Europe is not buying Ivanka Trump as the face of women’s empowerment

Ivanka Trump sat on a panel with IMF director Christine Lagarde and German chancellor Angela Merkel.
Ivanka Trump sat on a panel with IMF director Christine Lagarde and German chancellor Angela Merkel.
Image: Reuters/Hannibal Hanschke
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Ivanka Trump’s first foreign trip as an official White House advisor got off to a chilly start in Germany on Monday, where she was invited by German chancellor Angela Merkel to sit on a G20 panel about women’s empowerment. Merkel, IMF chief Christine Lagarde, and Queen Maxima of the Netherlands were all on the panel.

The audience let out a mixture of groans and hisses as Trump lauded her father’s “advocacy” on women’s issues. “You hear the reaction from the audience,” said the moderator, Miriam Meckel, the editor-in-chief of WirtschaftsWoche. “Some attitudes toward women your father has displayed might leave one questioning whether he’s such an empowerer for women.”

“I’ve certainly heard the criticism from the media, that’s been perpetuated,” Trump replied. Cue more cynical laughter from the audience. The first daughter defended her father, saying he empowered her as his daughter, and adding that “the thousands of women who have worked with and for my father for decades… are testament to his belief and solid conviction in the potential of women, and their ability to do the job as well as any man.”

At one point, Merkel asked Trump whether she represented the president, the American people, or her business. “Well certainly not the latter, and I am rather unfamiliar with this role as it is quite new to me too,” Trump replied. “It has been a little under 100 days.”

The Berlin audience’s skepticism about Ivanka Trump’s seat on the “Inspiring women: scaling up women’s entrepreneurship” panel was echoed on Twitter, too: ”Ivanka, the US president’s advisor, in Berlin for a summit on women and ‘MERITOCRACY.’ She was sent there by her daddy, the president.” tweeted a prominent Italian journalist (in Italian).

Trump can likely look forward to ongoing skepticism as she tries to present herself as a role model for working women. She not only has to defend her father, who has been accused repeatedly of chauvinism and abuse towards women, but also herself against charges that she has relied on her privileged background to boost her career ambitions.

It doesn’t help reduce the perception that she is getting unfair advantages because of her family connections, of course, when the president attacks Nordstrom on Twitter after the department store dropped her fashion line, or the Chinese government grants her brand approval for three new trademarks on the same day she dined with president Xi Jinping.