While her father angrily fights a flood of accusations, Ivanka Trump seems to be operating in another reality. In Pennsylvania on Thursday, she smiled and called her father a “great dad” and “a leader” while dodging questions about about his alleged bad behavior.
But continued silence isn’t an option for her.
That’s because Ivanka has been Donald Trump’s chief defender when it comes to his treatment of women. With dignified calm, she’s denied previous accusations of harassment directed at her dad, justified his behavior, and dismissed women who’ve spoken out about him. She’s been a polished, polite enabler.
She’s done this while positioning herself as a public spokeswoman for professional women. She told Harper’s Bazaar, “I’m a huge advocate for women and women’s issues.” Her signature hashtag #WomenWhoWork is also a lifestyle brand, a website, and the title of her new book, through which she hopes to “redefine what it means to be a modern working woman.” On her website she writes, “I want to inspire and empower women to architect the lives they love.”
Yet throughout Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, Ivanka Trump has failed to stand for women in four important ways:
1. Dismissing Accusers
A May report in The New York Times, headlined “Crossing the Line: How Donald Trump Behaved With Women in Private,” quoted by name multiple women who detailed harassing behavior at the hands of Donald Trump. The women described experiences eerily similar to the bragging claims Trump made to Billy Bush: grabbing their genitals, kissing them against their will, ogling them backstage. Responding to the Times story, Ivanka declared: “I’m not in every interaction my father has, but he’s not a groper,” blithely dismissing the experiences of these women.
She moved into victim-blaming when she told TV’s Doctor Oz, who asked about the unkind things Donald has said about women over the years, that her father, “Can be a little rough with people once in a while, but it is often that they are coming at you first.”
In other words, ladies, boys will be boys and you shouldn’t have made this boy angry. The message to any woman who speaks out: You’re on your own.
2. Justifying “Rough” Behavior
In August, Donald Trump told USA Today’s Kirsten Powers that if Ivanka were harassed “I would like to think she would find another career or find another company.” (This in response to a question about sexual-harassment charges leveled at Roger Ailes, the deposed Fox News chief turned Trump campaign adviser.)
Brother Eric told Charlie Rose, “I don’t think she would allow herself to be subjected to that” because she’s “a strong powerful woman.”
Ivanka herself told Fox News that harassment is “totally inexcusable” and needs to “be dealt with on a company level.” But she let her father and brother’s chauvinistic stereotypes stand unchallenged. A true champion for women might have explained that strength has nothing to do with getting harassed and women shouldn’t bear the burden of changing jobs when they’re targeted by creeps. Now, with more women alleging harassment, one has to wonder what role Ivanka, a senior executive at the Trump Organization, has played in protecting her dad and a workplace culture that sounds anything but modern.
3. Selling Advocacy, #WomenWhoWork
After the Republican convention, Ivanka tweeted: “Shop Ivanka’s look from her RNC speech.” It included a link to the light pink dress she wore on TV, for sale at Macy’s for just $138. This week, while saying nothing about the mounting accusations of groping by her dad, Ivanka launched a new #WomenWhoWork campaign (“Celebrating women who work—at all aspects of their lives”).
She’s used the presidential election to promote what she calls her “personal brand” as an enlightened CEO who supports other women. She’s hoping we’ll buy it—along with her $58 compression leggings. Is it possible that “Ivanka the Advocate” is little more than savvy marketing?
“Ivanka the Advocate” extols the virtues of helping others “create the lives they want to live,” but a report by racked.com alleges a factory in China that produced her shoes has near-sweatshop conditions. On the campaign trail, “Ivanka the Advocate” champions expanded maternity leave, but her former chief marketing officer tells New York magazine that at IvankaTrump.com she had to fight to get maternity leave. If true, Ivanka’s advocacy is more pose than practice.
4. Staying Silent on Assault Allegations
It’s not too late. This is the moment for Ivanka Trump to speak.
It might be difficult to challenge a powerful father. But a self-proclaimed “huge advocate for women and women’s issues” shouldn’t stay silent in the face of discrimination.
Other political children have disagreed with their powerful parents to great effect. Just think of Mary Cheney, who, by refusing to hide her truth or her politics, changed her father Dick Cheneys’ views about gay marriage. In doing so, she made a difference.
Ivanka is a mother and a wife. It would be natural for her to say she hopes her children grow up in a world where unwanted advances of the kind her father described are unacceptable. She could politely disagree with her father, making clear his grope-y chatter is not acceptable—in the locker room or outside it. She could vow to do whatever it takes to ensure the Trump Organization’s workplace reflects the values for which she claims to stand.
But she has done none of that. Unless she speaks, Ivanka Trump is confusing advocacy with a branding strategy. Her silence makes her part of the problem.
It’s time for Ivanka Trump to either speak up for professional women, or stop claiming to speak for us.