Instead of joining a movement or speaking out about Black Lives Matter, Kendall Jenner cashed a Pepsi check for playing a protester. Taylor Swift, who’s identified as a feminist for years, encouraged her billions of fans and followers to vote, but didn’t publicly denounce the candidate whose policies punished women. Ivanka Trump, a woman who dares to cite female empowerment and defend her pussy-grabbing father in the same breath, is quickly becoming the face of pseudo-feminism. At this rate, SNL’s “Complicit” perfume brand will be sold in more stores than Ivanka Trump’s fashion line.
While a pop singer and a social-media supermodel shouldn’t be held to the same standards as a White House employee, these three women exemplify a disturbing trend: the ability to shirk off their convictions and abandon their moral compasses for fame and profit.
Ivanka’s egregious fake feminism has been exhaustively examined. Back in December, The Daily Beast’s Lizzie Crocker deemed her a “soft-focus feminist.” More recently, Erin Gloria Ryan listed all of the issues that fall within the first daughter ’s feminist blind spot, writing, “She poses for girl power photo-ops, but doesn’t speak up for the women’s health care that’s on the chopping block in the potential ACA repeal. Her brand’s tagline is Women Who Work, but she doesn’t fight for a living wage for all female workers and manufactures her clothing overseas in countries where workers are often mistreated. She’s proud to be a wife and mother, but hasn’t made a peep about this country’s disgraceful maternal mortality rate, especially among women of color.”
Basically, Ivanka Trump uses feminism to win over liberal audiences and build her brand—as opposed to, you know, actually helping women.
Unlike your average feminist with a gigantic public platform, Trump appears to pride herself on her ability to say nothing, obfuscating every thought and feeling until it’s as blandly palatable as a $34.99 nude work pump. Recently, Ivanka’s ability to move her mouth for an extended period of time without expressing an opinion has really hit its stride.
During an interview with Gayle King this week, Ivanka gave a stunning meditation on her complicity in her father’s horrendously run administration. “If being complicit is wanting to—is wanting to be a force for good and to make a positive impact, then I’m complicit,” she said. “I don’t know that the critics who may say that of me, if they found themselves in this very unique and unprecedented situation that I am now in, would do any differently than I am doing. So I hope to make a positive impact. I don’t know what it means to be complicit, but you know, I hope time will prove that I have done a good job and much more importantly that my father’s administration is the success that I know it will be.” College freshmen, take note: Picking one word in the question and repeating it a bunch of times is a great way to avoid giving an answer.
Ivanka Trump may not know what complicit means, but she does know how to say it over and over again until an interviewer gives up on trying to ask a follow-up. Also in the interview, when pressed on why she appears to be silently condoning her father’s atrocious policies, Trump explained, “There are multiple ways to have your voice heard. In some cases, it’s through protest and it’s through going on the nightly news and talking about or denouncing every issue on which you disagree with. Other times, it is quietly and directly and candidly.” She continued, “Where I disagree with my father, he knows it. And I express myself with total candor.”
Unfortunately, Ivanka’s apparent method of politely asking her father not to usher in Armageddon isn’t going so well. It’s difficult to comprehend why Ivanka hasn’t spoken out publicly on issues like her father rolling back Obama-era workplace protections for women, which seems right in her wheelhouse. Clearly, Trump has decided that she has more to gain from blindly supporting her father than from sticking to her old belief system. After all, abandoning all of your morals is a small price to pay for a new job, a promotion for your hubby, and a personal business plug from Kellyanne Conway.
Now look, you might be thinking, maybe behind closed doors Ivanka Trump really is trying to convince her dad to rethink some of his policies. After all, some of the greatest feminist victories have been the direct result of asking your daddy for something very nicely. For those of us who don’t think that progress will come from a series of polite requests directed at a guy who likes to grab vaginas for fun, Ivanka “I don’t know what it means to be complicit” Trump simply isn’t a feminist.
All too often, celebrities who want to be associated with sleepover parties and girl power—or who want you to vote for their misogynistic dad—forget that feminism is actually a political movement. At its best, it’s an active, intersectional push for women’s equality. But at its worst, it’s an empty phrase used to evoke “wokeness” without actually copping to any potentially polarizing political opinions. Under the Trump administration, the plague of pseudo-feminism and performative activism is more contagious than ever. These days, every celebrity is expected to have a political cause and an anti-Trump agenda. It’s gotten to the point where “good” stars—liberal, queer-friendly, not Kanye—are often critiqued for not speaking out at any and all opportunities. Just ask Lady Gaga, who got pushback when she didn’t burn an effigy of Stephen Bannon during the Super Bowl halftime show or fill the arena with Muslim refugees. This call for an increase in celebrity activism isn’t unwarranted. After all, if you’re rich, beautiful, and have a little extra time on your hands, why not give back with a statement on transgender rights or a Trump Twitter feud?
But these new political expectations have some unforeseen consequences. Not all pretty people are built to be social-justice warriors. Now that the resistance is literally in Vogue, the apolitical A-Lister has to choose between being perceived as a closet Trump supporter or a fair-weather, insincere ally. Since rallies are the new brunch and protest Instagrams are the new Snapchat selfies, celebs have been flocking to social media to hype the #Resistance.
Needless to say, some posts have been more convincing than others.
To make yourself extremely irritated about performative feminism in the Trump era, look no further than celebrities’ Women’s March Instagrams. While some stars—Madonna, America Ferrera, and Janelle Monáe, to name just a few—joined activists in the streets, others decided that their platforms would be put to better use with platitudinous tweets and stock protest Instagrams. Kim Kardashian tweeted, “So proud of the women & men who stood up for what is right & are determined to make this world a better place for our children”—which would have been a great start to a thread promoting the substantive issues and policy concerns at the heart of the protest. Younger sis and soon-to-be Pepsi advocate Kendall Jenner used the same go-girls protest photo as Kim, captioning her Instagram, “i wish i could have been a part of this amazing history. beyond proud.” Jenner could not be a part of “this amazing history” because she was too busy walking at Paris Fashion Week.
We’ve written extensively about Taylor Swift’s faux-feminism, which very well may have peaked with her Women’s March social-media campaign. She tweeted, “So much love, pride, and respect for those who marched. I’m proud to be a woman today, and every day. #WomensMarch.” This, of course, from a proud “feminist” who couldn’t even be bothered to endorse Hillary Clinton because it could hurt her Walmart album sales. Seriously—even Karlie Kloss Instagrammed that she was #WithHer, and Kloss is literally dating a Kushner. When you’re less woke than a woman who said that her favorite Beyoncé song is “Waterfalls,” that’s a problem.
What would it take to get a Taylor Swift squad member to actually show up at a protest? If we promised to dress all of the attendees in patriotic onesies and take an Instagram photoshoot afterward, would Selena Gomez stand outside of Trump Tower (let alone say the words Black Lives Matter)?
Much like doomsday bunkers and VPNs, it appears that performative activism and pseudo-feminism are having a moment. Among this growing cast of self-identified allies, Kendall Jenner deserves a special mention for her recent attempt to cure racial tension with a refreshing can of Pepsi. While the faux-protest ad heard ‘round the web was quickly pulled, the memory of Jenner milking BLM and resistance imagery to sell soft drinks will not soon be forgotten. It takes a certain kind of tone-deaf celeb to agree to a campaign like that, and the fact that Jenner had previously been a bare-minimum ally is just the icing on the cake. KJ wasn’t the first sort of well-meaning celeb to exploit a political movement for personal gain, and she certainly won’t be the last.