October 28, 2016
The Trainwreck Files: Megyn Kelly
by Sady Doyle
It’s time for another installment of The Trainwreck Files, in which we ask Sady Doyle, author of Trainwreck: The Women We Love to Hate, Mock, and Fear… And Why, to pull a name from the headlines, and definitively tell us: are they a trainwreck, and why? Today’s file: Fox News host Megyn Kelly.
There is, quite possibly, no one less suited to feminist martyrdom than Megyn Kelly. She’s hosted entire segments, on her FOX News show The Kelly File, debating whether Beyonce is too sexy to be a feminist. (“If you watch those VMAs, you really have to wonder if in twenty-five years, the new standard is they’re just going to be having sexual intercourse on the stage!”) She’s openly mocked the idea that women are entitled to contraception coverage. (“It’s a war on the religious right, not a war on women!”) And to celebrate her February Vanity Fair cover, Bust magazine released a list of “Megyn Kelly’s Top 5 Most Racist Moments,” everything from blaming Sandra Bland for her own death to her thoughts on the Politically Correct Black Santa Problem. (“For all you kids watching at home, Santa just is white… Jesus was a white man, too.”)
And yet, watching Kelly become the favored target of both Donald Trump and the very right-wing media she’s been loyally saying all this stupid stuff for, it’s impossible not to feel for her. Just a few days ago, Newt Gingrich sneered at her, on-air—“you are fascinated by sex and you don’t care about public policy”—for daring to ask about the allegations of sexual assault against Trump. When she questioned Trump’s media accessibility, Sean Hannity accused her of being a secret Clinton supporter, which is what passes for a deadly insult in right-wing media circles. And, of course, the Orange Man himself has been after her ever since she first questioned him about his gender politics at a debate, from which he infamously deduced she had “blood coming out of her wherever.”
To be clear, Kelly’s brand is partly built around minor, clever subversions of the far-right party line—the “Megyn Moment,” it’s called; it’s why she’s marketed herself as a registered Independent, rather than a Republican—and she almost invariably winds up reinforcing that party line at the end of the day. We shouldn’t read too much into her willingness to stand up to Gingrich or Trump; this isn’t new. But something feels different this time.
Trump’s open and violent misogyny, though it’s not much different than the more condescending, veiled variety pushed by the Republican party for years, has split the GOP apart along gender lines. White women who could once be reliably counted as conservatives are fleeing the party in droves. It’s hard not to see Kelly herself as the avatar of this transformation — the woman who put years into supporting sexist, conservative men, covering up for their awfulness, providing them a female human shield for criticism, and playing along with the patriarchy, only to discover, when attacked and harassed by a powerful man, that none of that work mattered. She wasn’t special. She wasn’t protected. Playing along with the boys in charge had earned her nothing, not even the benefit of the doubt. She’d been expendable all along.
That is the kind of realization that can change a woman — could, potentially, even change her enough to make her realize she has more in common with the crazy “feminists,” “sensitive” PC types, and marginalized populations of the world than she ever had in common with Sean Hannity or Roger Ailes. Much of the current feminist support for Kelly—because it does exist—is founded in that hope, and the hope that conservative women, faced with the shock of Trump, are finally starting to see what feminists have been talking about. Whether Kelly can or will change that much is uncertain. But at the end of a campaign in which it sometimes feels like all of us have become worse people, isn’t it nice to think that someone might actually be a better human being when the dust settles? And even if Kelly isn’t that woman, isn’t it comforting to think that somewhere, some woman is watching Kelly’s colleagues rip her apart, and beginning to ask why?
Verdict: Not a trainwreck, but possibly a light at the end of the tunnel.
Sady Doyle founded the blog Tiger Beatdown in 2008. Her work has appeared in In These Times, The Guardian, Elle.com, The Atlantic, Slate, Buzzfeed, Rookie, and lots of other places around the Internet. Her first book, Trainwreck: The Women We Love to Hate, Mock, and Fear... And Why is out now from Melville House.