Last Tuesday, Ivanka Trump joined female leaders to discuss women’s issues at the W20 Summit in Berlin. She was invited to speak about her White House position, her views on feminism, and her business. But Ivanka’s presence seemed strained and uncomfortable onstage among the other invited guests like Angela Merkel, chancellor of Germany; Christine Lagarde, director of the International Monetary Fund; Chrystia Freeland, Canadian foreign minister, and Queen Maxima of the Netherlands.
When moderator Miriam Meckel asked Ivanka about her father’s attitude towards women, she responded by telling the audience that President Trump has been “a tremendous champion of supporting families and enabling them to thrive.” She was met with boos, hisses, and groans from the audience.
It’s hard to be surprised by the heckling though. Considering all the aggressions against women Trump has on his record, it seems downright ballsy of Ivanka to make that claim. Being caught on tape talking about groping women, being accused multiple times of sexual harassment and assault, claiming women who got abortions should be punished, and saying that equal-pay laws were antithetical to capitalism don't exactly paint Trump as the biggest supporter of women’s rights. Especially considering that just a few weeks ago he signed a law that allows states to withhold federal funding for general health services to Planned Parenthood and other clinics where abortions are performed. Depriving neighborhood clinics of funding so women across America can’t receive affordable health care and health resources completely undercuts that champion status Ivanka touts.
Look, I hate hecklers. Even for comedy’s sake, I think it’s a distasteful practice. And even if it’s well-intentioned like attempting to call someone out on their bullshit, it’s still the wrong way to do it. Booing or shouting things from an audience accomplishes nothing. Being disruptive can sometimes be helpful for getting a message across, but engaging someone in a real conversation will do more good and probably go much further towards changing someone’s mind than jeering at them loudly from a crowd. Besides which, everyone has the right to voice their opinion- you don’t get to shout down or block someone just because you disagree with their perspective. I may not agree with someone, but I will fight for their right to say it.
It’s why the recent Ann Coulter news pisses me off, and why those hecklers booing Ivanka annoyed me too. When Ivanka called herself a feminist at the summit in Germany, the audience essentially tried to shut her down. But feminism is all about choice, so why did they think it was acceptable for them to essentially tell her that she was not a feminist? At least she is embracing the term, unlike Angela Merkel who hesitated a rather long time before answering the question.
It got me thinking though: Ivanka has styled herself a champion of women, but is she really? Don’t start hating on this thought piece just yet; I was genuinely curious. I’m a firm believer that true feminism gives choice to all women on how they want to live their lives, so when I consider Ivanka’s appearance in Germany a failure, am I a hypocrite?
It’s not just her refusal to condemn her father that bothers me. Although yes, that does bother me, but it’s rather unreasonable to expect a daughter to publicly denounce her father, especially when her life and livelihood are so intertwined with his role. What bothers me more is thinking about the 53% of white women in the electorate who voted for Donald Trump in the first place. The 53% who voted for Trump because they were voting against Hillary Clinton. Many claimed that they were voting because they were worried about the economy, about Second Amendment rights, immigration, terrorism, and even over anger about the Affordable Care Act. In interviews with the New York Times, many of them sound like they’re making excuses for abusive husbands. “You get through the bad and you focus on the good. Basically these were our choices, and I felt he was the better choice, and I had to overlook the negatives and focus on the positives,” said Sandy Pearson from Chattanooga, Tennessee.
“If I turned down every candidate who objectified women, I’d vote for no one,” said Rebecca Gregory from Roseville, Michigan.
“Do I think Trump’s trying to send women back to the kitchen? No, his daughter is a great example,” Taylor David from Enfield, Connecticut said during her interview.
And therein lies the problem. It’s not that I think the sins of the father should be transferred to his children (because seriously, media needs to leave young Barron alone), but that Ivanka is being seen as a role model for women. And even though she is a household name, I’m not sure that she’s done the work to deserve that recognition.
Some women perceive Ivanka as a symbol of triumph for women everywhere- a woman living richly with all the freedom to travel and spend how she wants. Except that’s only true if you’re invested in a system of white patriarchy; she only has this freedom as long as she moves within the rigid parameters set by the men in her life and doesn’t ask for more than that. Maybe she’s done the cost-benefit analysis and concluded that the situation works for her, so she’s happy as things are, but women around the globe are still struggling for basic rights, let alone the rights of American women desperate for basic health care screenings and equal pay. Ivanka is being used- to her knowledge or not, it remains to be seen- to sell a dangerous image. She’s as stylized as the images of Aryan beauty in Nazi propaganda films for the Third Reich; tall, blonde, educated, wrapped in pastels and constant good lighting. As Adele Stan puts it so perfectly: “She [is] a fairytale princess who gets to leave the castle from time to time, finely dressed to meet with world leaders. She is a beautiful patroness of feminist-sounding anti-feminism, a walking argument for venerating her great, white father.”
I’ve heard arguments about how great she is because she started her own company, but I have yet to see concrete evidence of her involvement in the day-to-day operations or even the design of her clothes. The majority of the work she does is based on the Trump brand, and not her own efforts. I don’t begrudge her that of course. If you have something that carries a lot of weight, why not use it to launch your career? But to imply that she worked her way up from the bottom to get where she is a laughable concept. Daddy Trump let her run her own business as a subset of the Trump brand, and has been grooming her to take over his palace when he decides. She is the embodiment of a patriarch’s dream good daughter, representing him to women and around the world in a beautiful way without having to be held accountable for any of his (or her own) actions.
In a February 16, 2016 interview with the Boston Public Radio host Margery Eagan, Ivanka was asked flat-out whether she was pro-choice. Her response? “I don’t feel like it’s my role...I’m the daughter...I don’t think my politics are relevant to the discussion.” Yet here she is now, in a prominent position in the White House, with no political experience except as her father’s surrogate on the campaign trail.
“The German audience is not familiar with the concept of a first daughter,” Meckel said at the summit, “I’d like to ask you, what is your role, and who are you representing, your father as a president of the United States, the American people, or your business?” Ivanka’s answer was incredibly vague, defining nothing of her role but asserting her commitment to empowering women in the workplace. True, she has made charitable contributions to the charity Women Who Work, but I’ve only seen evidence of her claiming to be pro-women as a way to sell her products and her brand. At the German summit, she failed to clearly articulate how women’s economic empowerment can be achieved on a global level, and failed to offer any genuine responses regarding American policies. She launched into a discussion about the lack of paid family leave in the US, yet when she humble-bragged about the Trump paid family leave proposal, she failed to outline any details. Anyone who’s taken the time to read it through quickly realizes it’s just a maternity leave proposal for people who give birth. Are you adopting? No leave for you! And in order to access the paid leave, a new parent has to use six weeks of unemployment insurance, taking from a cushion that may be needed if they lose their job.
In the month since she officially started at the White House, Ivanka has failed to articulate any changes she plans to make, instead serving up empty-calorie word soup about the gender wage gap and the importance of supporting female entrepreneurs. I hope with everything I have that she can make changes, but Trump’s decisions thus far have shown little regard for women’s rights. It’s nice to have a White House staff member claim to advocate for women’s empowerment, because visibility is important. But her bland, recycled scripts of equality are meaningless until she acts on them, or shows that she can educate and influence her father for social good.
So is Ivanka an ally to women and feminism? Thus far, no. But I genuinly hope she starts.