On Tuesday, Ivanka Trump appeared on The Kelly File to discuss her father's childcare and maternity leave policies with Fox News' Megyn Kelly. Earlier that same day, the Republican nominee unveiled a childcare plan that his daughter reportedly had a big hand in shaping. As Kelly and Trump discussed the necessity of paid maternity leave, Trump responded to conservative criticism by saying that Democrats don't "own" the issue. But then, Kelly asked Trump what motivates her as a businesswoman, given that she could have taken it easy with a rich father and a successful husband. This question seemed out of step with the rest of the interview, and illustrated one of the ways in which successful women are still treated and perceived differently than men.
Throughout this election cycle, Kelly has routinely called Trump's father out on sexist remarks. She was even the target of his sexist comments — "You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever," he told CNN after an August 2015 presidential debate — and consequently made headlines for being the news instead of covering it. So it was unsurprising, then, that she would ask Trump during their Tuesday interview how her father's comments about women made her feel. What was out of place, however, was that Kelly — who has made a name for herself as a journalist — would pose a question to Trump about what motivates her in the context of the successful men in her life.
This is not so much a critique of Kelly as it is of our general disposition to ask successful women questions like this. We rarely hear men being asked, for example, why they continue to be so invested in their work after being raised by a successful mother, or marrying a successful woman. Kelly made it clear that she asked the question because her viewers, and conservatives in general, might not know the answer, and not because she was attempting to take away from or downplay Trump's own success. But in a conversation between two women that focuses on policies that are supposed to enable women to pursue their chosen paths, why should the subject of Trump's motivation emerge in relation to two men?
"You could have taken it easy — you could have gone to Mar-a-Lago," Kelly told Trump. "Some people say, ... 'you have three kids, you're killing yourself, you already have millions of dollars' — explain your mindset."
From the wording, it's evident that this is not a question Kelly is posing to Trump; Kelly probably recognizes the difficulties and pressures that women confront when pursuing their careers. No, this is a question that a society prioritizing men's success generally poses to successful women who work to be invested in their families as well as in their careers. As Trump correctly pointed out in the context of paid family leave, "so many parents can't make that choice." But when women do succeed in their careers, they are often regarded with suspicion and confusion.
Even in 2016, a successful woman who is passionate about both her family and her career is still left to justify her choices, as though it is somehow surprising that a woman who is related to successful men would choose to be passionate about something. Kelly's question to Trump is just one example.