Last week, I went to a bookstore and purchased Ivanka Trump’s Women Who Work.
As I handed over my credit card, I met the gaze of the female cashier and stammered, “It’s for work. This isn’t… I mean, I don’t…. I’m not a Trump supporter.”
This reaction — the desperate need to distance myself from this book, this woman, her words and her father— continued the entire time I read this book. I took it to the park while my daughter ran around the playground and hid the cover in my lap when a neighbor passed by. At the hipster coffee shop where I often go to write, I removed the book jacket bearing Trump’s smiling face, leaving only the innocuous cream hardcover below. I’m on a first-name basis with the cute barista boys that leave little foam hearts in my lattes and mochas. I didn’t want to be associated in any way with this book or family name.
I’m not alone in my views. Ivanka Trump’s book has been widely panned by reviewers, with The New York Times saying, “… the book is not really offensive so much as witlessly derivative, endlessly recapitulating the wisdom of other, canonical self-help and business books… (Profiting handsomely off the hard work of others appears to be a signature Trumpian trait.),” and a reviewer from NPR comparing the experience of reading the book to “eating scented cotton balls.”
They’re right. It’s not that it’s a bad book — how could it be? It’s based on dozens of other similar books aimed at women trying to juggle work and family life, conference calls and family dinners. Its advice is predictable, its approach unoriginal and its ideas inoffensive. It is clearly written and well laid out — but perhaps only because its format has been beaten to death a million times before.
The issue for me, and for many other reviewers I suspect, was not the topic, the advice or the writing (and let’s be clear on that last point, it’s almost certain that Trump used a ghostwriter as most celebs do). The issue was the vitriolic rage spiral I experienced while reading it.
Going into this review, I tried to approach this book with an unbiased mindset, but I very quickly realized that would be impossible.
I didn’t even get through the introduction before beginning to feel my blood boil. I found myself muttering bullshit! during the fourth paragraph (“I am deeply passionate about… the education and economic empowerment of women and girls”) and angrily exclaiming Oh, just fuck right off, Ivanka during the closing paragraph (“I am committed to working harder than ever to unleash the full power of women and girls to accelerate the pace of progress, both in our country and around the world”).
The problem is that it’s impossible to separate Ivanka Trump from the hateful, racist, xenophobic and misogynistic politics of her father, primarily because she herself refuses to do so.
More: Taking Over Ivanka Trump’s #WomenWhoWork Hashtag
In her quest to empower “women who work,” she references the battle that early feminists fought to gain respect at the workplace while conspicuously omitting any mention of the F-word itself or any of the other battles they were fighting simultaneously — the fight to obtain safe, legal, accessible birth control and abortion, for example — the very same access her father is working tirelessly to destroy. Or the fight against rampant sexual harassment of women in the workplace, harassment her father perfectly embodied during his leaked Billy Bush tape.
I’m uncomfortable attributing the sins of a father to his fully autonomous daughter, and it would be understandable if Ivanka Trump’s beliefs directly contradicted those of the man who raised her. I mean, I’ve built my career writing about environmental causes while my own father believes in global cooling, I get it.
But my father is not her father. My father is not the president. And while Trump (and her book) profess to believe in empowering and motivating women, her father’s administration seems to be doing everything in its power to undercut that goal. And she’s standing right alongside them as they do it.
In a chapter entitled “Dream Big” Trump reminds women that they are in control of their lives, “the choices, after all, are yours,” she says. In Chapter 5, she declares that women who work must make deliberate decisions about their lives, including, “deciding when to have a baby (or more than one), if starting a family is among your personal aspirations.”
Put plainly, this is 100 percent patronizing bullshit. The Trump government is defunding organizations that support women’s right to choose and enacting legislation that rolls back their reproductive rights, making it ever more difficult for women to make exactly the type of empowered decisions she’s speaking about.
Here's feminist hero Ivanka Trump celebrating c-sections becoming a pre existing condition. pic.twitter.com/MXXWkP4BqY
— rhea butcher (@RheaButcher) May 5, 2017
I don’t know how the hell a woman (or a girl, for that matter) is supposed to make considered choices about if and when to have a child without adequate sexual education, without organizations like Planned Parenthood to explain and supply birth control and without the option to have a safe, legal, shame-free abortion if necessary. These choices are becoming increasingly rare in the Trump-governed America.
And while I hesitate to automatically ascribe blame to Ivanka Trump for her father’s views, SNL was right to tag her as complicit in a scathing sketch a few months ago.
She campaigned for her father in the election. She defended him after his abhorrent “grab ’em by the pussy” comments. She works alongside him in the White House and uses the power of his position to further her own career. If she disagrees with his views and his policy objectives, she does a damn good job of hiding it.
Trump’s book isn’t bad. It’s just incredibly tone-deaf and hypocritical.
You can’t write an entire book about empowering women while working alongside an administration that’s done more damage to the women’s rights in 100 days than any other has in decades. You can’t encourage working women to take control of their lives and make their self-care a priority while supporting a health care bill stripping millions of people of health care coverage.
And you can’t quote motherfucking Toni Morrison in your book while actively supporting your father, a man whose chief advisor is a literal white supremacist.
In conclusion, Women Who Work can fuck right off. I’m appalled by Trump’s privilege and her complicity, but most of all I’m shocked by her audacity in writing a book urging women to stay true to their values while using quotes from the very same women being harmed under Donald Trump’s government: immigrant women at risk of being deported, single mothers with government support being curtailed, women of color who are being actively discriminated against, women employed at nonprofit organizations being steadily defunded, women with health issues who under her father’s health care and budget policies may be unable to pay for medical care.
Women do need messages of strength and empowerment, Ivanka, and they need them now more than ever. But not from you. Not from someone so #complicit.
— Reshma Saujani (@reshmasaujani) May 2, 2017