Feminism Trump Women

Could Ivanka be the next Cheryl Sandberg?

by Meredith Hinshaw-Chaney

I’ve been having trouble landing on a topic lately, which has precipitated a slate of reprintings on the site, which I don’t regret at all; to the contrary, I curate content consciously in the hopes of proffering relevant and meaningful articles to readers, connecting these outstanding writers to a new audience.

I think I’ve spent too much time following the news. I’m a little brain dead. All this talk of the First 100 Days makes my head swim. We have all lived each of these days in excruciating, living Technicolor. I feel like I’ve stared at the sun too long.

You know how your senses heighten when you’re under duress? I’ve noticed that since Trump took office I startle more easily, react more emotionally to information, and cry more easily to sappy songs. (Perhaps the diagnosis should be termed ‘political anxiety disorder’?) Some folks’ response to the Trump Presidency has been to retreat from reality, seeking refuge in books and television (“The Handmaid’s Tale” notwithstanding). I totally respect that decision. But for me, I feel the need to keep my enemies close so that when the time comes to take to the streets, I’ll know exactly what the f*#$ I’m yelling about. (I’m also just scared shitless we’re going to play Chicken into North Korea firing a nuke at California.)

I invested a lot of thought into the Bill O’Reilly scandal, aka, The Kind of Shit that Happens to Women Everyday (see header image). Uber, Thinx, Fox News, science, oh my; in the end, I can’t stand to beat that still-dying horse. The reality is that some people in positions of power (women included) are predisposed to abuse said power and make inappropriate (illegal) sexual advances to those in weaker positions. It happens at the frat house party and it happens in the boardroom. Aren’t we all tired of it, already? It’s freaking 2017; how in the hell is this still a thing? I’ve been personally confronted with “mild” harassment in the workplace; I don’t know many women who haven’t. That we as women must choose between playing the Bitch (reporting it) or the Cool Chick (playing it off or ignoring it) spills into just about every facet of our lives. It’s a dichotomy we vacillate between as employees/ers, as mothers, as wives, as daughters. We just don’t like to think of it that way because, at the end of the day, we have to get on with our business. I’ve often wondered if women’s ability to just put up with shit is hard-wired into our DNA; it has to be a big reason why we survive infant parenting without losing our minds.

Perhaps instead we should keep our attention (and the media’s) focused on the things we (still) don’t know, such as:

  • What’s really going on with Trump’s ties to Russia;
  • What Ivanka’s political ideologies actually are;
  • How serious Trump is about a potential nuclear altercation with North Korea;
  • How the tax “plan” (aka one-sheet) will really impact middle-class Americans;
  • What fatal compromise in the GOP health plan will make next?

I wouldn’t pretend to have answers to these questions, but of them all, the one that most intrigues me is the Ivanka-as-champion-of-women dilemma. Ivanka, who John Oliver lambasted on a recent “Last Week Tonight” episode, gives the appearance of a vaguely left-leaning neutral poised (oh so seductively) to offset the impulsive, “masculine” behavior of her father, the now-ultimate patriarch. She is the princess playing Queen, the behind-the-throne substitute for Melania, if only she would move into the royal palace (you don’t even really see her at Mar-a-Lago). As in any kingdom, fealty by familial allegiance carries the most weight in determining the pecking order; loyalty trumps logic or zeal. And so we seek to normalize the un-normalizable by convincing ourselves that Ivanka is the voice of reason when in fact she may be about as well-meaning as that tone deaf Pepsi commercial. She embodies the same sort of storefront feminism that always, at some point, backfires on the brands that espouse them. (See: Germany.)

So what do we know about Ivanka’s feminism (or should we say femininism)? Her company website reveals a lot:

Screen Shot 2017-04-29 at 4.43.16 PM

Screen Shot 2017-04-29 at 4.43.29 PM

Ivanka TrumpTM employs femvertising (or as bell hooks calls it, faux feminism) as its raison d’être, characterized by the soft ineffectuality of a Dove campaign. Look at her About Us photo: gently defying the photographer’s lens, a prim white office shift daringly cut to reveal her black bra strap: she’s a good girl but she’s just a little dangerous. As a professional woman, she knows what she wants, whether it’s a necklace or the type of man she’d opt to take to bed. Her hair is wrapped around her shoulder in a come-hither look and her backdrop suggests an urban office building: Ivanka the brand is into Lean In, chardonnay, and not taking any shit from any ol’ man.

Unlike the consumer who purchases her jeans in part for their “hidden lift,” Ivanka is svelte and elegant; like her clothing, she is “fresh” and “fuss-free.” Her jewelry line is designed to cater to the “self-purchasing female” but nonetheless functions to gussy up its women customers to please the male gaze.

As a corporate symbol, Ivanka must embody both feminine power and male subjection. She must always be presented to the public eye as the ideal of patriarchal womanhood: seen but not heard. Ivanka would never raise her voice; she whispers to be listened to. What she’s like in private is her business and I, of course, wouldn’t possibly be one to judge; I sure as hell hope she has a temper. But her public persona, which is very much up to public debate given her position within the White House, is suggestive of a dangerous and subtle power, the power of the Daddy’s Girl. (We rarely see Ivanka the Mother, which makes a certain sense, as it would run contrary to her branding as a self-styled sexualized object and contradicts her role as the disembodied conscience of her father, the delocalized appendage to his godhead self.)

The Ivanka that sells clothing, shoes, and jewelry is a myth, just as the woman she sells her items to is a myth. The real women shopping at Dillard’s are complex and human; Ivanka the brand is a false reflection. At the end of the day, female consumers should buy whatever clothes they want, acknowledging that the workers who make them, like Ivanka’s, are paid about $1 an hour. But, just because her company’s leadership team is all female, should we suspend our disbelief to think that she will represent real women’s interests in the White House? We don’t know where she really stands. If she stands for women, she stands for families, and if she stands for families, she stands for the middle class, and if she stands for the middle class, she stands for affordable health care, and if she stands for affordable health care, she should also stand for reasonable tax reform that doesn’t unduly reward the 1 percent.

If she stands for the 99 percent, i.e., the women who fund her bank account and buy her shit, she should raise her voice and speak up. Loud and proud. ‘Nuff said.



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