible team — to be one of an incredible team, to help him get elected, particularly against a female candidate. And Hillary Clinton should be applauded for her willingness to serve publicly, but I thought it was very telling this year, Mercedes, that many women looked past the commonality of gender and were looking for what they shared in terms of issues, ideology, vision and just what they want out of their futures for themselves.
Mike Theiler / AFP / Getty Images

Moderator Mercedes Schlapp: Well, I thought this was going to be an intimate conversation between you and me and over thousands of our closest friends. Thank you all for being here. We're just so honored to have Kellyanne Conway come join us today in this very special CPAC.

And I want to start by sharing a little bit about yourself. You started picking blueberries in a farm in New Jersey, raised by these incredibly powerful women, your mom, your grandmother, your two aunts.

Then you become CEO of a polling company, you worked with Republicans across the board, conservatives, then you become the first successful female campaign manager and now counselor to the president. Kellyanne Conway, what drives you?

Kellyanne Conway: First of all, everything that you've just said is a complete and absolute blessing. You know, women in this country work so hard and not all of them get their shot. And I feel like I worked hard, but I also got my opportunity, which puts it in a different category of blessings. I was raised in a house. I call it South Jersey's version of The Golden Girls, with the house covers and everything.

Nobody ever had a single political conversation, by my mom, her mom, two of my mother's unmarried sisters. My father left when I was very young; we have a great relationship now and he certainly does with my four children. But I was raised to be a very strong and independent woman without anybody ever saying the word "feminist" or having any political conversation.

We were taught to be freethinking, independent, to look at your goals. And that old saying, you could never go home, was never true in my community. We always felt like we could go home.

I believe that Donald Trump is someone who is not fully understood for how compassionate and what a great boss he is to women. He has been promoting and elevating women in the Trump Corporation, in the Trump campaign, in the Trump Cabinet, certainly in the Trump White House. It's just a very natural affinity for him. And I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity late in the campaign to work with an incredible team — I mean, really an incredible team — to be one of an incredible team, to help him get elected, particularly against a female candidate.

And Hillary Clinton should be applauded for her willingness to serve publicly, but I thought it was very telling this year, Mercedes, that many women looked past the commonality of gender and were looking for what they shared in terms of issues, ideology, vision and just what they want out of their futures for themselves.

“I don’t have any special advice for America’s women, except to know who you are and to put your priorities in order and to not worry about the naysayers and critics say.”

Conway: The work-life balance that we all talk about is not elusive to me. And I don't have any special advice for America's women, except to know who you are and to put your priorities in order, and to not worry about what the naysayers and critics say. I mean, nobody understands your life but you. And really struggling as to whether or not to go inside the White House or to stay out. My children were first and foremost part of that decision. They are 12, 12, 8 and 7, four terrible ages for a mom to be in the White House.But what I decided ultimately is that I work for a man in the White House where that work-life balance is welcomed. I do think that many of my male colleagues, or all of them, appreciate the fact that they were raised by moms who either worked or didn't, or worked inside the home or are married to women at the same ilk. But at the same time, it is different a set of considerations for women, and you have to put yourself last.They come first obviously, but they're also so attuned to politics in a way that I never was when I was their ages. They think about not just politics, but public policy. They think about their role in the world.And I would tell my three daughters and your daughters, or you, that the job for first female president of the United States remains open, so go for it.
Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

Conway: The work-life balance that we all talk about is not elusive to me. And I don't have any special advice for America's women, except to know who you are and to put your priorities in order, and to not worry about what the naysayers and critics say. I mean, nobody understands your life but you.

And really struggling as to whether or not to go inside the White House or to stay out. My children were first and foremost part of that decision. They are 12, 12, 8 and 7, four terrible ages for a mom to be in the White House.

But what I decided ultimately is that I work for a man in the White House where that work-life balance is welcomed. I do think that many of my male colleagues, or all of them, appreciate the fact that they were raised by moms who either worked or didn't, or worked inside the home or are married to women at the same ilk. But at the same time, it is different a set of considerations for women, and you have to put yourself last.

They come first obviously, but they're also so attuned to politics in a way that I never was when I was their ages. They think about not just politics, but public policy. They think about their role in the world.

And I would tell my three daughters and your daughters, or you, that the job for first female president of the United States remains open, so go for it.

“It’s difficult for me to call myself a feminist in the classic sense because it seems to be very anti-male, and it certainly is very pro-abortion.”

Schlapp: So there was this big Women's March; the Democrats all claim that all women pretty much should be Democrats. I think one of the things you've done very effectively is explain how women belong in the conservative movement. That actually there are what I would call conservative feminism. How would you explain that?Conway: Well, I believe this generation, particularly the younger people, don't really like labels. And we're not necessarily joiners or liking to label ourselves. And that's great in its own right.So I don't know about calling yourself a feminist. I also, for me, it's difficult for me to call myself a feminist in the classic sense because it seems to be very anti-male, and it certainly is very pro-abortion in this context. And I'm neither anti-male or pro- abortion, so.There's an individual feminism, if you will, that you make your own choices. Mercedes, I look at myself as a product of my choices, not a victim of my circumstances. And that's really clearly what conservative feminism, if you will, is all about. My mother didn't feel sorry for herself; she was left with no child support, no alimony at a very young age, with a child to raise, a high school education, and she just figured it out. She didn't complain, she didn't rely upon government, she relied upon her own skill set, her own self-confidence, her own drive and moxie, and her own duty to me and her, and she relied upon her family and her faith.
Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

Schlapp: So there was this big Women's March; the Democrats all claim that all women pretty much should be Democrats. I think one of the things you've done very effectively is explain how women belong in the conservative movement. That actually there are what I would call conservative feminism. How would you explain that?

Conway: Well, I believe this generation, particularly the younger people, don't really like labels. And we're not necessarily joiners or liking to label ourselves. And that's great in its own right.

So I don't know about calling yourself a feminist. I also, for me, it's difficult for me to call myself a feminist in the classic sense because it seems to be very anti-male, and it certainly is very pro-abortion in this context. And I'm neither anti-male or pro- abortion, so.

There's an individual feminism, if you will, that you make your own choices. Mercedes, I look at myself as a product of my choices, not a victim of my circumstances. And that's really clearly what conservative feminism, if you will, is all about.

My mother didn't feel sorry for herself; she was left with no child support, no alimony at a very young age, with a child to raise, a high school education, and she just figured it out. She didn't complain, she didn't rely upon government, she relied upon her own skill set, her own self-confidence, her own drive and moxie, and her own duty to me and her, and she relied upon her family and her faith.

"It turns out there are a lot of women who just have a problem with women in power."

Conway: And I believe those are timeless lessons and timeless opportunities for all women in similar circumstances and situations. And I would just say, I mean one thing that's been a little bit disappointing and revealing, is that I hope will get better is, turns out that a lot of women just have a problem with women in power.You know, this whole sisterhood, this whole let's go march for women's rights and, you know, just constantly talking about what women look like or what they wear, or making fun of their choices or presuming that they're not as powerful as the men around.This presumptive negativity about women in power I think is very unfortunate, because let's just try to access that and have a conversation about it, rather than a confrontation about it.
Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

Conway: And I believe those are timeless lessons and timeless opportunities for all women in similar circumstances and situations. And I would just say, I mean one thing that's been a little bit disappointing and revealing, is that I hope will get better is, turns out that a lot of women just have a problem with women in power.

You know, this whole sisterhood, this whole let's go march for women's rights and, you know, just constantly talking about what women look like or what they wear, or making fun of their choices or presuming that they're not as powerful as the men around.

This presumptive negativity about women in power I think is very unfortunate, because let's just try to access that and have a conversation about it, rather than a confrontation about it.

"So, when in doubt, just say, 'I'll have what he's having.'"

Conway: Can I give one piece of advice?Schlapp: Absolutely.Conway: I have one last piece of advice for women just because I want to tell a story that everybody always begs me to tell. I've been telling it for a long time; some of you may have heard it before. I often, in my career, literally didn't know how to express my value and ask for what I thought I deserved and I had earned. And so, this is a long time ago story that still is enduring to this moment. I remind myself of it almost every day. I was young in my career, my company was a year old. I was a CNN paid political analyst at the time. And somebody called from a speaking agency and said, hey, we have a request from this financial institution for you and Mark Mellman, Democratic pollster, obviously a man, to come and speak to us on September 28, about the elections. And I said, "OK." And the man said, "It's September 28, you can each speak for 20 minutes, then we'll take 20 minutes Q&A preview, which we think will happen in the election, and talk to us a little bit about public policy."I said, "That sounds great." It'll be at the Mayflower Hotel, which I can see out my office window. I literally was a block and half from there. They said, "What is your speaking fee?" And I froze.I completely froze because for me, even with my law degree at the time, for me free speech was not the First Amendment, it was let's go call Kellyanne, she'll come, she'll talk for free.And I froze because I knew no matter what I said in return to the question of what is your speaking fee — What are you worth? What is your value to do this? — no matter what I said, I was going to undercut myself. I was going to be that self-denying girl who grow up in that house of all women, a giver, not a taker, and so I froze and I thought, My God, what am I going to say? It's not his fault if I undercut my value. So, having no idea how to assess my value for that particular speech, I took a line out of When Harry Met Sally and I said, "I'll have what's he's having."And the man said on the other line, he said 20 years ago — this is 1996, I was 28 years old. I'm 50 — you don't have to do the math; I just turned 50; 50's like the new 49 and nothing better, let me tell you.I said, "Uh huh." He said, "Excuse me?" And I said, "Well, you said Mark Mellman and I were going to do the same thing, show up at the same time, give the same remarks, so I'll have what he's having." And the man said, in 1996 having never gotten a dollar to give a speech before, he said, well, "Mark requested $3,500, would that be [OK]?" And I said, "That'll be fine."And I hung up the phone and I fell to the floor. I was so excited. So, when in doubt, just say, "I'll have what he's having," and indeed, you'll get it.
Mike Theiler / AFP / Getty Images

Conway: Can I give one piece of advice?

Schlapp: Absolutely.

Conway: I have one last piece of advice for women just because I want to tell a story that everybody always begs me to tell. I've been telling it for a long time; some of you may have heard it before. I often, in my career, literally didn't know how to express my value and ask for what I thought I deserved and I had earned. And so, this is a long time ago story that still is enduring to this moment. I remind myself of it almost every day. I was young in my career, my company was a year old. I was a CNN paid political analyst at the time. And somebody called from a speaking agency and said, hey, we have a request from this financial institution for you and Mark Mellman, Democratic pollster, obviously a man, to come and speak to us on September 28, about the elections. And I said, "OK." And the man said, "It's September 28, you can each speak for 20 minutes, then we'll take 20 minutes Q&A preview, which we think will happen in the election, and talk to us a little bit about public policy."

I said, "That sounds great." It'll be at the Mayflower Hotel, which I can see out my office window. I literally was a block and half from there. They said, "What is your speaking fee?" And I froze.

I completely froze because for me, even with my law degree at the time, for me free speech was not the First Amendment, it was let's go call Kellyanne, she'll come, she'll talk for free.

And I froze because I knew no matter what I said in return to the question of what is your speaking fee — What are you worth? What is your value to do this? — no matter what I said, I was going to undercut myself. I was going to be that self-denying girl who grow up in that house of all women, a giver, not a taker, and so I froze and I thought, My God, what am I going to say? It's not his fault if I undercut my value.

So, having no idea how to assess my value for that particular speech, I took a line out of When Harry Met Sally and I said, "I'll have what's he's having."

And the man said on the other line, he said 20 years ago — this is 1996, I was 28 years old. I'm 50 — you don't have to do the math; I just turned 50; 50's like the new 49 and nothing better, let me tell you.

I said, "Uh huh." He said, "Excuse me?" And I said, "Well, you said Mark Mellman and I were going to do the same thing, show up at the same time, give the same remarks, so I'll have what he's having." And the man said, in 1996 having never gotten a dollar to give a speech before, he said, well, "Mark requested $3,500, would that be [OK]?" And I said, "That'll be fine."

And I hung up the phone and I fell to the floor. I was so excited. So, when in doubt, just say, "I'll have what he's having," and indeed, you'll get it.

And this was her message to college students at liberal colleges: "Don't live online, live in real time. I'm just astonished how many people live online."

Schlapp: You mention about the college students, there's so many college students here in this audience. What's your message for them to survive in terms of being in these more liberal institutions? How do they get their message out?Conway: Several different ways; first of all, don't live online, live in real time. I'm just astonished how many people live online.On Facebook, Twitter, texting, emails, remember, it's a mode of communication, it is not communication. It's not real life. So step aside, make sure people see something other than the top of your head and live in real time, in the real world.Have a conversation with people, engage other folks. There are so many people who are out there, who agree with you, or don't realize that they agree with you or want to learn more about repealing, replacing Obamacare or tax relief, or what it means to have school choice and charter schools, etc.So engage in those conversations. Also, know who you are and possess that confidence and just tune out the naysayers and the critics in a way where you feel like you possess a certain patience and perspective that many of us in the bubble lack.And recognize also, that four years, eight years, is a long time, it's much longer than the first four weeks. So keep that perspective, join different clubs, start different clubs that don't exist. Go ahead be bold, write letters to the editor, become a blogger, make your voices known, and be willing to hear the word "No" more than you say it. You will be rejected, somebody else will get the job you wanted or someone else will be the president of the club that you felt you deserved to be. But don't say the word no.Opportunity does not always knock twice. You have to make some of your own opportunities and you have to go and grab those.
Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

Schlapp: You mention about the college students, there's so many college students here in this audience. What's your message for them to survive in terms of being in these more liberal institutions? How do they get their message out?

Conway: Several different ways; first of all, don't live online, live in real time. I'm just astonished how many people live online.

On Facebook, Twitter, texting, emails, remember, it's a mode of communication, it is not communication. It's not real life. So step aside, make sure people see something other than the top of your head and live in real time, in the real world.

Have a conversation with people, engage other folks. There are so many people who are out there, who agree with you, or don't realize that they agree with you or want to learn more about repealing, replacing Obamacare or tax relief, or what it means to have school choice and charter schools, etc.

So engage in those conversations. Also, know who you are and possess that confidence and just tune out the naysayers and the critics in a way where you feel like you possess a certain patience and perspective that many of us in the bubble lack.

And recognize also, that four years, eight years, is a long time, it's much longer than the first four weeks. So keep that perspective, join different clubs, start different clubs that don't exist. Go ahead be bold, write letters to the editor, become a blogger, make your voices known, and be willing to hear the word "No" more than you say it. You will be rejected, somebody else will get the job you wanted or someone else will be the president of the club that you felt you deserved to be. But don't say the word no.

Opportunity does not always knock twice. You have to make some of your own opportunities and you have to go and grab those.

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