President Donald Trump has always had a somewhat rocky relationship with women in the United States. There was that infamous Access Hollywood tape from 2005, there were the multiple allegations of sexual assault over the years (all of which he denied), and there's the Trump administration's current attempts to restrict women's access to abortion. But on Sunday, counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway said women in the White House are "heard" by Trump's male-dominated administration and told Business Insider that, despite the optics at times, women do have a seat at the table in the White House. The thing is, having only a small handful of women be "seen" and "listened to" in the top tier of politics simply isn't enough.
According to The New York Times, there were only four women among the 24 secretaries appointed to Trump's Cabinet, a number that has drawn plenty of criticism from the public. Romper reached out to the White House for comment, but did not hear back immediately. But Conway — as well as several other women working in the White House — told Business Insider that being female had nothing to do with who was (or wasn't) elevated to the upper echelons of the current administration.
"Attaching a hard and fast number to it is not as relevant as the contributions that are made by the women who are at the table," Conway told Business Insider on Sunday. She continued:
We're heard and we're seen and we're listened to and we are sought out and sought after for our opinions and our judgment and our ideas and our insight.
Conway also commented on the now-infamous pictures of Trump signing executive orders or deciding on the future of American health care while surrounded only by men. "It's like, well, I was sitting next to the cameraman, so I was right there, but I'm not in the shot," she said. "But that doesn't mean that those men haven't heard from the females."
That picture — of behind-the-scenes female influence — is one frequently painted by the women in Trump's administration, including Conway and advisor Ivanka Trump. It's one in which women quietly and privately influence the men around them, falling in line with the idiom that "behind every great man is a great woman."
Ivanka, for instance, once told CBS about her style of influence in the White House:
I would say not to conflate lack of public denouncement with silence. I think there are multiple ways to have your voice heard. In some cases, it's through protest ... Other times, it is quietly and directly and candidly. So where I disagree with my father, he knows it.
Conway, it would seem, operates in a similar manner. "I'm actually unafraid to express my mind, but I do it very respectfully," she told Business Insider. "Very respectfully and very deferentially."
Judging by an interview Trump had with The New York Times last year, it also seems like communications director Hope Hicks approaches the president in the same way. "She will often give advice, and she’ll do it in a very low-key manner, so it doesn’t necessarily come in the form of advice," Trump said of Hicks. "But it’s delivered very nicely.”
But that's the thing: women in politics should not simply be sounding boards who can offer up a token "woman's opinion" when needed. Women should not be on the side, waiting to jump in if necessary but withholding their opinions in public interviews. They should not have to speak demurely or deferentially, and women should not be penalized for being confident and outspoken, as research has shown they too often are.
Being listened to behind the scenes is not enough. Women need to be taking up half of the seats at the table, because they represent the interests of half of the country. If we truly want to see more women in the White House and in politics, making a difference for Americans across the country, then women need to be in the shot — not sitting by the cameraman and looking at a room full of men making decisions.