Ivanka Trump: Poster Child of Feminism-Lite
By Abigail E. Disney
Because I occupy a similar social rung as Ivanka Trump — that is, the teeny-tiny demographic composed of the daughters of wealthy, powerful families thrust into not necessarily chosen (or relished) spotlights — I feel like I need to weigh in on the idea that some people have that she will act as a moderating force on her father.
First of all, the assumption that she has moderate views, or if she has such views that she cares deeply enough about them to be able to affect her father’s actions…or that she has any views of her own at all… takes a pretty big leap of logic. And our experience of her has provided us little to no grounding for that leap.
What we do know is that so far her father has attacked everything we feared he’d attack: birth control, abortion rights, undocumented residents, Muslims, foreigners, the environment, yada yada yada.
Where’s Ivanka in all this? Crickets.
There is little reason not to think that Ivanka is, at best, deeply ineffective and, at worst, thoroughly on-board with her father’s regressive agenda.
Given the twin American idolatries—celebrity and beauty—it is very common to imagine that people who are famous and gorgeous might be nicer than us mere mortals.
Where was she when the White House was staging all of those all-male, all-white photo ops at the discussions of women’s health? Not a peep.
Has she had anything to say about the administration’s determination to kill Planned Parenthood? Deafening silence.
Paris accords? More crickets.
Give me a perpetrator over an enabler any day. At least you know where you stand with the perpetrator.
But the enabler is the most contemptible variety of human. The enabler smiles bashfully, and maybe even blushes a little, while the environment is brazenly raped right under her nose. “Who me? What can I possibly do about that?” The enabler feigns helplessness when helplessness suits, and power, when power suits. And the enabler quietly scoops up the spoils of her proximity to power, passive-aggressively reaping the money and power to be gained while the American carnage goes loudly on about her.
I blame feminism-lite for Ivanka.
I’ve been around long enough to know the difference between fem-lite and real Feminism. The difference is stark and existential. It is the difference between accommodation and paradigm shift.
What do I mean by fem-lite? Well, I can remember when I started working in this space called feminism in the early 1990s. Going into it, I was a little afraid to use the F-word, even for myself. Sometimes, in the early days, I’d hear the word “patriarchy” and I’d think, “Dear me, the language!! Don’t scare off the men!”
As I spent more time learning about the low-income women, the immigrant women, the women of color, the trans and gay and gender-questioning people of all stripes, I began to understand that, without a holistic analysis of class, race, and gender, feminism was nothing but a way for white, upper-middle class, professional women to make things more comfortable for themselves at work.
I don’t mean to dismiss the travails of white, upper-middle class women. There are still egregious gaps at the tops of our businesses, our boards of directors, our powerful institutions. Sexual harassment continues to make for hostile work environments. Prejudice — both explicit and implicit — cuts off many paths to success.
But what I started to see was that there was a wide swath of women, mostly White and mostly upper-middle class, who called themselves feminists, but were content to stop there. They got uncomfortable when you mentioned access to reproductive healthcare, with or without choice in the mix. They fidgeted through the discussions about how much more heavily poverty weighed on women than on men. And race? They positively stampeded for the exits; the dialogue scared them so much. As for the question of the vast and murky world of non-binary gender thinking, well, that was a conversation that never started.
“Fem-lite” has given us two things, both good, but not nearly enough on their own: the push for women in leadership and the push for self-esteem for girls.
I’m thrilled when we shed a little tear as the music swells and the girl from the village lifts her diploma up in a victorious celebration of her unlikely success. But when we stop there we are not addressing the fact that her success was unlikely to begin with. We pay no attention to all the other girls in the village who didn’t win that particular lottery. We content ourselves with her joy, which is unquestionably good, but leave the root causes fully intact.
That is why “fem-lite” gets along perfectly well with patriarchy. In fact, when “fem-lite” only pursues its own interests, it positively reinforces all the rules, systems, and prejudices that end up being the bane of the existence of all the women who can’t afford an Ivanka dress at Nordstrom.
Without a class,race and gender analysis, without a willingness to look angry and be controversial, feminism runs the risk of being a safe harbor for the timid and self-satisfied. This is how Ivanka sees nothing wrong with calling herself and even–and this makes me urp in my mouth a little bit–her father a feminist. The feminism they are pushing is terribly aggrieved by a woman who didn’t have a chance to go to college, but not a bit worried about the millions and even billions of women who never got to consider the question because they were gender-selected out of existence. Or they are so traumatized by sexual abuse that they couldn’t handle college, or so brutally bullied for their non-conformity that they committed suicide before high school was over, or so out of choices to support themselves and their children that they are selling themselves to random strangers, or so just plain old garden-variety poor that it’d have been laughable to imagine such a thing, or Black or Brown or undocumented or unlettered or or or or….. Need I continue?
Without a serious effort to dismantle systems we will be stuck at this stupid place forever. Magazines will continue to wonder why we are so mean to each other, columnists will declare the age of feminism to be over every year or so, presidential candidates will still be asked who they are wearing rather than what they are supporting.
If White, upper-middle class women do not use their privilege to bring intersectional feminism to the fore they might as well be staring straight into a well full of drowning sisters and refusing to toss the ladder down.
If you have a life jacket in your hands and you don’t throw it to the drowning swimmer, are you a murderer? Please don’t tell me that’s a complicated question. Yes, yes you are a murderer. Because our challenge in life is not to never offend, to never be seen as not very nice, to never get into a scrap, simply to make ourselves presentable, and pleasant-seeming. The bar for being a decent human being is a lot higher than that.
If you do not use your wealth and privilege to help those who aren’t as lucky as you, shame on you. If you use your wealth, privilege, and access to isolate yourself from the misfortunes of others and plead ignorance as to conditions out there, shame on you. And worse, if you fail everyone else but yourself and those closest to you, but still use your wealth, privilege, and access to create the impression that you are some kind of heroine, shame on you.
Abigail E. Disney is a filmmaker, activist, philanthropist and is on the Auburn board. Her most recent film, Armor of Light is playing now.