Last week, Ivanka Trump posted a photo to her Instagram account from inside the White House. She’s seen perched on a window sill dressed in stylish business attire, while simultaneously taking a call and balancing her youngest son, Theodore, on her lap. To many, it was the quintessential portrait of a feminist: a working mom balancing career with family — quite literally.
The photo has since garnered over 260,000 likes and more than 6,700 comments, most of which are positive.
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Another comment from @shelley4002 reads: “Great example of a successful working mom. Open your own shop and show the retailers how much support you really have.”
The photograph is indeed a perfect snapshot of Ivanka’s “women who work” mission statement, a feminist manifesto that she has espoused commercially since 2007 when she launched her eponymous fashion brand.
“Ivanka’s photo is a very carefully cultivated image of power and conservative feminism,” says Harriet Dyer, author of The Little Book of Feminism. “There are lots of symbols at play: the mobile phone, the sharp heels, the black trousers and top all speaking to her image of a businesswoman, while it’s all softened by the laughing baby on her hip. It’s an image of perfection and perfect balance between two symbols of success for women: power and children.”
Except there’s one glaring discrepancy: what work is she doing, exactly? She has no official position within her father’s — U.S. President Donald Trump‘s — administration, and she has distanced herself from any involvement in the Trump Organization and her Ivanka Trump brand.
She and her family moved from New York to Washington, D.C., to accommodate her husband’s new job as senior adviser to the president. And as far as she’s divulged to the press, her main job in Washington right now is to “settle our three young children into their new home and schools.”
Some argue that her carefully curated feminism is little more than a ruse to appease the left, or what Andi Zeisler, author of We Were Feminists Once: From Riot Grrrl to CoverGirl, the Buying and Selling of a Political Movement and co-founder of Bitch magazine, calls “peak marketplace feminism.”
“She’s among the many people who have opportunistically grasped at the label as a means of trying to appear relevant to women,” she said to The Guardian.
Others argue that she’s being used as a beautiful, blonde and misleadingly progressive smokescreen to her father’s traditional right-wing politics.
“In his typical narcissistic fashion, Trump respects and admires her only because she and her beautiful family make him look good,” says Janet Allured, director of women’s studies at McNeese State University and author of Remapping Second-Wave Feminism: The Long Women’s Rights Movement in Louisiana, 1950-1997.
“She’s not an independent working woman. She is riding her father’s coattails. She gave a moderately feminist speech at the convention, but none, or nearly none, of the policies she endorsed were in the Republican platform.”
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During Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s visit to the White House yesterday, Ivanka participated in the first round-table meeting of the newly minted Canada-United States Council for Advancement of Women Entrepreneurs and Business Leaders. The joint initiative, which was first pitched by Trudeau’s chief of staff Katie Telford, aims to boost women-led businesses and address issues specific to women in the workplace, like balancing work and family.
Ivanka, who reportedly helped select the participants and set the agenda, sat next to Trudeau and addressed the room after the president and prime minister made their opening remarks.
“I am really looking forward to hearing from each of you. You have served as tremendous role models for me and so many other business leaders,” she said to the likes of Elyse Allan of GE Canada and Mary Barra of General Motors.
It remains unclear what her role is in this initiative or any women’s initiatives that she spoke about on the campaign trail, which further muddles her message to modern women. Not to mention, according to some, the message she delivered during the campaign wasn’t that pro-woman to begin with.
“Her proposal for maternity leave is weak, at best,” Allured says. “First of all, it should be paid family leave, not only for mothers. And she’s only proposing government support to mothers for six weeks, and only if they can prove legal married status. It appears to exclude adopted children and same-sex couples.”
If Ivanka has demonstrated anything in her social media activity, it’s that she’s currently living out a privileged dream — she gets to enjoy all the spoils of the White House without actually doing any work, some experts argue. She has access to the country’s highest office because of her father, and her access is further broadened by her husband’s appointment. Basically, Ivanka didn’t do anything to get to the White House; the men in her life did.
“Here’s a woman, and she’s in the White House, but why?” Juliet Williams, a professor of gender studies and chair of the social science interdepartmental program at UCLA, said in an interview with Yahoo Style.
“Was she elected president? Was any woman elected? No. A powerful man — her dad — brought her there. And then we see her wearing a business suit, and she’s on the phone — is this because she works in the White House? No. Her husband does. Her dad does. But she actually has been excluded from any kind of official recognition. I don’t know what kind of feminism that is.”