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Presidential Daughters: Why Men Love Ivanka and Fear Chelsea

By Kayleigh Donaldson | Politics | April 29, 2017 |

By Kayleigh Donaldson | Politics | April 29, 2017 |

In 1992, during that regrettable period when the sentient testicle was given a TV show, Rush Limbaugh made a “joke” about then-13-year-old Chelsea Clinton, in which she was referred to as the White House dog. Limbaugh apologized — and I’m sure he really meant it too — but this was one of countless nasty attacks the teenage Chelsea faced, growing up in the public eye and under the judgmental gaze of a media that saw her as little beyond a prop for her parents. Every element of her life has faced this scorn, from her schooling to her employment, her marriage to her involvement in her mother’s two Presidential campaigns. Fears that she would become embroiled in corruption through her work with the Clinton Foundation were proven false, but that didn’t stop the panic. Now, with Hillary out of the spotlight, Chelsea has returned to the forefront of that paranoia, and all because it turns out she’s really good at Twitter.

Contrast that with Ivanka Trump. The former clothing designer has risen to a position at the White House, all by merit of being the spawn of Donald. She has her own office, her own staff, and now she’s doing state visits. The woman who benefited for years from being “the normal Trump” now must face questions from the foreign media, who can’t help but wonder what the hell she’s even doing there in the first place. After being booed for repeating the flagrant lie that her father cares about women and families, the usual suspects in the media - not just Chris Cillizza, but mostly him — jumped to defend her. The woman who is straight up benefiting from nepotism, serving her incompetent father and his corrupt administration alongside her pathetically unqualified husband, is to be defended. Chelsea, whose current crime is to tweet out anecdotes about her children, is the problem to be quashed.

Every joke, every sweet comment about her kids, every retweet of a news item or statement on the array of issues she covers with the Clinton Foundation and her own work, is dug through for evidence she’s running for office, dismissed as fake or concealing an agenda. Even flat-out denying that she has plans to enter politics is sneered at, just further proof of the sneakiness of the calculating Clinton dynasty. Sometimes, she can’t even escape this criticism from other women, like Politico’s Annie Karni asking why she was smiling on the cover of Variety (to Chelsea’s credit, her tweet response was killer in its kindness). The Presidential daughters may have once been friends — apparently, they don’t talk anymore, oh gee I wonder why — but their differences in the public eye only serve to highlight the stark contrasts in how men in the media prefer their ambitious women.

Ivanka has always been liked by the media. When she entered the business world, she benefited greatly from positive coverage from an assortment of outlets. Vogue gave her a glowing profile, full of glossy photographs showing her effortless work-life balance. Fit Pregnancy commended her as a “mommy mogul”, while Town and Country declared “Vote Ivanka! The Trump in Charge of a Growing American Dynasty”. Even during the campaign, she faced little in the way of scrutiny from the press, with an interview with Cosmopolitan calling out her father’s childcare plan being the exception. She was credited with steering Trump in a woman-friendly direction, and even when that fell apart after his “grab her by the pussy” comments, Ivanka played her cards right, facing far fewer prying headlines than Chelsea.

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It was easy to like Ivanka. She was beautiful and “had it all.” She embodied the acceptable face of upper-class society to a media who had grown distasteful of her predecessor, Paris Hilton (which is ironic given that much of Ivanka’s early press coverage followed the mould Paris made — sexy photoshoots for men’s magazines where she played up the image of a dominatrix or swimsuit model). Sexuality has been a major part of the Ivanka brand, but she softened it to appeal to women too. She was just another mother, a business woman who sold a book called “Women Who Work”. Her clothing line was distinctly feminine, with the allure of upper-middle class, more in line with how people imagine businesswomen dress than how they actually do. It’s costuming as ready for a Shonda Rhimes set, and that’s an easy sell to the tabloids and glossy magazines alike.

People liked her but they also felt sorry for her -It’s easy to sympathize with a pre-election Ivanka — one who lives with the utmost privilege but still finds herself under the grotesque shadow of a father who keeps bragging about wanting to fuck his own kid. Both women were in the public eye from birth, but processed in different ways - to be the daughter of politicians is a different beast from being the daughter of a businessman, even one as openly gauche and attention-grabbing as Trump. While the Clintons were accused of using Chelsea as a prop, Trump was photographed with Ivanka sitting on his lap, fetishistically in his gaze, more like property than his child.

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Chelsea scares people, and the more she expresses her natural personality — funny, empathetic, cutting wit, ceaseless drive, incredible intellect — the more men feel the need to question it. Hillary is no longer the acceptable punching bag of ambitious women everywhere, so now they see her daughter as the natural heir. She faces many of the same criticisms — too ambitious, shrill, too public, just another Clinton. Nothing she does is seen as anything beyond a means to an end, with the end being the White House. A stint at NBC didn’t do her any favours, but that became the focus over her exceptional work at the Clinton Foundation, her education, teaching, and further passions. Having an MPhil in international relations from Oxford, a M.P.H in public health from Columbia plus work as a teacher there, papers published on fighting AIDS and malaria, work as an assistant vice-provost for the Global Network University of New York University, experience with several consulting firms, several years as the acclaimed Vice Chair of the Clinton Foundation, several published books and a chair on the board of the School of American Ballet is good and all, but it doesn’t mean anything to a media that can only view Chelsea as an extension of her mother. Her ambition is a lamentable sign of her parents’ influence; Ivanka’s ambition is laudable evidence of her humanity.

Ivanka is fully aware that she is arguably her father’s greatest asset, at least in terms of public relations. After all, he can’t be all that bad a guy if he helped bring such a beautiful and bright young woman into the world, right? That’s what we heard on the campaign trail, and it came from older white women. Now, Ivanka is playing into that façade, something she’s done to varying degrees for her entire adult life, but she’s further adjusting it to appeal to men. After the SNL sketch that called her “complicit”, Ivanka gave an interview to CBS’s Gayle King, and the Stepford act was in full swing. Interviewed in her home and wearing her typically “business-feminine” fare, Ivanka focused heavily on her role as a mother, talking about the excitement of having a swing-set in the garden for the kids and taking them to museums and monster truck shows. She dismissed claims of being complicit, but still emphasized the role she plays in working with her dad. She’s happy to call herself his “asset”, but she suddenly doesn’t know what “complicit” means.

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Louder than her mealy-mouthed words are the way she says them. Her voice is calm, almost breathy, the kind of soft that angry men like to hear. Similarly, her Instagram account - where her bio calls her a “passionate advocate for the education and empowerment of women and girls” - is a carefully curated mixture of White House shots of her father, propaganda of herself “at work”, including meeting the Queen of the Netherlands and visiting the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin, and adorable photos of her children. It’s flawless marketing, clean and Instagram friendly and utterly devoid of personality. She’s a “woman at work” but the labour is sanitized, prepped for retweets and fawning fluff coverage. Her comments are vague platitudes that, as described by Buzzfeed’s Anne Helen Petersen, make it “hard to shake the feeling that Ivanka’s never not writing the first paragraph of a freshman comp essay”. In other words, she’s non-threatening. It’s the kind of femininity men prefer, which in a way has its own power, but to watch Ivanka deploy it to disguise her rank hypocrisies and active role in a crooked administration is to watch a very dangerous woman. She has made herself seem harmless, almost infantilized, and men like Cillizza eat it up while giddily tweeting about her pretty hair. The saddest thing is it hasn’t truly made the men she panders to respect her, as evidenced by Fox News’s Jesse Watters’ recent comments.

Ultimately, there’s a very simple reason the shamelessly complicit Ivanka is getting an easier rise than the ceaselessly harangued Chelsea - Ivanka doesn’t remind people of her parents, but Chelsea does. Men can look at Ivanka, poised and polished and dressed for promotion, and not be reminded that she shares genetics with an over-tanned fascist who will one day probably destroy us all. She’s too pretty to be a true threat to them, even as her vaulting ambition takes her into levels of cronyism that would be condemned if they happened anywhere else in the world. Chelsea, who looks so much like both her parents, is evidently and proudly a Clinton, and that terrifies those still too cowardly to admit a woman President was their worst nightmare. If she desires it, I hope Chelsea runs for public office one day. The political sphere could use a woman who truly works.

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Kayleigh is a features writer for Pajiba. You can follow her on Twitter or listen to her podcast, The Hollywood Read.