When I think about Ivanka Trump, I think a lot about the 53 percent of white women in the electorate who voted for her father.
The 53 percent who voted for Donald J. Trump in the presidential election cast a ballot for a man who said he’d punish women for having abortions (and then walked it back). He bragged about sexually assaulting women. He said that equal-pay laws were antithetical to capitalism, though he didn’t use the word “antithetical” because it has too many syllables. On April 14, 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, where women across America receive affordable health care, of resources.
How did he get so many people to vote against their own freedom (such as it is)? Ivanka holds the key. And Ivanka carries the water for a regime branded “Trump” that is oppressive to women of all kinds—all in the name of what she calls feminism.
In Berlin on Tuesday, Ivanka appeared on a panel with Angela Merkel, chancellor of Germany; Christine Lagarde, director of the International Monetary Fund; Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland; and Queen Maxima of the Netherlands. Discussing issues facing women entrepreneurs, Ivanka was met with boos and hisses when she described her father, the president, as a supporter of women’s workplace ambitions and a champion of families. She touted her own brainchild: the Trump paid family leave proposal, which is really just a maternity leave proposal for people who actually undergo the process of giving birth. (Are you adopting? No leave for you!) To access the paid leave, a new parent would have to use six weeks of unemployment insurance, taking from the cushion she would have if she were to lose her job. “I’m very proud of my father’s advocacy,” Ivanka said.
Politico’s Annie Karni reports that Ivanka described herself as a feminist. Her appearance at the Berlin event came at Merkel’s invitation, but the moderator seemed perplexed at the role Ivanka was playing at the event—and in life. Per Karni, moderator Miriam Meckel of the publication WirtschaftsWoche asked:
“The German audience is not that familiar with the concept of a first daughter. I’d like to ask you, what is your role, and who are you representing, your father as president of the United States, the American people, or your business?”
Ivanka’s answer was vague, not defining her role but asserting her commitment to empowering women in the workplace.
But the moderator’s question gets to the heart of the stagecraft entrusted to Ivanka. To women invested in a system of white patriarchy, Ivanka symbolizes a triumph—a woman living richly with almost all the freedom she could ever want so long as she moves within rather rigid parameters and doesn’t ask for more than that. Having done a cost-benefit analysis, she concluded that the deal works for her, so she’s happy to sell out women around the globe, American women of limited means who need screenings for women’s cancers and other diseases, and women who are sick of being paid less than a man for doing the same work.
Ivanka symbolizes a triumph—a woman living richly with almost all the freedom she could ever want so long as she moves within rather rigid parameters and doesn’t ask for more than that.
What Ivanka is selling is far more dangerous than it appears, wrapped as it is in pastels and good lighting. In the age of web-based video, moving images of Ivanka have a whiff of Leni Riefenstahl, if not in style, then in substance. Ivanka is as stylized as the images of Aryan beauty in Riefenstahl’s propaganda films for the Third Reich, a sort of poetry in motion with an operatic quality, tall and blonde and polished to perfection. The underlying message: This is what real feminism looks like.
She a fairytale princess who gets to leave the castle from time to time, finely dressed to meet with world leaders. She is the beautiful patroness of feminist-sounding anti-feminism, a walking argument for venerating her great, white father.
Little girls are watching, just as they have watched first ladies for their cues since the beginning of the age of television. But Ivanka is not the first lady; she is the first daughter, modeling for the nation, in a pervasive way, the benefits of being a daughter of the patriarchy. Explaining how she squares her own self-proclaimed feminism with the anti-woman utterances of her father, she told the Berlin audience: “I think the fact that he’s embraced my interest in taking on this role shows that he aligns with the interests I most deeply care about and advocate for. Otherwise it wouldn’t make for a very good family dynamic.” As if, in a family so centered around the patriarch, there could possibly be a family dynamic that is good.
Ivanka said she would advocate for “incremental” change on women’s behalf. It’s hard to make sweeping change when you’re locked in an opulent tower branded with your father’s name.
In a February 16, 2016, interview by Boston Public Radio, host Margery Eagan asked Ivanka whether she were pro-choice. Her response was telling: “I don’t feel like it’s my role ... I’m the daughter … I don’t think my politics are relevant to the discussion.” This, as she served as her father’s surrogate on the campaign trail.
I’m the daughter.
INTERNALIZED MISOGYNY IS not a new thing, and the Trumps have already benefited mightily from it, given the data gleaned from exit polls. Now they are working it hard, all in the name of consolidating power.
Among the 53 percent, many—perhaps most—voted for Trump because their racial identity and resentment was more important to them than the preservation and advancement of their own rights. How else can one explain voting for a candidate who embraced white supremacists and made a big show of forcibly removing black protesters from his campaign rallies?
It’s part and parcel of an extreme discomfort among certain segments of the white population at the changes in social order set in motion by 20th-century movements for the rights of marginalized people. Any wish to go back to the days before those changes were afoot is rooted in a notion that things were better for you, and for America, before the civil rights and immigrant rights and feminist movements cast doubt upon whether a guy who looks like your dad would continue to work for another guy who looks like him—and whether you would be made to work for somebody who doesn’t look like your dad. Because it’s all about Dad.
A good dad will let you run your own business and take you into his palace to play a major supporting role in the propaganda for his power-quest. Ivanka is the embodiment of the patriarch’s dream of a good daughter and an iconic figure for selling a cultural identity that among its many injustices demands the subjugation of women.
Ivanka subjugates herself so beautifully, all in the service of the brand, and it seems to have earned her a pretty good life, at least by her own reckoning. Her emulators among the masses may come to find themselves not so lucky.
Adele M. Stan was recently awarded the 2017 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.