Conservative women are used to unequal treatment. We're successful in spite of it.

The disparate treatment puts conservative women at a permanent and costly disadvantage. But maybe that’s the point.

 As a conservative woman, last month's Supreme Court confirmation hearings were difficult to watch. The favoritism shown to Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, and the contrast between her hearings and those of Justice Amy Coney Barrett’s, exacerbated years of frustration felt by many conservative women.

Numerous headlines featured Democrats angry at Republicans' treatment of Judge Jackson because she was asked about her record of lenient sentences for child pornography offenders as well as her views on Critical Race Theory and the 1619 Project. Op-ed writers expressed outrage at what was perceived as partisan Republican attempts to score political points or appease crazy evangelical constituents.

As I watched the hearing unfold, my mind went to the fall of 2020 when I was a senior at the University of Notre Dame. After Judge Amy Coney Barrett, a Notre Dame graduate and Catholic mother of seven, was nominated to the Supreme Court, I expected our campus community to greet the news with excitement and honor, despite the politics surrounding it.

Supreme Court justice nominee Amy Coney Barrett in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 13, 2020.

I was wrong. My classmates organized a massive student protest, joining faculty members in denouncing Barrett’s nomination and arguing that Barrett was unfit to serve on the nation's highest court.

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Why? Because of the ammunition they found in mainstream news headlines.

Let’s look over the main talking points: Barrett had ties to a Handmaid’s-Tale-like-Christian group. She wanted to overthrow Roe v. Wade and force all women to have babies. She was a religious bigot who would use the Supreme Court to push her “radical” agenda. She probably adopted her children from Haiti as a colonizer, and she had a large family just to show off.

Barrett’s parenting choices were criticized. Yet, people wept last week when Jackson apologized to her two daughters for her time spent away from them.

RESPECT:Ketanji Brown Jackson getting what Amy Coney Barrett was denied

Interviewing students for the campus newspaper, The Irish Rover, it seemed that many of my peers had bought into the firestorm of attacks against Barrett and become ardent apostles of the narratives. Suddenly, something that could have united us as a campus (a prestigious female alum ascending to the highest court in the land) had become divisive and hateful.

Bias against conservative women

Why was Barrett treated differently? For the same reason Joe Biden and other Democrats filibustered the nomination of Judge Janice Rogers Brown in 2003.

Brown was a single Black mother who grew up in rural, segregated Alabama and overcame poverty to become a “self-made African American legal star.” You would think Democrats and feminists would have cheered her on.  

Yet in 2005, after Bush resubmitted Brown's nomination, Biden voted against her. And when Brown was on Bush’s shortlist to replace Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, and would have been the first Black woman to serve on the Supreme Court, Biden again spoke out against her potential nomination on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

Why? Because Brown was an outspoken conservative.

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Conservative women have known for years that because they do not fit the narrow definition of liberal feminism they'll be treated unfairly. Just look at the case of pro-life feminists, who have been told that they have no place at the annual Women’s March. 

Amidst the praise and celebration of Judge Jackson that Justice Barrett was denied, women of the year lists celebrating countless leftist women ignore the contributions of the many qualified conservative women.

I commend the various women of the year lists that uplift women who champion human rights. But what about the women who are on the frontlines of the abortion debate – the greatest human rights debate of our century? What about women like Lila Rose, who founded Live Action at the age of 15? Her organization educates women on the humanity of unborn life as well as the cruelty of abortion.

What about women like Kathleen Wilson, founder of a pro-life maternity home who quietly works to support women in crisis? Her work with Mary’s Shelter in Fredericksburg, Virginia, stands in stark contrast to places like Planned Parenthood.

“We don’t say, ‘when your baby’s born, you have to go,’” she told the Daily Signal, “They’re in our lives forever."

Not looking for celebrity validation

“As a conservative woman, you know you’re not going to get the glowing profile so you just get your sh-t done,” said Dana Perino, co-anchor of FOX News Channel's morning news program “America’s Newsroom” and co-host of FOX’s “The Five."

In a written statement that Perino sent to me, she emphasized that conservative women shouldn’t dwell on their unequal treatment. Perino said that reading Peggy Noonan’s “What I Saw at the Revolution” as a Capitol Hill staffer 25 years ago, helped her to realize that her own thinking and approach to policy issues was conservative – and that was OK.

“Since then, I have watched as numerous women in conservative or Republican circles – the most successful ones – got on with their careers and didn’t dwell on not being celebrated in women’s magazines,” Perino said. “That wasn’t the validation they were looking for or that they needed.”

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Perino pointed to the media’s poor treatment of Melania Trump. As First Lady, she was often snubbed by outlets that now heap praise on women in the Biden administration. Jill Biden, for example, was featured on the cover of Vogue – a space Melania never occupied as First Lady.

Former First Lady Melania Trump tours the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., in April 2018.

The media certainly were no friend to former White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany. Yet, journalists now fawn over Biden Press Secretary Jen Psaki, who was also recently featured on the cover of Vogue. Psaki reportedly plans to leave the White House to work for MSNBC.

“When Psaki first appeared in the press briefing room, in January 2021,” Psaki’s Vogue feature read, “there was a collective swoon from roughly half the country.”

In a slightly less favorable review, a Vogue article labelled McEnany a “conservative propagandist and birther.”

According to McEnany, Republican women should expect this unfair treatment because “no matter what Republican administration it is, Republican women are treated differently by virtue of their party ideology.”

Take Sarah Huckabee Sanders, a woman who should have been praised by feminists for being the first mom to hold the role of White House press secretary. Instead, she was trailed by nasty commentary wherever she went, often about her physical appearance. 

Last year, Winsome Sears, a Black Marine corps veteran, made history when she became the first Black woman to be elected to statewide office in Virginia. Sears’ disavowal of Critical Race Theory and her pro-life views practically guarantee that she will never be praised for this accomplishment the way that a progressive woman would be.

Virginia Lt. Gov. Winsome Sears waves during the inauguration address for Gov. Glenn Youngkin in Richmond on Jan. 15, 2022.

Republican Rep. Elise Stefanik made history when she defeated her incumbent rival in 2014 and became the youngest woman elected to Congress. Her background working for her family’s New York small business is similar in some ways to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s rags-to-riches story. Yet, unlike Ocasio-Cortez, she has been absent from Vogue features, women of the year lists and Met Gala debuts.

“As she’s risen in Republican leadership, she gets more scorn than admiration from the media,” Perino said of Stefanik. “Again – she doesn’t complain about it, and that’s why she’s successful.”

'The media doesn’t matter. You do.'

As of 2019, 38% of female registered voters identified as Republicans or leaned toward the GOP. Republican women won a record number of U.S. House seats in 2020 – a milestone that received little praise or recognition.

At this point, conservative women are well aware that they won’t win the approval of liberal media. So they might as well toughen up and get their work done.

“You’ll succeed in your careers and feel much more satisfied than if you chase elusive popularity posts from the media,” Perino said.

FOX News anchor Dana Perino set up a remote studio in her Bay Head home.

But it’s not just about the glowing profiles and the recognition. Partisan media – not to mention big tech – are incredibly damaging for our country. They foster division, and encourage students and young people around the country to become fashionably intolerant of people like Justice Barrett without even fully understanding why.

The unequal treatment has the potential to effect the outcome of elections, and it prevents young women from seeing the strength and value of so many powerful conservative role models.

In many ways, the disparate treatment puts conservative women at a permanent and costly disadvantage. But maybe that’s the point.

Until that changes, women should get comfortable working hard to be their best selves for themselves, and not anyone else, Perino said.

“The media doesn’t matter,” she said, “You do.”

Theresa Olohan is an Opinion fellow with the USA TODAY Editorial Board and a recent graduate of the University of Notre Dame. Follow her on Twitter: @theresa_olohan