This week, Ivanka Trump has backed a rollback of an Obama-era policy designed to ensure fair pay across racial and gender lines. That’s not a typo. Ivanka, Secretary of Empowerment(™), is now backing policies that make it seem as though she’s undermining her own stated goals. It’s a confusing time.
The Obama rule would have required employers to report employee salaries along with those employees’ race, gender, and age. The rule applied only to employers with more than 100 employees. It was set to be enacted next spring.
Opponents of the mandatory data collection say that the program wouldn’t have helped suss out pay disparity, and would have been “burdensome” to employers. Ivanka, through a spokesperson, agrees. “Ultimately, while I believe the intention was good and agree that pay transparency is important, the proposed policy would not yield the intended results. We look forward to continuing to work with EEOC, OMB, Congress and all relevant stakeholders on robust policies aimed at eliminating the gender wage gap.”
Equal pay advocates have not bought it. Emily Cain, executive director of EMILY’s List, released a scathing statement on the policy. “This policy is a critical part of the fight to end the gender and race discrimination gap in pay. For Donald Trump to block its implementation, simply because, as one of his spokespeople admitted, it was 'burdensome,' is beyond the pale.”
To be fair to Ivanka—although one could argue that she’s had way more chances to screw up than the average person—the program hasn’t been enacted yet, so it’s not clear whether or not it would have been successful (it’s also not clear that it would have been so burdensome that it was necessary for Trump to run interference beforehand). But Ivanka, the human Pinterest page, the walking lifestyle brand, veneer made flesh, should know about how backing a rejection of that program looks. She should have known that a slew of bad headlines were coming, and will keep coming.
Ivanka Trump’s first seven months in Washington can’t have been easy. We know this because report after report cites anonymous sources that say Ivanka is trying her hardest. We see evidence that despite all of her hard trying, none of her stated goals are being accomplished. That’s hard. Failure happens, sometimes despite one’s best efforts.
The first daughter has also, again through anonymous sourcing, conveyed publicly that she’d like people to give her a break. Instead of expecting her to solve all the problems at once, they should judge her by her accomplishments in the specific areas in which she originally sought out to work. Don’t expect her to fix the climate or stave off a Muslim ban; focus instead on equal pay, maternity leave, female entrepreneurship. You know, her #brand.
In a Vanity Fair piece this week, more “sources” “close” to Ivanka and her husband, Jared Kushner, relay the frustration the couple feels. They’re not able to get anything done in Washington, they’re backstabby jerks to their colleagues and also don’t understand why nobody likes them, they’re trying, trying, trying to get things done in their respective areas of expertise. They’re trying, at least, to look like they’re getting things done. They’re doing the most.
They’re also shockingly inept. According to the Vanity Fair piece, Ivanka attempted to broker peace between Planned Parenthood and Republican legislators by meeting with Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards and suggesting the women’s health clinic appease conservatives by no longer performing abortions. Richards wasn’t amenable, so Trump approached board members individually, thus angering Richards and failing to get any closer to a compromise. It’s also been illegal for federal money to pay for abortions in almost all cases since the 1970’s, and no federal money that currently goes to Planned Parenthood currently pays for abortion care. Republicans want it defunded anyway. Ivanka invented a solution that already existed to a problem that is fundamentally unsolvable. That’s the kind of policy genius women have advocating for them.
Ivanka’s public backing of an equal pay rollback can’t accomplish the first daughter’s thinnest of cynical goals. Before this week, the story was that she was trying to do one thing, something dependent on the cooperation of outside forces. Time after time, the outside forces had not cooperated, and so the thing did not get accomplished. Embracing what looks like an anti-equal pay measure is a new departure for the first daughter. It makes it look like she isn’t actually trying at all, that she’s actively working to undermine her own stated goals. This is new dark timeline Ivanka. Now, she doesn’t even look like she’s trying.
Few things matter less to people actually affected by pay disparity than the survival of Ivanka’s brand. They’re probably much more concerned with making less money for equal work.
But Ivanka, The Brand’s slow unravel is worth celebrating, if only for what might come next. Perhaps as the silly endpoint of empowerment chic squirms under the microscope, as it vanishes when any heat is applied, the word “feminist” can start to mean something again. Maybe, once Ivanka is done with it, she will have dragged into the light everything ridiculous about her platitude-based activism. Maybe then, we can actually get something done.