On April 4, Kendall Jenner made the whole world cringe when she passed a Pepsi to a police officer, apparently solving racism. Jenner is a 21-year-old reality star known for her modeling, not for her political engagement. That same day, Ivanka Trump released a typically polished tweet: “#EqualPayDay is a reminder that women deserve equal pay for equal work. We must work to close the gender pay gap!” Trump is a 35-year-old lifestyle entrepreneur known for her carefully cultivated brand. She is also an adviser to, and daughter of, the President of the United States.
Trump’s tweet wasn’t as obviously laughable as Jenner’s commercial. But it wasn’t entirely dissimilar.
A certain form of feminism is part of Trump’s brand. Her website is stocked with photos of women interacting with babies and Powerpoints, and she’s written a book called Women Who Work. This image of herself as a feminine professional has been key to bolstering sales of her clothing line. That brand helps some cast her as the good cop to her father, who doesn’t have the greatest record when it comes to women. Yet when it comes to moments where action is required, Trump might as well be handing her dad a Pepsi.
After the New York Times reported Fox News has settled five cases of harassment against its host Bill O’Reilly, President Donald Trump called him “a good person.” As women online have been using the hashtag #DropOReilly to discuss their painful, sometimes career-killing experiences with workplace harassment, Ivanka Trump’s Twitter account has been silent. Her social media presence was likewise MIA when her father rolled back equal pay and sexual harassment protections for women in the workplace. And she said nothing when Republicans tried to eliminate pregnancy-related health coverage during her father’s failed health-care reform. Ivanka Trump visited a Planned Parenthood clinic a few months ago in secret, something that only came out when Planned Parenthood head Cecile Richards put her on blast.
Neither Ivanka Trump nor Jenner has risked much with their stabs at activism. Their brands have taken a bit of a hit, but even there they are both buffered from the consequences. Pepsi apologized “for putting Kendall Jenner in this position.” When Ivanka Trump’s sales slumped, her father’s political goons jumped to tout her products, casting her as “The Good Guy here” and the victim of misdirected rage.
When asked to address accusations of being complicit in a recent interview, Ivanka Trump responded, “I don’t know what it means to be complicit. If being complicit is wanting to be a force for good and to make a positive impact, then I’m complicit.” Of course, that’s not what complicit means, and up to this point Trump isn’t making a positive impact on anyone beyond herself and her family. Being a force for good requires discomfort and risk. Otherwise you’re just the sweet stuff that makes the bitter pill go down.