“Before women can work to reconstruct society we must reject the notion that obtaining power in the existing social structure will necessarily advance feminist struggle to end sexist oppression. It may allow numbers of women to gain greater material privilege, control over their destiny, and the destiny of others, all of which are important goals. It will not end male domination as a system.”
–bell hooks, Feminist Theory from Margin to Center
Feminist theorist bell hooks has deeply questioned white feminist notions of power, noting that power–even in the hands of women–that is defined by domination simply reproduces systems of oppression. This quote is particularly pertinent, as Ivanka Trump has become a federal employee this past week, and it appears that her use of power will be used to maintain the order and domination of her father’s disastrous presidency.
In a new interview, Ivanka made it clear that she would not seriously challenge her father and will continue to take part in his administration.
Wednesday morning, Ivanka stated in an interview with Gayle King that her critics should not think because she has not publicly denounced or actively prevented the worst parts of her father’s presidency, that she does not speak up when she is concerned.
King asked, “[Critics] say: ‘why isn’t Ivanka speaking out? Where is she on Planned Parenthood, where is she on gay rights? Where is she on the rights of women? Where is she on climate change?’”
She replied, “I would say not to conflate lack of public denouncement with silence. There are multiple ways to have your voice heard…at times it is quietly, and directly, and candidly. Where I disagree with my father, he knows it.”
She went on to say, “We’re in a very unique time where noise equals advocacy. And I fundamentally disagree with that. I do think there’s a time for public denouncement. I also think there’s a time for discussion…I think that the impact that I have over time, most people won’t know about.”
What Ivanka is saying here is that she does not need to publicly denounce her father or otherwise risk her position or relationship with him in order to feel that she has done her part to advocate for the issues she cares about. Make no mistake: Ivanka’s stance arises out of a familiarity with and proximity to power that she has had her entire life and is unwilling to give up, even if her father does not listen to her concerns.
Ivanka will not be walking off the job in protest, you understand?
In addition, Ivanka’s suggestion that the public “won’t know” about what she has done to improve her father’s presidency suggests her unease with being publicly accountable for any missteps that her father takes.
Privilege Meets Power
Of course, it is not surprising that Ivanka does not feel that she needs to cause an actual stir to prevent horrible legislation such as Trumpcare, the Muslim ban, or the de-funding of Planned Parenthood. Because Ivanka has access to her father, to the president, she does not find a need or a value in publicly demonstrating solidarity with the groups hurt and marginalized by his presidency.
The fact of the matter is, though, that most people do not have access to Donald Trump and most people need to cause a stir to prod this administration in the right direction. The whole reason Ivanka is becoming a federal employee is precisely because people raised their voices and let her know that it would be entirely improper for to have a White House office without any sort of duty to the public.
Ivanka, White Women, and Activism that Never Hurts
The nepotism, conflicts of interest, and frightful banality of Ivanka’s position re-invigorate conversations about white feminism and privilege that pushes aside or obscures totally the needs and concerns of those in more precarious positions, such as women of color, Black trans and queer folks, and low income people.
Unfortunately, we’ve been inundated with these images this week.
First, there was a Pepsi ad with Kendall Jenner giving a cop a soda. In this ad, Jenner becomes part of a non-descript neoliberal protest featuring advocacy for peace and love. The protesters in the ad are smiling as they march towards conspicuously unarmed police. Jenner does not have to angrily engage with police; rather, she hands him a Pepsi and all is well. The protesters cheer.
In the same way, Ivanka is able, due to her power and position to escape the unpleasantness of truly standing for something. As far as we know, she does not speak up because she has to; she speaks up when she wants to, when it suits her. Ivanka can be certain that she will be heard, and if she is not, can comfort herself with the knowledge that she tried. Her advocacy is just as boring and pointless as giving Trump a can of Pepsi.
For example, today, Ivanka tweeted her sadness over the Syrian crisis.
Heartbroken and outraged by the images coming out of Syria following the atrocious chemical attack yesterday.
— Ivanka Trump (@IvankaTrump) April 5, 2017
This is an appropriate show of sympathy, of course, but it is still strange, as her father has used Syrian refugees escaping the crisis as a political flashpoint, lying to the public and claiming that Syrian refugees are potential terrorists in order to garner political support. He also listed them on his first travel ban. As far as we know, Ivanka Trump did nothing.
The quiet, access-based advocacy to which Ivanka is privy is exhausting for those doing real work and, in fact, accomplishes nothing. Marginalized people do not have the time for quiet advocacy. The time to stand up, loudly and proudly, is now.
Photo via Flickr