Book review: Ivanka Trump’s ‘Women Who Work’ is tone deaf
“Women Who Work: Rewriting the Rules for Success” by Ivanka Trump; Penguin Random House (256 pages, $26)
Ivanka Trump’s new book begins with the story of a time when she was in her mid-20s, high atop her perch of privilege as she hiked in Patagonia, pondering whether she’d be successful in the family business.
She writes that she’d left a Brooklyn-based real estate company — where she’d worked only one year — to join her father’s Trump Organization and was vexed about whether she’d made the right decision.
As if success for Ivanka Trump was ever really a question.
As predictably as leaves burst from the trees each spring, Ivanka ascended to the role of executive vice president of the Trump Organization — a title she shared with two of her brothers. She launched fashion businesses, too.
Ivanka concedes early on in her book, “Women Who Work: Rewriting the Rules for Success,” ($26, Penguin Random House) that she has advantages women who are not daughters of a powerful billionaire — who now also happens to be president of the U.S. — don’t have.
But that acknowledgment feels insincere. Her book comes off as if she’s trying to portray herself as an Everywoman. She thinks she can pass herself off as just another one of our girlfriends struggling to succeed at work and at home. Yet somehow she’s managed to find the Holy Grail of work/life bliss by using such clichéd strategies as: “find your true north” and “prioritize your passions” and “live and work with purpose.”
None of this is to say Ivanka hasn’t worked hard. Perhaps she has, but to buy into her advice is to believe that all working women were ever missing in life was an inspirational quote to serve as a mission statement.
Syrupy quotes are plentiful in the 243-page self-help book. She cites Walt Disney, Henry Ford, Oprah Winfrey, the Dalai Lama, Sheryl Sandberg, authors Maya Angelou, Mark Twain and Toni Morrison, along with anthropologist Jane Goodall, to name a few.
Among Ivanka’s biggest fumbles is using quotes out of context, co-opting their original intent and molding them anew to fit her own purposes.
Reshma Saujani?, CEO and founder of Girls Who Code, was not pleased that Ivanka referenced her in the book. She tweeted at the first daughter last week, writing: “Don’t use my story in #WomenWhoWork unless you are going to stop being #complicit.”
Ivanka used the following quote from Goodall in “Women Who Work”: “What you do makes a difference and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.”
Goodall didn’t seem too thrilled to be included, either. She said in a statement to the Washington Post: “I understand that Ms. Trump has used one of my quotes in her forthcoming book. I was not aware of this, and have not spoken with her, but I sincerely hope she will take the full import of my words to heart.”
She pulled from Toni Morrison’s “Beloved,” the Pulitzer-prize winning work about a slave who killed her daughter out of mercy rather than subject the girl to the brutality of life in slavery.
“Bit by bit … she had claimed herself. Freeing yourself was one thing, claiming ownership of that freed self was another,” is the bit of Morrison’s story Ivanka used to start a chapter called “Work Smarter, Not Harder.”
Later in the same chapter, Ivanka writes, “Are you a slave to your time or the master of it?”
It’s an appallingly tone-deaf gaffe for the first daughter, who now is in a position of real power in the White House, serving as an adviser to President Trump. Some critics took to social media, blasting Ivanka for being racist by placing the problems of busy rich white women in the context of slavery.
Ivanka writes the book as if she’s trying to use her platform of privilege in a way that will empower the rest of us, saying in the preface:
“I am committed to working harder than ever to help unleash the full power of women and girls to accelerate the pace of progress both in our country and around the world — and I look forward to further the cause together.”
It sounds good, right?
Later, she writes: “The dialogue is often reduced to an outdated, one-dimensional expectation of what a ‘working woman’ should do, how she should act, and what she should look like. Now is the time to change the narrative around women and work once and for all is long overdue; in fact, it’s become my life’s mission.”
But to me, that’s duplicitous. Ivanka’s actions reveal so much more about her true motivations than the words in her book.
She has clung to her father’s side in business and as he’s ascended to the presidency. Although she has said she doesn’t always agree with President Trump, she is a trusted adviser to a man who routinely calls women ugly, nasty, and disgusting, and who has remarked that women are valuable only if they’re attractive.
Ivanka’s book comes off as little more than an effort at branding herself as a career woman, someone who’s smart in the boardroom and can still be a devoted wife to Jared Kushner and the tender-hearted mother to their three children. It’s an attempt to look as if she cares about women’s empowerment — just not when it comes to her father.
She writes that the notion of work/life balance is an unattainable myth.
And I’m left wondering how on earth would this woman know? Undoubtedly with nannies, chefs, personal assistants, drivers and who knows what else, she can’t possibly get it.
The rest of us are exhausted because we get up before the sun to get our kids off to school and day care, work all day, stop for groceries on the way home, make dinner, do the dishes, bathe the kids, put them to bed, do the laundry, make cookies for the next day’s bake sale, pack lunches — all while checking work emails and taking business calls. We collapse into bed somewhere after midnight, still knowing there’s an even longer to-do list waiting for us the next day.
So, no, Ivanka does not get respect or credit — even if all the proceeds from the book are going to charity — for writing about successfully managing a career and raising a family with boundless help and resources.
What we hope she’ll do instead of pretending to be an expert on women’s empowerment and work-life balance is listen to us, hear about our challenges and tell her father.
We hope she’ll say to her dad: “Gee whiz, maybe it’s a bad idea to support health care legislation that makes rape or a Cesarean section a pre-existing medical condition.”
We hope she’ll remind him: “Remember when you said on the campaign trail that child-care subsidies were important? Let’s make that happen.”
Because a book that begins with her preaching from a mountaintop as she hikes in Patagonia makes her disconnected to the Everywoman. She is not someone who has made it through the day-to-day challenges so many of us face.
Although she might have her own struggles, it’s safe to say that Ivanka’s never had to figure out what to do when her child is critically ill and she can’t afford his medicine; she hasn’t fretted over how to pay the heat bill and buy groceries after being laid off; she hasn’t lay awake at night racked with anxiety because she has to return to her minimum-wage job two weeks after her infant is born.
We need her to listen to those of us who’ve lived that. We need people to tell her about their own real experiences, and she has to find a way to get her father to pay attention.
She can help all women by urging the president to sign executive orders and push for legislation that moves the needle forward for pay equity, paid maternity leave and sick time, increasing minimum wage, along with other measures that can truly affect the lives of working families.
That’s the way Ivanka Trump can come down off her mountaintop and “help unleash the full power of women and girls to accelerate the pace of progress both in our country and around the world.”