Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly got into a verbal skirmish Tuesday night with Donald Trump surrogate and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. When she brought up Trump's multiple sexual assault allegations, Gingrich accused Kelly of being "fascinated with sex."
Kelly firmly explained she had only been doing her job in reporting on the allegations against a man who was running for the nation's highest office.
"You know what, Mr. Speaker?" asked Kelly. "I'm not fascinated by sex, but I am fascinated by the protection of women and understanding what we're getting in the Oval Office."
It's only natural to want to applaud Kelly for her response. Since the start of Trump's campaign, she has been the victim of abuse from Trump, who called her a "bimbo" and said she had "blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever" after she pressed the candidate on his derogatory remarks toward women at the first Republican debate.
We've seen Kelly call out other politicians on her show for their bigoted views on what bathrooms transgender people ought to use, and she even went to bat with colleague Sean Hannity, whose show she called a safe space for Trump.
We've watched her put up with the relentlessness of everyday sexism, from viewers slamming her for what she's wearing to Twitter users threatening to boycott her after this dust-up with Gingrich. When Kelly claps back, she doesn't just seem to be standing up for herself, but for all women who've experienced men shouting at them, telling them they're not qualified for their job or commenting on their appearance.
In the face of such blatant sexism, Kelly has become a kind of feminist hero. In its February cover story, Vanity Fair called her a "newly minted role model for women." On Wednesday, the magazine took it one step further, dubbing Kelly an "improbable feminist icon."
Of course, terms like "newly minted" and "improbable" all point to the elephant in the room: Kelly has historically failed to endorse many basic tenets of feminism.
In February, she questioned why advocating for women's choice was a feminist cause at all, and in the past has claimed New York's affirmative consent law was a step toward eliminating "the rights of men." Kelly has even made clear that she eschews "feminist" as a term for herself entirely.
Given Kelly's shaky track record, the recent response to the Fox News anchor might be termed cognitive dissonance or selective amnesia, as feminist writer Roxane Gay tweeted.
"Ya'll have really short memories where Megyn Kelly is concerned," she tweeted Tuesday.
"Is the bar really that low?" Gay continued.
Yes, the bar is that low. And that's important to keep in mind next time we're tempted to give Kelly a standing ovation.
In an election season where the Republican nominee has been so extreme as to call for the ban of all Muslims, to promise to build a wall to keep out Mexican immigrants, to demand "some form of punishment" for women who have abortions, to brag about grabbing women "by the pussy" and then to have it come out that he allegedly did just that, it's understandable that the expectations for "ally" have been lowered significantly. It takes only a decent person to see why these racist, sexist and xenophobic remarks are wrong — not a hero.
Trump's extremism has made it easy for conservatives, who might otherwise have their own dubious things to say about women and minorities, condemn him and look brave for doing so. After all, four years after Mitt Romney touted his "binders full of women" he got to hold a press conference and nail Trump on his misogyny.
In the 2016 presidential election, the bad guys seem like the good guys — and that's why we might feel conflicted when Kelly comes off as a champion for women's rights. But people have always been complicated and will never fit into the discrete boxes we put them in. Your racist aunt just might be a feminist, while your seemingly progressive father might not be so cool on gun control.
Kelly is just another complicated person — and it's OK to give her props for slamming sexists while holding her accountable for her other views.