During a panel with other female global leaders in Germany last week, Ivanka Trump responded with poise as she discussed the controversy surrounding her defense of her father regarding his comments on women. “I grew up in a house where there was no barrier to what I could accomplish beyond my own perseverance and tenacity,” she said. “That’s not an easy thing to do; he provided that for us.”
U.S. media reports unfairly focused on how the European audience booed Ivanka Trump, but the video of the incident reveals a lot more. Yes, there were a few isolated boos and hisses, but they followed extraordinarily harsh and nasty questions from the moderator Miriam Meckel, editor-in-chief of the weekly business news magazine WirtschaftsWoche. Even Democratic Party defender Hilary Rosen commented on her Facebook page that the opening question to Ivanka was unfair.
Why does the anti-Trump media delight so much in attacking the president’s oldest daughter? Some have argued she is hypocritical in ignoring her father’s inappropriate words and actions toward women. But this assumption seems shallow. How do we know Ivanka didn’t feel hurt by Trump’s comments or attempt to handle her pain privately? At the end of the day, she is his daughter, and her focus on empowering women is the most powerful antidote to aspersions on the family name.
Her father’s position may have helped her career, but Ivanka has proven herself effective in both business and politics. She made her mark on Celebrity Apprentice. She built her own successful enterprise. She spoke effectively and passionately on women’s issues at the Republican National Convention. She serves in the White House as an unpaid presidential adviser and is highly influential with the president. And she is doing her job in a fishbowl while raising three young children in a new city.
Most importantly, she is focused on a significant global problem: the challenges women face to raise the money they need to start businesses. Even in Silicon Valley, women often deal with discrimination from the overwhelmingly male group of investors and decision-makers. As humans, we naturally trust and invest in the people we think are most like us, which means that men mostly invest in men.
In his book The Big Idea, Donald Trump advocates for major transformational business concepts. While her father is trying to apply the “big idea” concept to policy, Ivanka is working with leaders around the world to create a fund to invest in woman-owned businesses. This is Ivanka’s own big idea — female entrepreneurship may be highly effective in growing economies and moving families out of poverty.
Ivanka’s convention speech was stirring. Almost all of it could have been given at the Democratic National Convention and would have received a standing ovation. An issue rests with her justifiable desire for pay equity for women — she doesn’t appear to realize that the law already requires equal pay for equal jobs. The resistance to the proposal for equal pay for “comparable” jobs comes from businesses concerned about the vast litigation that would result in courts deciding which jobs are “comparable.” In any case, Ivanka’s sincere, passionate and effective approach in her arguments and actions focusing on greater pay and empowerment for women is resonating.
Others argue her success is only the result of her father’s wealth. This may be partly true, but her obvious intelligence, empathy, confidence and judgment are not because of her wealth. Ivanka and her siblings are businessmen and women, but they are also fathers and mothers, husbands and wives. Indeed, many of the Trump voters I have spoken with say they voted for him in part because his children seem so well-adjusted.
Ivanka is in a position of power, and as a feminist, she is using that position to fight for women. Attacks by those who think that anything connected to President Trump is entirely evil or unfair run counter — and ultimately are harmful — to the very cause of equality the attackers claim to support.
Diminishing Ivanka undercuts opportunity for all women. This does not mean she should be immune from criticism, the criticism should be fair, factual, and focused on her own work — not the coincidence of her birth.