EMPTY WORDS

Ivanka Trump’s Feminist Failure Was Sharply Evident in Berlin

In Berlin, Ivanka Trump was booed and hissed at when she spoke up for her father. When will her stirring pro-woman statements be matched by action?

Hannibal Hanschke/Reuters

The G20 women’s summit in Berlin was a day of firsts for Ivanka Trump: the first time she was asked, on a panel broadcast around the world, what exactly her role as assistant to President Trump entails; the first time she publicly discussed women’s economic empowerment—her vague and signature cause in the West Wing—alongside prominent political and economic leaders like IMF chief Christine Lagarde and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and the first time that she was booed and hissed for defending her father.

The appearance was arguably her biggest public failure yet in her new role in the White House. She failed to propose concrete policies for implementing change as assistant to the president. She failed to clearly articulate how women’s economic empowerment can be achieved on a global level. She failed to stray from the script when standing up for her father—and the audience at the G20 summit rightly called bullshit on her rote defense.

She launched into a discussion about the United States’ lack of paid family leave by championing the Trump administration's proposed paid leave policy and affirming her allegiance to her father (“I’m proud of [his] advocacy”), before reciting objectively false statements about him being “a tremendous champion of supporting families and enabling them to thrive” during his campaign.

Her remarks were received with groans from the audience—an audible eyeroll that Ivanka will surely be confronted with on other public stages if she continues to reference herself and the “thousands of women who have worked for him” as proof that President Trump cares about women’s issues.

The German women in the audience didn’t buy it, and many women in Trump’s America don’t buy it either.

In Berlin, Ivanka reportedly raised her hand when asked if she too was a feminist, with a qualification that "labeling" can have an "aspect of negativity." She placed herself in the school of so-called equality feminism as opposed to gender feminism, clarifying that she is a feminist who believes in "social and political equality for all genders."

She blamed the media for fueling the perception that her father has often denigrated rather than supported women. Pressed by the panel’s moderator about her father’s reputation, she vouched for him “as a daughter” rather than as an advisor to the president. “I grew up in a house where there was no barrier to what I could accomplish beyond my own perseverance and tenacity,” she said, as if reading aloud from her first book. “That’s not an easy thing to do; he provided that for us.”

If Ivanka wants to be taken seriously in her official White House role, she should start by promoting her causes as an assistant to the president rather than playing the “daughter” card to argue that the administration will fight for women. Can Ivanka say something substantive about women’s economic empowerment under her father’s administration without invoking the supposed equality she feels she's experienced by dint of her own background?

In the month since she officially given a job in the White House, Ivanka has failed to articulate how she will implement change in that role, instead serving up an empty-calorie word soup about the gender wage gap and the importance of supporting women entrepreneurs and women in small business.

“The World Economic Forum’s 2016 Global Gender Gap Report estimated that achieving economic parity between genders could take 170 years,” she wrote in a Financial Times op-ed on Monday. “That is unacceptable.”

Using these issues as talking points to sell a clothing line worked for Ivanka. But in the service of government, her bland, recycled statements of equality are meaningless until she acts on them, or shows that she can influence her father for social good. If she can’t, the boos and hisses may confront her closer to home next time.