It was July 21st 2016, at the Republican National Convention, when Ivanka Trump gave her speech in support of her father (Donald Trump) for President of the United States of America. Ivanka Trump promised that the Donald Trump would fight for women and children by developing legislation dedicated to strengthening safety nets like child care and maternity leave, which would theoretically lead to equal pay for equal work. That moment was the very moment that Ivanka Trump positioned herself as the feminist of the Trump Administration. Ivanka tasked herself to hide Donald Trump’s misogyny, bigotry, and plutocratic behavior under a shield that many would argue misrepresents the true aim of feminism to serve as a voice for those that have been marginalized by an economic, political, and cultural system of repression that continues to institutionalize gender inequality and destroy environmental stability. It is now my goal to critique this approach in 2 ways: First, by discrediting the explanation that Ivanka Trump has told about the gender wage gap and her plans to fix it; Second, by critiquing Ivanka’s tacit consent to a conservative public policy that has harmed progress towards the very goals of feminism.
During and after the presidential campaign, Ivanka Trump made child care and maternity leave a central part of the administration’s political agenda. In addition to perpetuating blatant falsehoods about Hillary Clinton having a policy on these issues, Ivanka also led people to believe that the plans would do a lot to help poor and middle class women in America. The reason why this is misleading is that while Ivanka Trump’s 500 billion dollar plan for child care would include a deduction in the tax code for the cost of childcare for parents and a refundable credit for some individuals in the lower distribution of the income bracket, the Tax Policy Center found that 70% of the childcare benefits from the tax deductions and credits under Ivanka’s plan would overwhelmingly benefit families making over 100,000 dollars in income. In fact, the families needing the tax credits the most for the cost of child care making 40,000 dollars a year or less would receive an average tax cut of just 20 dollars or less, which represents just .1% of their income. The plan would also primarily benefit dual income rich families, which is the category that Ivanka Trump is in.
This political rent seeking is anathema to equality based conceptions of justice, because rent seeking preserves existing social inequities while widening systems of economic inequality. Worse still, it violates norms of feminist justice, because according to Nancy Fraser of the New School for Social Research gender justice requires that the “distribution of material resources must be such as to ensure participants’ independence and “voice.”” This is the first condition of the parity of participation principle, which precludes harsh forms of economic inequality that institutionalize patriarchal systems of capitalism through a robust relationship with gender inequality. But on a similar note, Ivanka Trump’s maternity leave policy would also only include 6 weeks of leave at partial pay, while perpetuating stereotypes that only women can take parental leave to take care of their children. Such stereotypes are most likely based off of Ivanka Trump’s false assumption that gender no longer explains the gender gap and that “motherhood does”.
Contrary to these beliefs, most objective literature reviews on the gender gap including one from Lawrence Kahn of Cornell University show that a large portion of the gender wage gap cannot be explained by choice of industry, occupation, the presence of children, and experience. Indeed, Kahn noted that discrimination cannot be factored out of explaining part of the wage gap when controlling for these factors mentioned before. However, it is not just the gender wage gap that is at issue here. Ivanka Trump put herself in the position of being the point person in the White House to tackle women’s issues, which is evidenced by the fact that she represented and defended the Trump administration’s agenda on women’s issue to the G-20 women’s summit. This means that since Ivanka Trump has only brought attention to childcare and maternity leave, she has ignored many of the broader issues that are needed to not just achieve economic gender parity, but also social and political gender parity. The Mckinsey Global Institute noted in 2016 that achieving full gender parity by minimizing maternal mortality, providing greater legal protections such as access to jobs and inheritance rights, increasing political representation, providing greater protections for women against sexual assault, and minimizing teenage pregnancy could lead to greater economic gender parity for the United States and correcting these factors on a global level could result in 12 trillion dollars in additional global economic growth. Therefore, the lack of a plan to address these broader women’s issues by Ivanka Trump shows that Ivanka Trump is in no position to be making policy on these issues if the policies that she does propose do not do justice to the problems faced by poor and middle class women.
Furthermore, it is not just what Ivanka is doing that is at issue with the very idea of feminism, but it’s what she is not doing to influence the Trump administration’s agenda as a whole that is an even greater issue. Ivanka has shown that she has the ability to influence the policy of the Trump administration. She has also allowed the US media to falsely portray her as the best hope for a voice of reason within the Trump administration. So, where was Ivanka Trump when the Trump administration recently decided to not participate in the Paris Climate Accords that was needed to combat climate change? Why did Ivanka Trump not speak out against the Trump administration when it cut Michelle Obama’s education initiative for young women in developing countries? Why did Ivanka Trump not speak out publicly against the recent arms deal the US struck with Saudi Arabia, while the country continues to wage a civil war in Yemen killing thousands of women and children? Why did Ivanka Trump not publicly speak against Donald Trump’s draconian budget proposal that would slash billions of dollars in social safety nets and education that millions of women young and old depend on for advancement and even survival? These macro issues are very important for achieving the overlapping goals of feminist justice and the environment. A great deal of eco-feminist theory has been dedicated towards challenging the idea that humans can take advantage of natural ecologies and create repressive systems that value human flourishing over the environment.
The reality of the situation is that Ivanka’s actions and inaction do not match her promises to tackle women’s issues. Instead, she has attempted cover up Donald Trump’s blatant bigotry and misogyny. She has also allowed for Donald Trump and other federal employees to use the bully pulpit to promote her businesses and engage in unfair competition. This is a complete violation of the second requirement of the parity participation principle, which requires that “institutionalized patterns of cultural value express equal respect for all participants and ensure equal opportunity for achieving social esteem.” Some might argue that I am being too hard on Ivanka and that expecting her to have an impact on these issues is too great an expectation. However, even if Ivanka cannot prevent all of the travesties that have been created by this regressive administration, why will Ivanka not tell the American people at least what she has done to influence the President? Respectfully, if she cannot provide any specifics on what she has spoke out against, then Ivanka Trump cannot claim that she was not complicit to it. The role of an advisor is to challenge the President when he is in the wrong and to use every means necessary to prompt reform on the policies that matter especially if you are directly engaged in women’s issues.
It was the feminist philosopher Linda Alcoff that introduced the concept of double vision and its role in recognizing the plight of the most vulnerable members of society. Alcoff explains that “What it means is seeing the world or seeing a particular event through more than one perspective.” This is precisely the technique that Ivanka Trump must use as a force for good. Even if she does not agree with the evidence presented before her, she can at least try to incorporate the perspective of feminist icons and experts into her plans to move the US toward gender equality. But until then, Ivanka Trump will not be in any position to truly represent “women who work”. And we all should care about this issue regardless of our gender! The UN sponsored He for She movement was created to mobilize millions of men to help carry the torch of feminism towards equality and social recognition. This is with good reason. A democratic society is formed and judged by a collective mindset that makes up the collection of individual mindsets from its citizens. If we do not ensure that our collective mindset as a country is favorable towards achieving social justice for women, then we will continue to have Ivanka Trump representing official US policy on women’s issues.