False Feminism

Half stately, mahogany portraits of herself — impeccably clothed and surrounded by a throng of world leaders – and half smooth, unblemished, and beautifully lit family pictures, Ivanka Trump’s Instagram is truly a work of art. Perching her baby on one hip while taking an ever-important business call is all part of her supermommy-like brand; she wants to let working women know that they can have it all — perfect career, cherubic children, loving marriage — just like her. She has the book and hashtag to prove it.

Of course, this is hardly the entire story. Trump’s brand sells cutesy dresses, purses, and heels for the empowered professional — all of which are highly inaccessible and/or impractical for the vast majority of working women. Similarly, her feminism almost exclusively serves upper-class entrepreneurs such as herself: those who can hire nannies and assistants and other various forms of help for the incredible workload that comes with being both a mother and a business owner. Most working women, all of whom Trump is claiming to champion, have no such luxury. Regardless, as she stated to Vogue, Ivanka Trump’s campaign attempts mainly to change the perception that women’s work isn’t “marketable” or “sexy,” rather than address the fact that work is an unavoidable reality for thousands of women with far fewer resources to help them.

Furthermore, the policies Ivanka Trump champions hurt working women — especially the paid maternity leave plan she pushed that applies exclusively to married biological mothers. Not only does this plan disadvantage adoptive parents, it also excludes fathers — ultimately making women (or those who will go on to have children) costlier for companies to hire, and thereby systematically discouraging the employment of women workers altogether. Even disregarding all those flaws, the plan only provides for six weeks of leave, which experts (as well as directors of nonprofits doing much more for working women, such as Ellen Bravo and Vivien Labaton) agree is not enough time for mothers to recover from pregnancy and bond with their children.

The larger childcare policy this plan is nestled within is flawed even further. It allows parents earning less than a certain income, $250,000 for individuals or $500,000 for couples, to deduct childcare expenses from their income taxes. However, the plan blatantly overlooks families whose incomes are too low to pay taxes — again failing to make paid childcare or parental leave a valid option for far too many working mothers.

But the biggest hole in Trump’s veritably Swiss-cheesed feminism is neither her advertising campaign nor her flawed policy choices. It is that, despite everything, she continues to support her father, and has also left both her brand and the Trump organization in order to move to Washington and serve as an unpaid presidential advisor — almost mocking the women who have spent years, if not decades, climbing the political ladder to strive for such a position. Donald Trump’s overt misogyny is fundamentally incompatible with the ideals Ivanka Trump claims to support — an overwhelmingly obvious point that has been discussed at great length since even before the inauguration. But it remains that a purportedly empowered working woman (with a robust life outside her familial obligations) still chooses to be complicit in the activities of a man who has and will continue to hurt more women than her feminism will ever help. More than that, she firmly maintains that her father is a feminist.

Perhaps Ivanka Trump’s feminism is so utterly flawed because it isn’t feminism at all — it’s really just the same set of traditional personal and familial values packaged in a slightly different way for the modern woman. She doesn’t champion working women; she champions traditional femininity, multitasking motherhood, and the perfect “empowering” stiletto. Moreover, her feminism requires no assistance or lifestyle adjustments from the men around her. Her husband doesn’t have to tweet about helping around the house and with the children while she goes off to work, and her father apparently doesn’t have to possess an iota of respect for women in order to be considered a feminist as well. Her brand meshes sexist expectations about women as passive helpers and nurturers with the vastly different reality many American women face today, expecting them to handle the stresses of working full-time along with all the pressures of motherhood and general domesticity — all while blindly cheering from the sidelines for the men in their life. This is not at all a realistic expectation for the majority of working women, who already have very little help within the encouraged traditional family setting; those who do strive for Trump’s superhuman ideal often face heightened depression, anxiety, and marital strife. Though she markets it perfectly, her model of womanhood is neither safe, accessible, nor ultimately meaningful.

Meanwhile, she tweets another smiling picture — children in arm, immaculately dressed.