Ivanka Trump has a book out. You can tell because there’s been a sudden increase in conveniently leaked exclusives from mysterious insider sources on her turmoil over her dad’s “grab her by the pussy” comments. Isn’t it fascinating how any smidgen of negative coverage of Ivanka and her useless “personification of Jonah from Veep” husband is quickly followed by glowing headlines on the great work they’re doing to clamp down on Donald’s worst instincts that never quite materializes into policy?
This free press somehow stung less than seeing Refinery29 host an exclusive excerpt from Trump’s latest attempt to cash in on the Lean In brand of feminism, otherwise known as Women Who Work. 24 hours earlier, Trump the Elder scrapped Michelle Obama’s Let Girls Learn initiative, founded to ensure proper education and healthy school lunches for underserved girls around the globe. This may not seem like a particularly egregious act from such a website, but it’s hard to overlook the ways in which Ivanka has consistently used women-led publications to soften her image and whitewash her complicit nature in her father’s corrupt misogynistic government. Us Weekly, generally considered one of the gossip industry’s most reliable sources, was bought by the same company who own the Trump supporting National Enquirer, and thus followed a series of front pages dedicated to Ivanka’s new DC life (and of course another excerpt from her book). Despite her newfound power and hard influence in the administration, Ivanka’s first major TV interview post-election was with a morning talk show, which are mostly watched by women and tend to downplay serious questioning in favour of family fluff. She’s selling a female-friendly smokescreen, and too many are buying it. Despite a complete lack of evidence to back it up, the assumption of Ivanka as a moderate force and guiding light in her father’s politics remains in much of the reporting of her “work”, and women-led publications are helping to strengthen that fallacy.
While Ivanka benefits greatly from this privilege, she’s not the only one. This week, the British magazine Stylist put French Presidential candidate and straight-up fascist Marine Le Pen on their cover. The photograph was a striking black and white profile shot, with a warning sticker over her mouth proclaiming “WARNING: Contains views and policies that some liberal, modern women will find disturbing.” While the accompanying article is the standard milquetoast political profile that tries too hard to present “balance” in the life and career of a literal fascist, it’s the cover that raises the most eyebrows. It’s the framing and rhetoric one would expect from an alt-right sub-Reddit, the kind of baiting that right-wing trolls use to pretend their views are being censored by the evil liberal media. It’s not really a warning: It’s a marketing blitz. Stylist’s non-apology is a weak defence of “starting a distasteful conversation”, seemingly unaware of the years of coverage Marine Le Pen has written about her from more informed sources. The onus is on those of us who called bullshit on Stylist: We’re the silly liberals disturbed by this, and that’s not their fault. The assumption from such sources is clear - they can’t be all that bad if they’re women.
There’s a long and mostly forgotten history of self-proclaimed feminists using that identity to present a female-friendly image of right-wing and fascist policies. The first wave of feminism in the UK saw some of the most ardent suffragettes of the era use that credibility to recruit women of similar stock to the burgeoning fascist movement of the 1930s, led by Oswald Mosley. Mary Richardson, a militant suffragette and devoted follower of Emmeline Pankhurst, became an icon of the movement when she entered the National Gallery in London and took a knife to the Rokeby Venus. By the 30s, she was proclaiming fascism as “the only path to a ‘Greater Britain’”, and was chief organiser for the women’s section of the party. She even compared the Blackshirts to the suffragettes, praising their “courage”. Norah Elam, a fellow suffragette of the era, also joined Mosley’s British Union of Fascists, and proclaimed that her mere existence in the movement “killed for all time the suggestion that National Socialism proposed putting British women back in the home”. Fascism was the route to female liberation, as put forward by Elam, although it’s clear to see what women mattered to her (Elam’s own family condemned her as a notorious racist, and the oppression of women of colour in the first wave movement has been conveniently forgotten by many). White Feminism is defined by its insistence that gender trumps all other matters, and that distinct forms of marginalization faced by women of colour and other oppressed groups should sit out the discussion. When not all women are allowed a seat at the table, it should be of no surprise to see the most privileged in our ranks advocate for what will benefit them the most, regardless of the damage it causes to other women.
The feminized whitewashing of Trump and Le Pen’s agendas - that soft touch that even other women give them, all in the name of supporting other women - is what happens when our society is so bereft of true gender representation. When all we have are scraps, we cling to them in the hopes that this will lead to trickle-down feminism. The framing is that any woman in a rare position of power is something to be celebrated, regardless of how she uses it, be it ineffective nepotism (Ivanka) or insidious bigotry (Le Pen). This is how we get to all these hot take headlines wondering that maybe Le Pen won’t be all that bad, and surely it’s good for everyone to have a woman in charge. Hillary Clinton is getting a harder time from the press right now than Ivanka Trump (yes, Chris Cillizza is involved), and the contrasts couldn’t be starker. Hillary calls herself a feminist and is dragged through the dirt by all corners forcing her to justify it; Ivanka cloaks herself in feminist rhetoric to sell books and aid her rape-culture perpetuating father, and those same figures glow over the possibilities for progressive change. Ivanka represents feminism that never truly demands a rebalancing of power between the genders, which is one of the reasons men love her so much.
Marine Le Pen may try to dress up what she is selling to the French people, but there is no excuse for the media to aid her in that propaganda, and the failure of publications like Stylist, who have prided themselves of their feminist slant, to truly interrogate her narrative is unforgivable. That’s how we got the now infamous fluff-piece in Vogue on Asma al-Assad, wife of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, in which she was proclaimed a “rose in the desert”.
It’s not all bad news: Cosmopolitan were holding Ivanka’s feet to the fire on the campaign trail while most publications still treated her as the great feminist hope of the Trump candidacy, and the incredible work of outlets like Teen Vogue can’t be overstated. Yet we shouldn’t overlook the ways in which the publications made by and for women become complicit in these narratives, offering space for “exclusive” extracts that strengthen a rose-tinted feminist branding exercise for a woman who has turned nepotism into a government condoned opportunity to sell books. The power of women-driven outlets is consistently diminished by a white-male run media, which makes our responsibilities to speak truth to the abuses of powerful women all the more potent. Our failure to call fascism as we see it, just because the face of it is female, will not benefit any woman in the long-term.