Ivanka & The Mean Girls: Politics of the Brand

By Maud Kersnowski Sachs

I have a confession: I own a pair of Ivanka Trump brand pants. I wish I could say that I bought them by mistake or that they were a gift or that I had a psychotic break, but I knew exactly what I was doing. Last summer, I needed some cheap, comfortable, semi-professional trousers. These pants fit my requirements and my long legs. I told myself that, at $20, the Trumps weren’t making any money on my purchase. I cut out the label. I called my mother for absolution. Nothing helped. I felt guilty if I even looked at the pants. I was actually relieved when they shrank in the wash. (Who makes glorified yoga pants that are dry clean only?) For now, they’re stuffed in the back of my closet taking up valuable space. That’s my penance, lost storage. I’ve spent more time rationalizing those $20 pants than a pair of $200 boots.

I’m not the only woman who is uncomfortable putting the Trump brand on her body. When a President’s family business is marketing his name, the collision of politics and commerce is inevitable. As the family member with the largest retail presence, Ivanka Trump’s company has been the most directly affected. After the release of Trump’s infamous “pussy-grabbing” tape last October, digital marketing specialist Shannon Coulter tweeted a list of retailers to avoid because they carried Trump-branded merchandise. Six months and over 700 million views later, #grabyourwallet is full-fledged boycott movement.

Even before the official boycott, there is evidence that women were shying away from the Trump brand by mid-2016. According to The Chicago Tribune, imports had declined by over 50% for Ivanka Trump products, which are made almost exclusively overseas. In late summer, the brand seemed to be flooding into discount stores. My $20 pants came from Marshall’s, but Burlington Coat Factory and TJ Maxx also had racks of her clothes on markdown. Then, in the first quarter of 2017, major retailers started dropping the first daughter’s line. Nordstrom’s, Sears, and other stores cited declining sales as the reason, but the impact of #grabyourwallet was the headline story.

From the right, women stepped up to defend Ivanka, calling her critics hypocrites, radicals, and mean girls. And in February, these same conservative women also voted with their wallets and online sales, for the brand skyrocketed.

“The hypocrisy of most radical feminists these days is mind-boggling. The latest hypocrisy is their bullying of retailers to drop Ivanka Trump’s apparel line. The ‘grabyourwallet’ campaign to destroy this woman because they don’t like her father is pathetic. These ‘feminists’ are all about women’s rights only when it suits their far-left agenda. If they truly believed in equality, they would embrace the success of all women — even those who have different political viewpoints,” C. Anderson of Clifton, Colorado wrote in a letter to the editor of The Denver Post.

Ivanka is by all accounts a successful businesswoman, which is something we, as feminist, generally support. She’s written a book entitled Women Who Work. On Instagram, she heavily features #womenwhowork. She held a round table for female small business owners at the White House. She pushed maternity leave as a campaign promise and got it featured in her father’s first State of the Union address. (Of course, it’s only partial pay and only for married women who give birth. No single or adoptive moms allowed.)

So, are we mean girls, bullying hard working Ivanka because we don’t like her dad? Let’s face it, we’ve all got a relative or two that says things that make us cringe, and often it’s our own father. (Hi, Dad.)

Most first daughters have stood next to their fathers and smiled. Ivanka may even make Trump a better human, as he claims. “She is a great person — always pushing me to do the right,” according to her father, but that’s a bit like putting a dollop of fat-free, non-dairy whipped topping on a massive pile of deep-fried Twinkies.

But Ivanka Trump is more than a daughter. She’s a Trump surrogate and a key White House adviser (even if she’s not on the payroll). She’s an apologist for many of the very things I find abhorrent about the current administration: The misogyny, bigotry, and anti-Semitism, to name a few.

She’s one of the faces of the current administration, but she is not the face of the average working mother. She possesses level of wealth that makes juggling motherhood and career much easier. I don’t blame her. I wish I had her money. We all do.

If Ivanka stays out late, she never has to do the mental math of how much more she owes the babysitter. She never has to ask other moms to pick up her kids. She never even has to go grocery shopping when her feet hurt. In all those adorable Instagram photos of her with her kids at work, it’s hard not to picture a nanny standing just out of frame. If the nanny’s not there, that’s Ivanka’s choice, and she can afford to make it.

The rest of us make tough, complex decisions about money, careers, kids and maintaining our sanity. Some of us choose to stay home. Some of us choose to work part-time. Some of us figure out childcare while working full-time. But every one of us gives up things. And we’re the lucky ones because we have the choice to give things up.

Many women have even fewer options. These are the families that the ACA and Planned Parenthood serve. These are the families whose drinking water the EPA protects. These are the families in need of public schools that work. All of which, the current administration, which Ivanka is part of, seems dedicated to destroying.

So, No, we are not hypocrites or mean girls when we criticize Ivanka Trump. No, we are not indicting her because of who her father is. We are indicting her because of who she is.

As Merriam Webster tweeted recently: “feminism is defined as ‘the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities.'”

Being a feminist does not mean that you unquestioningly support all women or even all successful women. There is nothing hypocritical about boycotting stores that carry products you find objectionable. It is a time-honored and effective way to influence capitalism. For example, in 2015, Macy’s stopped carrying Donald J. Trump’s clothing line after a boycott sparked by his highly offensive anti-immigrant statements. It seems only fair that Ivanka be treated with the same respect that her father was.

And I’ll be donating those pants to a homeless shelter.

 

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Maud Kersnowski Sachs

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