What kind of sexual harassment would Ivanka Trump put up with?
Her father and her brother Eric claim to know—but what about Ivanka herself? Strangely, there has been silence from Trump’s daughter, who impressed many with her lauded, feminism-themed speech at the Republican National Convention a few weeks ago, since pa and bro laid out their odd views in separate interviews.
This seems odd, because Ivanka Trump advertises her support of working women via her blog and the hashtag #womenwhowork. She also spoke volubly for her father as a champion of women at the RNC.
In response to the question, what if someone had treated Ivanka the way ex-Fox News chairman Roger Ailes allegedly did with other women, Donald Trump told USA Today’s Kirsten Powers: “I would like to think she would find another career or find another company if that was the case.”
A more lacking, disengaged response to how to respond to an allegation of sexual harassment can barely be imagined. In Trump’s mind, the immediate response isn’t to listen to what his daughter has to say; to sympathize with her; to assure her he is on her side and that he believes in her—the kinds of things any child would want to hear from a loving parent.
There is no sense, from the CEO, from the man whose business nous we are supposed to respect, that there should be an investigation of the allegations. There is no sense that the allegations should and would be taken seriously.
Instead, in Trump’s mind, when a woman—even his own daughter—tells him that she has been a victim of sexual harassment, the most immediate response is to ask her to walk away. How telling that in Trump’s mind, the onus of the case immediately falls on the victim. It is she, for Trump, who should “find another career or find another company.”
The alleged perpetrator, the company’s responsibility toward the allegedly abused employee—both are absent from Trump’s evaluation. It is for the victim to immediately give up everything she has worked for if she is a victim of workplace harassment. And remember, the imagined victim is his actual daughter.
Adding another layer of incomprehension, Eric Trump on CBS’s This Morning said of sexual harassment, “There is no question that obviously it should be addressed, and it should be addressed strongly. Hey, listen, we all run a company. My father runs a company. That is an absolute no-go anywhere, and that is very much the case.”
So far, so sensible, if not exactly emphatic. Then Eric Trump added: “I think what you’re saying is that Ivanka is a strong, powerful woman. She wouldn’t allow herself to be, you know, objected, you know, to it [he meant subjected]…And by the way, you should certainly take it up with human resources. I think she definitely would as a strong person. At the same time, I don’t think she would allow herself to be subjected to that. And I think that’s a point that he was making and he did so well.”
Megyn Kelly’s response to this interview was perhaps best: a tweet that simply read: “Sigh.”
In Eric Trump’s mind, a strong and powerful person does not allow him- or herself to be sexually harassed. The onus, as with his dad, is on the victim to be “strong” enough to prevent the harassment.
There is no understanding that all kinds of people can be sexually harassed, and that harassment involves one person abusing another, rather than the victim of the harassment inviting it upon themselves. A “powerful” person can be harassed, just as somebody who doesn’t have material or professional power.
In Eric Trump’s mind, the victim is being shamed, rather than the harasser, for having brought the abuse on themselves. Oddly, his view is complementary to his father’s, who suggests that once the abuse has taken place, the correct response is for the victim to slink away.
If anything, at least both Donald and Eric Trump’s opinions show how far employers have to come in understanding, and dealing with, the reality of sexual harassment. The depressing thing is we might have thought we had come further than this.
How did Ivanka feel when she read and saw these remarks from her beloved father and brother? At the RNC, Ivanka pitched herself and her father as practical, and committed, feminists.
Ivanka promised working women she would fight, alongside her also-committed father, to ensure they would be treated equally to men. Quality child care would be made “affordable and accessible for all.” When a woman becomes a mother, she would be “supported, not shut out.”
Ivanka told me, when I asked her in a Town & Country interview, if her father respected women: “Well, clearly. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be where I am. If he didn’t feel that women were as competent as men, I would be relegated to some role subordinate to my brothers. I think this is one of his great strengths: He fully prioritizes merit and accomplishment and skill and ability over background, education, and gender.”
When she said, “I think he’s one of the great advocates for women, and he has been a great example to me my whole life,” I asked if she considered him a feminist.
“He 100 percent believes in equality of gender, so, yes, absolutely—socially, politically, and economically.”
But if that were even one iota true, why his tone-deafness around the issue of sexual harassment?
Oddly, despite her present silence, one answer may come from Ivanka herself. And it is privilege and the possession of power—on the part of father, son, and daughter—that is the common thread among them, and perhaps the key to them truly not grasping the issue.
In a 2009 book, The Trump Card: Playing to Win in Work and Life, Ivanka wrote: “Sexual harassment is never acceptable and we must stand against it…At the same time, we must recognize that our coworkers come in all shapes, stripes and sizes. What might be offensive to one person might appear harmless to another.”
The problem is, you can’t believe the first, then parse it with the second. Sexual harassment is either absolutely wrong and not to be tolerated in any way, or, y’know, sometimes excusable, because that guy in that cubicle believes that, err, it’s OK. It sounds like your very own “religious freedom” opt-out for your workplace.
Ivanka goes into some detail in the book about how she would deal with harassment situations—from laughing off wolf-whistling to dressing more conservatively to taking the abuser aside to tell them their comments had upset her.
In each circumstance, it is the supposed victim who takes on a degree of responsibility for the feelings and motivation of the abuser. It is they who must placate, understand, mollify, and take charge. The abuser’s behavior is left unconsidered.
There is no onus, in Ivanka’s mind, on punishment or reprimand for the abuser, and no notion that the victim should receive strong and proper advocacy from the organization they work for.
On Ivanka’s website, alongside pretty blouses from Ivanka’s clothes collection, there are many stirring quotes from celebrities and business types about how to conduct oneself, such as “I am learning every day to allow the space between where I am and where I want to be to inspire me and not terrify me” (Tracee Ellis Ross); “Begin every day with purpose”; and “Respect honesty and transparency. There is no room for people who can’t give a clear and honest opinion” (Jenna Lyons).
But while the site includes such wisdom-infused pieces as “5 Ways to Deal With Passive-Aggressive People,” and “5 Ways to Earn Your Co-Workers’ Trust (and Keep It for the Long Haul),” an examination of sexual harassment—which one-third of women claim to have been victims of at work, and which surely would echo with a lot of her readers—is absent.
The responses of father, son, and daughter show a lack of awareness that comes not just from immense wealth and power, but also from a fundamental lack of awareness of being a victim of anything.
This, they might proudly say, was a symbol of their strength. But the kind of power Trump wishes to exercise as president also necessarily comes with an understanding of lives lived not as he has lived his. This is something beyond empathy: a necessity as a country’s leader to engage with and vocalize the grit and reality of many different people’s lives.
The saga of the Trumps’ insensitivity about sexual harassment is not just an indictment of lacking genuine feminist props (no surprise there, many would say), but also a failure to understand the reality of sexism, power dynamics, and workplace politics far from the gold and gilt environs of Trump Tower, where the chief participants cannot imagine being victims of harassment—and, more gravely, are unable to countenance the experiences of those who are and have been.