Slate Has a Problem With Powerful Women

Weblog has published numerous attacks against women since November

Kellyanne Conway
Kellyanne Conway / AP
• February 5, 2017 5:00 am


Slate has launched a series of attacks on powerful women in the wake of Donald Trump's victory, raising questions about whether the hot take factory is threatened by strong female leaders.

Slate, which famously declared that "Donald Trump's Victory Proves America Hates Women," has repeatedly employed sexist smear tactics against influential women at the center of American politics.

Slate used the nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court as an excuse to attack the Appellate Judge's mother, who made history as the first head of the Environmental Protection Agency. The headline of the article attempted to erase Anne Gorsuch as an independent woman, instead framing her as a mother.

"Remember When Neil Gorsuch’s Mother Tried to Dismantle the EPA," the post, which was republished from, asked. Slate has criticized other outlets for placing a higher priority on domesticity when discussing accomplished women, such as the controversy over the late-rocket scientist Yvonne Brill's obituary: "She may have worked at NASA in life, but the [New York] Times put her back in the kitchen in death."

The attack on Gorsuch's mother came a day after Slate offered a nuanced examination on Ivanka Trump's role in the White House. "Glamorous, Intelligent Ivanka Trump Is a Mitigating Agent for a Sadistic, Fascist Regime," the headline declared. Rather than address Ms. Trump's approach to policy or her ambitious agenda for the White House, Slate reduced her to her wardrobe.

"Ivanka and Kushner exfoliated, perfumed, and enrobed themselves in things expensive and soft, smiled placidly, and probably went on to have a splendid Saturday night of clinking glasses and measured laughter," it reported, noting that she wore "a silver gown that could have come from a Derelicte show."

Slate has long decried the sexist scrutiny that women in Washington face based on their dress. "Women's clothing is described more frequently and in more detail, and, to make it worse, women's clothing choices are weighted with more meaning," Slate said in a 2014 piece. "We don't need another reminder that Clinton favors pantsuits in coverage ostensibly devoted to politics." The publication went so far as to warn that any mention of clothing in a political piece has an "unintended, biasing impact" that costs female politicians support.

Slate has also targeted Kellyanne Conway, the first female campaign manager to win a presidential election. The publication employed the same language that is used to discourage women from pursuing STEM careers, allowing a male writer to publicly question her rationality, intimate that she "played the victim," compare her unfavorably to male spokesmen, and even use the word "crazy." "We’ve seen it in interview after interview. She disregards evidence and the rules of rational conversation," the author said.

The picture painted of Conway mirrors a political stereotype that Slate attempted to root out of public discourse in 2008.

"The suggestion that irrational, emotional, self-referential women are swinging the election is not a theme any woman should endorse," Slate wrote in 2008.

Slate has often sympathized with the undue scrutiny powerful women face in the public eye. The blog has taken steps to address its own negative coverage of female leaders. In 2013 it condemned critics of Sheryl Sandberg and the hypocrisy of "the same liberal people complaining that there are not enough women CEOs seem to harbor a special contempt for the women CEOs we do have." The columnist urged Slate readers and liberal activists to embrace powerful women no matter "our distaste for that pursuit."

"If we are interested in female power then we should let our powerful women pursue power, without harassing them with our distaste for that pursuit," Slate said. "Our discomfort with their ascent is mingled with resentments and jealousies and female jostling that is not worthy of the new world of opportunity in which we find ourselves."