Ivanka Trump's "Feminism" is Bad News

by Elizabeth Strassner
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Critics didn't hold back when Ivanka Trump released a self-help book earlier this month. Women Who Work: Rewriting the Rules for Success was panned in spectacular fashion by reviewers who attacked everything from the quality of the writing ("witlessly derivative," according to the New York Times) to its overuse of the verb "architect," according to the Huffington Post. At the core of many of these bad reviews was the idea that the first daughter, who has attempted to frame herself as something of a champion for career women, is so blissfully unaware of her own privilege that she has nothing to offer women whose fathers are not billionaires.

In her review for the Washington Post, for example, Robin Givhan wrote that the book "manages to be both humorless and comically removed from the realities of life for the broad swath of women who work 9 to 5 or who struggle along with minimum-wage jobs." So, it seems that Ivanka, who is wealthy and fortunate, wrote a book that is, whether intended or not, ultimately geared towards the small subset of American women who are also wealthy and fortunate. Ordinarily, a tone-deaf advice book would be forgotten along with its reviews, but most self-help book authors are not advisors to the sitting president.

These bad reviews may provide some schadenfreude to Ivanka's detractors who think she is complicit in her father's administration. (See Ivanka's interview with CBS' Gayle King to check out her much maligned response to that allegation.) However, they also speak to a broader problem with the narrative she peddles about what it means to be a woman in America today.

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Despite having pretty much no political experience prior to this election, Ivanka has become one of the most influential people in the beleaguered Trump White House. The fact that there is, to a degree, a "Trump White House" at all is a testament to her impact. As Anne Helen Petersen wrote in a BuzzFeed article called "Meet The Ivanka Voter," she played a critical role in persuading white women to vote for her father even after a tape in which he bragged about grabbing women's genitals without their consent became public.

Her influence also extends to a major redefinition of what it means to be a feminist. Although she often shies away from using the word itself, her brand's focus on working women makes it clear that she seeks to be viewed as a kind of women's rights thought leader.

This should be a good thing, right? A White House widely criticized for sexism creates a role for a woman who speaks often about female empowerment? It should be, yes — but Ivanka's stunning ignorance about the world outside of Fifth Avenue makes it clear that her feminism is just for one very specific type of woman.

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I don't mean that people who are white, wealthy, or lucky can't learn about other people's experiences or make a difference for women in the world; I mean that Ivanka, specifically, has not. Most concerningly, that ignorance is reflected in the "women's policies" she has championed.

Her father's childcare and maternity leave plan, which she reportedly helped create, would not actually provide significant help for women who don't have bank accounts that look like Ivanka's. A Tax Policy Center analysis found that under the Trump plan, 70 percent of child care benefits would go to wealthy families.

Meanwhile, a gender pay gap persists, fortified by the expectation that women must prioritize family while men focus on career. The Trumps' maternity leave plan, however, would reinforce this stereotype by offering (partially-funded) leave to women only. The pay gap, moreover, is significantly worse for women of color, who are largely as absent from Ivanka's platitudes about work as they are from her father's administration. In a particularly cringeworthy part of Women Who Work, Ivanka uses a Toni Morrison quote to compare being a working woman to slavery.

That obliviousness has been mirrored by missteps Ivanka has made since the inauguration. The day her father introduced a highly controversial travel ban on Muslim-majority countries, Ivanka drew comparisons to Marie Antoinette when she Instagrammed a picture of herself in an evening dress. The self-proclaimed "passionate advocate for the education and empowerment of women and girls" has remained loyal to her father's administration as he announced plans to dismantle Michelle Obama's "Let Girls Learn" program.

So, are any American women actually better off for Ivanka's role in the White House? She has stood idly by as her father has begun dismantling the feminist policies of the previous administration, collecting Instagram followers and securing Chinese trademarks for her company while on state trips. Fortunately, Ivanka's 21 percent approval rating among Millennial women, according to an April poll conducted through SurveyMonkey, is an indication that young Americans are losing interest in the version of feminism she's selling. That may be because as her time in the White House has made clear, when Ivanka talks about helping "women who work," the only person she really means is herself.