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Women Who Work: Ivanka Trump’s Personal Brand

2018 has been designated the Year of the Woman, and the midterm elections have confirmed the title. Though still far from attaining equal representation in the government, women won a record-breaking 117 leadership seats. With so many women taking office, it is worth looking at the females currently on Capitol Hill. One in particular has had a prominent presence in the current administration: Ivanka Trump. With an unprecedented role in her father’s administration, she exists in a limbo, holding no official title but having her own Chief of Staff and White House office. Love her or hate her, America has an inexplicable fascination with Ivanka Trump. According to Kate Brower, author of First Women: The Grace and Power of America’s Modern First Ladies, this appeal is because “she’s beautiful, well-spoken, calm, almost steely, so collected and so opposite to her father…Americans will like what they see: a young, charming and beautiful woman…a mother of three; a smart and successful business woman; a reality star…a deft user of social media to burnish her perfect-family image.”

Arguably her father’s favorite child, Ivanka has been entrusted with meeting important international figureheads and has helped shape the country’s child-care and maternity policies, among others. Her influence not only touches the administration’s agenda but extends to the President himself. Following the shooting at the Pittsburgh synagogue, Ivanka and Jared Kushner counseled the President to visit Pittsburgh despite pushback from city officials and a portion of the Jewish population. Her hand in politics, experienced or not, is undeniably softer than her father’s, and the public has noticed this difference. Her recent response on Instagram to the California wildfires garnered much social media praise. The post sent “love and prayers to the people, animals, and wildlife” and commended the “courageous firefighters;” this was a marked contrast from her father’s accusatory language blaming poor forest management for the fires. Commentators called Ivanka the “good cop to [her] father’s bad cop,” and some even wished that “she [could] take over for her father.” Ashton Kutcher, a politically vocal celebrity, called upon her, not the president, to consider gun reform. This is the image Ivanka Trump, with her eponymous multimillion fashion brand, has cultivated: feminine, polished, empathetic—and able to appeal to audiences in a way her father’s abrasiveness cannot. Donald Trump, master of promoting his personal brand, has recognized and capitalized on Ivanka’s mediating influence. She often acts as a foil to her father, a shield when he is accused of sexism and misogyny.

However, this image is dangerously deceptive. Ivanka continues to portray herself as a champion of women, flying around the world speaking about female empowerment. Her latest book, “Women Who Work,” is intended to help women “achieve self-actualization.” However, her actions show otherwise. “Women Who Work” comes from a position of wealth and privilege, where she declares that paying bills and grocery shopping are “not enormously impactful,” (to one’s daily productivity) and is painfully oblivious that her primary form of child care relies on nannies, a luxury many cannot afford. In the spirit of “female empowerment,” she advocated for Kim Reynolds’ campaign, a Republican who became Iowa’s governor last year. Republicans lauded Reynolds for signing the strictest abortion ban in the United States, which holds that doctors cannot perform abortions once a fetal heartbeat has been discovered. The discrepancy between her words and actions is indicative of her true values, which appear to be quite in line with her father’s. Yet she has received far less reproach compared to politicians who have failed to deliver on their promises. Granted, she is not an elected official; however, if she is choosing to actively involve herself in White House politics, she should be held up to an equal level of scrutiny as policymakers. Yet since the 2016 election, she has cleverly propagated traditional gender stereotypes—delicate, fashionable, patrician—to create an untouchable, do-no-wrong persona—although this has begun to somewhat erode as people recognize Ivanka’s hypocrisy. When criticized for her inaction, she often cites that she has no real authority in the administration and that she can only talk to her father. She has “talked” to her father about climate change, about separating children at the border, all to no avail. Ivanka has created a facsimile of power without having any legitimate claim—“power with no accountability.” It is the public’s perception of Ivanka Trump that allows one to overlook her actions, even if they blatantly go against what she vouches for.

Despite her prominence in the media and by her father’s side, Ivanka Trump has no true political power. But we must make sure those we elect to office and who hold real power will endorse the people and policies that will not infringe on basic human rights. With the recent election, the presence of assertive women in positions of power should be the norm. Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) was the first senator in history to give birth while in office, which gave her the opportunity to address flaws in maternity leave policies. She further made history by casting a vote on the Senate floor while holding her newborn infant—Congressional rules dictate senators must be physically present to vote. This was made possible by her fellow Congressmen, who voted to allow newborn babies on the Senate floor to accommodate Duckworth and future female legislators. While this rule change is not applicable to the general population, it does demonstrate that women spearhead legislation that minimize the gender disparities and normalize motherhood; indeed, female politicians tend to support bills that are more likely to benefit women and children or address issues like education, health, and poverty. Women in office will bring change in Washington, which will in turn reverberate throughout the entire nation.

Photo: “Ivanka Trump at Ashton PA on September 13th, 2016 01”

About the Author

Angela Luo '20 is a Staff Writer for the Culture Section of the Brown Political Review. Angela can be reached at