It’s time to cut the charade: Ivanka Trump is not the hero that will thwart the Trump administration’s worst policies and rhetoric and no amount of pleading will change that.
Plenty of Trump detractors came to that realization long ago, many right around when she stood by her father after his “pussy grabbing” comments became public. But some are still holding out foolish hope. This weekend, the actress Debra Messing spent part of an award acceptance speech imploring the first daughter to do more than pay lip service to female empowerment.
Its not enough to simply say that womens issues are important to you,” Messing said at the annual GLAAD Media Awards in New York City. “Its time to do something.”
On Friday, New York Times columnist Gail Collins contrasted Ivanka Trump’s feminist sloganeering (#WomenWhoWork) with her dad’s decision to appoint opponents of both abortion and affordable, accessible birth control to top posts in the Department of Health and Human Services.
“[S]hes not witless and she obviously knows that birth control plays an important role in working womens lives,” Collins wrote. “You think shed put in a word. No sign.”
Ivanka Trump isn’t coming to rescue you from your worst, Handmaid’s Tale-inspired nightmares.
Collins’ opinion piece was titled, “Wheres Ivanka When We Need Her?”
The short answer is that she isn’t coming to rescue you from your worst, Handmaid’s Tale-inspired nightmares. That shouldn’t surprise anyone.
The faith that some liberals put in Trump’s ability to influence her father from the left, particularly on women’s issues, was both wildly misplaced and speaks to a fundamental misunderstanding about what gender equality means in 2017. That battle must lift up and liberate every girl and woman Trump is woefully unqualified to do that.
Before the resistance and the women’s march and her father’s improbable election, people could look admiringly at Trump and see a stylish mother of three who ran successful businesses while parroting talking points about empowerment. They didn’t stop to ask whether she was really that interested in elevating women beyond just those who decide to conquer the boardroom. Or anyone other than herself and her brand.
The truth is, according to a New York Times story published last week, Trump coined the #WomenWhoWork catchphrase in order to attract women who were reticent to buy her fashion line. She didn’t come by her full-throated embrace of gender equality honestly, even if in her new book Women Who Work: Rewriting the Rules for Success she insists the campaign “evolved very organically.”
If you looked at her Facebook or Instagram feeds alone, where she shares the stories of women from diverse backgrounds who are breaking barriers or overcoming odds, you just might think she’s selflessly used her brand to elevate important issues with an unyielding conviction.
Look more closely and you’ll see that her messages can be self-interested, like when she mentioned an event that celebrated women in the jewelry industry, and noted the “very validating” positive response to her “young brand.” Or when, in 2015, she promoted a $4,699 six-month “masterclass” in women’s leadership, for which she served as one of three featured experts.
Just left an event honoring womens contribution to the jewelry industry. The positive response to my young brand was very validating
Ivanka Trump (@IvankaTrump) July 28, 2009
There’s nothing inherently wrong with these posts, there’s just no reason why they or other public statements should lead people to believe that Trump is capable of doing more than operating within the comfortable boundaries of corporate feminism. Provided that a cause aligns with her brand and maybe even expands her market share like promoting girls and women in STEM or highlighting female entrepreneurs Trump seems happy to serve up bland bromides and offer easy gestures of support.
A Twitter search of her @IvankaTrump handle for words like gay, abortion, birth control, LGBT, and refugee, which might signal her willingness to wade into controversy if it meant being a vocal ally to vulnerable communities, turns up nothing. She’s tweeted the word equality three times; one of those occasions was to congratulate Chelsea Clinton, of all people, in 2015 for her “amazing” work on gender equality.
Those who wanted to take comfort in her presence saw her statements about empowerment as something more significant. They took for granted that Trump might care about access to birth control for low-income women. They figured she would probably find a Muslim and refugee ban abhorrent too. They thought surely she would vocally protest a policy that would have separated undocumented immigrant women from their children at the border.
Her book’s soaring language about wanting to empower women makes for a jarring comparison when measured against the Trump administration’s policies.
“I am committed to working harder than ever to help unleash the full power or women and girls to accelerate the pace of progress both in our country and around the world and I look forward to furthering the cause together,” she writes in the preface.
The words are technically correct and in the right order but feel meaningless since Trump seems to draw invisible, puzzling lines around which gender equality issues she’ll speak about and which she’ll let languish.
The media rushed to cast Trump as a “moderating” force in the White House, perhaps believing that any coherent person to the left of chief strategist and right-wing extremist Steve Bannon would count as a victory in governance. Too many liberals, pundits, and conservatives wary of Donald Trump heard his daughter drop the right buzzwords and assumed that if she talked about the needs and concerns of wealthy white women, it could only lead to good things for everyone.
That has rarely been the case in American history, and it’s time to stop pretending that Trump is a force for genuine equality or that she can be persuaded to do progressives’ bidding if they ask nicely enough.
She should be treated as she behaves. When she pens an op-ed on the importance of investing in women globally to spur economic growth, but stays silent about an executive order that makes it much harder for vulnerable women to get access to birth control and reproductive health care, she shouldn’t get to cloak herself in the warm glow of female empowerment. When she verbally champions mothers and children but then is pictured eagerly smiling at news that the House passed the American Health Care Act, which would seriously undermine access to maternity benefits for women, she should have to answer for it.
When Trump is pressed on questions like these, she dodges, as she did again and again last month in an interview with CBS’ Gayle King. She refuses to talk about her values beyond generic, agreeable platitudes. For someone who loves leadership advice, Trump appears to have no interest in being held accountable for her role in an administration that, in both action and rhetoric, is opposed to real gender equality.
No one really knows how Trump feels about more complex issues that are far more central to gender equality than how many women serve on a company’s board. She may in fact be guided by a perverse combination of bootstrapping the idea that hard work and personal responsibility are the sole determinants of your fate and corporate feminism.
That would be an ironic gospel for someone born an heir to a real estate empire. It’s also a narrative that can give advantaged white women all the opportunity in the world, leaving no room for acknowledging, at the very least, the impact of racist policies that have endured for generations.
When it’s convenient and burnishes her image, she’ll let someone else’s words or ideas flatter her.
It would be something if we knew Trump’s view on race relations, but she avoids the topic studiously. While she’s pledged $100,000 in book proceeds each to the Boys & Girls Clubs of America and the National Urban League, she hasn’t spoken up about issues that affect communities of color.
Though she could have turned to that subject plenty of times in her book, perhaps spending time to discuss research on implicit bias in the workplace or even addressing the lopsided balance of power between “working women” and the women of color they often employ to care for their children, she can’t bring herself to step into that breach.
Women Who Work does, however, quote a sentence from Toni Morrison’s Beloved, a book about slavery: “Bit by bit … she had claimed herself. Freeing yourself was one thing, claiming ownership of that freed self was another.”
Trump uses it as the preface for a chapter on how to boost your productivity. It takes a certain amount of gall and willful ignorance to interpret those words as self-help jargon for the working woman.
It’s possible that a ghostwriter Googled the quote and added it to the book with Trump’s approval. Yet even that scenario speaks clearly to her character. When it’s convenient and burnishes her image, she’ll use someone else’s words, ideas, or principles to enrich herself. When it serves neither purpose, she’s silent.
That should tell you everything you need to know about Ivanka Trump.