The overwhelming maleness of the people immediately surrounding Donald Trump — whether in the White House, in his cabinet, or conferring with him from Congress — is evident to anybody watching. That doesn't mean, however, that he doesn't have an important female supporting cast as well. Betsy Devos, Ivanka Trump, and other women defending the president play important roles both inside the administration and looking outward; several of them have jobs directly connected to the administration's public face. With a couple of notable exceptions, women aren't the ones making the policy choices emanating out of the White House — but they are the ones defending those policy choices.
Trump's main policy positions, after all, are an amalgamation of decades-old conservative talking points combined with fierce strains of isolationism and populism. You can see Steve Bannon's fingerprints all over them, even in his absence; now the loyalist Stephen Miller is carrying the administration in that same direction.
The administration has also acted as a bullhorn for the religious right, which subscribes to a selection of ideologies that are universally damaging to women's rights and the gains of feminism over the past several decades.
Perhaps it's fitting, then, that the only woman who has actual power to influence policy comes from that exact background, and has a history of supporting policies that, in her own words, "confront the culture in ways that will continue to advance God’s kingdom."
The woman in question, of course, is education secretary Betsy DeVos, who came into the job with no experience in actual education, but a lot of opinions about which schools the government should support. Specifically, she would prefer more money to go into the hands of religious and charter schools, at the expense of the nation's vast network of public schools. This gets into a lot of thorny questions about freedom of worship and the separation of church and state — why, for example, should government money go to fund religious and charter schools that don't have the same accountability as public schools? — but DeVos hasn't stopped there.
She's now managed to get rid of Obama-era guidelines surrounding the issue of on-campus sexual assault, a move that critics say will make it harder for sexual assault survivors to effectively report what happens to them. While DeVos and the other people supporting this move say it makes things more fair to those accused to sexual assault, critics maintain that it will make survivors less likely to report and thereby make them less likely to receive the care that they need.
Not all of the women surrounding Trump have been so effective in enacting their ideas, however.
Notably absent from that list is Ivanka Trump, one of the closest people to the president. While many on the left initially hoped that Ivanka could be their voice in the White House, this has not proven to be correct. Many of the efforts that Ivanka has backed — remaining in the Paris Accords, mandated maternity leave, equal pay — either failed or never got off the ground. Ivanka Trump has her father's ear, they say, but now she's trying to claim that she doesn't have the influence that some expected she would.
Ivanka, however, is still a very public face of the Trump administration, and she still defends her father at every turn, providing a feminist facade that masks the administration's most misogynistic acts. The health care bill can't be all that bad if Ivanka isn't speaking out about it, right? But Ivanka, as it turns out, hasn't spoken publicly about any disagreement she's had with her father.
It doesn't stop there, though.
Kellyanne Conway & Sarah Huckabee Sanders
There's also Kellyanne Conway — her public appearances have slowed since earlier in the year, but she still comes out of the woodwork to perform stunning feats of mental gymnastics, the hypocrisy of which can't be overstated. Almost a year to the day that Trump's infamous "Access Hollywood" tape hit the headlines, Conway tweeted about how long it took Hillary Clinton to speak out against Harvey Weinstein's sexual assault allegations. Clinton, let's remember, is now merely a private citizen — and Conway has never stopped defending Trump, the president of the United States, against his own allegations of sexual assault.
Another of his great defenders is Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, who is tasked with the unenviable job of supporting just about whatever Trump says. In her defense, this is pretty much the job description of any White House press secretary — but with this president, it becomes a moral choice. When he said that the NFL should fire players who kneeled during the anthem, Sanders backed him up. She backed him up when he claimed that Obama had wiretapped him. She also lied when she said that the president was "not a liar" — a statement that the president would certainly support, but which has demonstrably been proven false on literally hundreds of occasions.
Under normal circumstances, it wouldn't necessarily matter that the people in these specific positions were women, while the president was male. A gender balanced world would have men and women defending each other all over the place. But the Trump administration isn't normal circumstances, especially when it comes to women. Trump has been saying misogynistic things in public for as long as he's been a public figure, and the American electorate decided that was okay. Trump was literally caught on tape bragging about sexual assault, and then when he claimed that it was all just talk, America was okay with that.
His administration has now carried out a systematic assault on women's rights — and these women are still there, helping that happen and continuing to defend him.
Editor's Note: This op-ed does not reflect the views of BDG Media and is part of a larger, feminist discourse on today's political climate.