Given what’s happened since, revisiting the summer of 2016 feels a bit like biting down on a popsicle with a broken crown. It must feel especially raw to Ivanka Trump.
Last July, the favorite Trump child delivered an address to the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. Ivanka spoke for 15 minutes, her pin-straight blond hair blowing gently away from her poreless face and calm Chiclet smile. The speech was as devoid of substance as most convention speeches, but in a week characterized by fearful main-stage bile, hers—the rhetorical equivalent of a bowl of frosting—felt like a relief.
“As president, my father will change the labor laws that were put into place at a time when women were not a significant portion of the workforce,” Ivanka said. “And he will focus on making quality child care affordable and accessible for all.”
She added, “Policies that allow women with children to thrive should not be novelties, they should be the norm. Politicians talk about wage equality, but my father has made it a practice at his company throughout his entire career. He will fight for equal pay for equal work, and I will fight for this too, right alongside of him.”
Ivanka’s lines wouldn’t be out of place in an equally fluffy Democratic National Convention speech. But because convention politics are more about the messenger than the message, the crowd applauded wildly.
Now, a year and change later, Ivanka’s in an all-white office in the White House, better positioned than ever before to make her pretty dreams a reality. But talk is cheap, action is expensive, and the first daughter is finding “softening” her father more difficult than reading off a teleprompter.
According to a Politico piece published this weekend, the first daughter is finding that her much-touted influence over her father’s agenda isn’t quite as effective as liberals hoped it would be. In fact, the pudding has been so bereft of proof that it seems Ivanka is either an ineffective advocate, or not advocating for her stated causes at all.
President Trump has not fought for equal pay. He has not fought for maternity leave. In fact, in April he signed an executive order rolling back Obama-era equal-pay protections, and his proposed budget would make life much more difficult for low-income mothers by slashing health benefit programs they rely on, like Medicaid.
If Ivanka were taking the stage at a political gathering now, it’s hard to imagine she’d give the same speech she gave a year ago.
According to Politico, Ivanka would now prefer people lower their expectations for her, perhaps to a bar that she can clear. Rather than chastising her for failing to get her father to do a single thing to benefit women, they should judge her on her ability to get a family-leave plan jammed through Congress and signed. Rather than tsk-tsking her half-assed tweeted support of the LGBTQ community as her father ordered (also via Twitter) that trans troops be banned from serving in the U.S. military, Ivanka watchers should look solely at her pet issues: maternity leave and equal pay.
She wants people to focus on her victories, like the fund at the World Bank that took money from Saudi Arabia and Yemen, a fund that will support women entrepreneurs around the world.
Even if she ends up succeeding on paper and getting a Congress that can’t pass anything to pass mandatory maternity leave (which, if we’re being honest, is more of a tax break to businesses than anything) and equal pay, the first daughter’s brand of advocacy is nonsensical and outdated.
Ivanka’s pet issues overlook large swaths of the population, and don’t make sense alone. Maternity leave seems like a stupid fight to wage without also advocating for women’s right to choose when and how they become mothers, or advocating that women who do choose to become mothers are able to access high-quality, affordable prenatal care. Equal pay is a nice thought, but it doesn’t make sense without pushing for rights for workers at all income levels, including women who clean office buildings, care for the infirm, and wash dishes. Empowering entrepreneurs is great, but how would that work without child-care options? Most women can’t afford two nannies like Ivanka or her fellow high-level female White House staffers. Most women can barely afford day care. Trying to advance women and girls without addressing Ivanka’s apparent blind spots is like trying to make bread without yeast.
Ivanka’s advocacy is advocacy without the sharp parts, and it’s outdated. Advocates for women’s empowerment know better, collectively, than to believe women can advance when the needs of the least empowered are ignored in favor of alley-oop victories for the most privileged. Ivanka is marketing empowerment to the same people to whom she marketed aggressively basic separates for Nordstrom: moderately affluent, educated, and white-collar.
What Ivanka wants to be held to is a half-ideology, which, for all it can accomplish without key issues, might as well not be pro-woman at all.
“When I was a child, my father always told me ‘Ivanka, if you’re going to be thinking anyway, you might as well think big,’” Ivanka said at the RNC. But a year later, when it comes to President Trump and his Ivanka-championed pro-woman agenda, the American people should think so small that it might as well be nothing.