The incredible sadness of reading Ivanka Trump’s “Women Who Work” after reading her father’s views on women

Wait, what did you say?
Wait, what did you say?
Image: AP Photo/Susan Walsh
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Ivanka Trump, Donald Trump’s oldest daughter, has a new book out this week called Women Who Work. It’s a bland guide aimed at helping women succeed at the office while balancing their lives. But it’s a distressing read in light of what we know about the author’s father, and his views on women and the workplace.

In one chapter of his own 1997 book, The Art of the Comeback, Trump completely undermines his daughter’s mission. The book, published a decade after his business bestseller The Art of the Deal, devotes a juicy rant of a chapter to the “women in (and out) of my life,” and another entire chapter to “the art of the prenup.” More on this later.

When we read the books by father and daughter side by side, a clear divide emerges on what each one considers a powerful woman to be.

A wife who works

In her book, Ivanka Trump pays a great deal of credit to her mother, Ivana, who worked for the Trump Organization:

As the top executive in charge of [the New York Plaza Hotel’s] redevelopment, she would meticulously inspect each inch of the prior day’s work—impeccably dressed, in full makeup and four-inch high heels—while I would run the hallways and explore the hotel….It was my mother, unapologetically feminine in a male industry, who first embodied and defined for me what it meant to be a multidimensional woman—a woman who works at all aspects of her life.

Here’s what Donald Trump thought of Ivana’s “multi-dimensional” life:

My big mistake with Ivana was taking her out of the role of wife and allowing her to run one of my casinos in Atlantic City, then the Plaza Hotel….The problem was, work was all she wanted to talk about. When I got home at night, rather than talking about the softer subjects of life, she wanted to tell me how well the Plaza was doing, or what a great day the casino had. I really appreciated all of her efforts, but it was just too much.

He adds, “I will never again give a wife responsibility within my business. Ivana worked very hard, and I appreciated the effort, but I soon began to realize that I was married to a businessperson rather than a wife.”

A strong woman

For Ivanka Trump, a strong woman perseveres in all aspects of her life. In a platitudinous introduction she writes:

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. The good news is that, for the first time in history, modern professional women, like you and me, are openly embracing the fact that our lives are multi-dimensional. We’re owning who we are, endeavoring to become the best version of ourselves inside and outside the office, and surrounding ourselves with people who support these goals. We’re aspiring to do work that we love, work that inspires us, and we’re pursuing our passions and unabashedly making them priorities.

The president, on the other hand, has a pretty singular view of strong women:

I was always of the opinion that aggression, sex drive, and everything that goes along with it was on the man’s part of the table, not the woman’s. As I grew older and witnessed life firsthand from a front-row seat at the great clubs, social events, and parties of the world—I have seen just about everything—I began to realize that women are far stronger than men. Their sex drive makes us look like babies.

Women have one of the great acts of all time. The smart ones act very feminine and needy, but inside they are real killers. The person who came up with the expression ‘the weaker sex’ was either very naïve or had to be kidding. I have seen women manipulate men with just a twitch of their eye—or perhaps another body part.

A supportive partner

It’s essential to be open about your goals with your partner early on, writes the president’s daughter.

Before committing any further, you need to explore your passions and priorities, both personal and professional, and then share them with your partner….I wouldn’t be able to do half of what I do if I didn’t have a husband who cares deeply about me, who celebrates my wins, who has my best interests at heart. If I was married to somebody who, even beneath the surface, didn’t approve of my professional ambitions, resented the fact that I work so hard, or was unsupportive of my goals, virtually everything about my home life and work life would be different.

In the president’s chapter on the prenup, he depicts all women as having suspect motives:

There are basically three types of women and reactions [to a prenup]. One is the good woman who very much loves her future husband, solely for himself, but refuses to sign the agreement on principle. I fully understand this, but the man should take a pass anyway and find someone else. The other is the calculating woman who refuses to sign the prenuptial agreement because she is expecting to take advantage of the poor, unsuspecting sucker she’s got in her grasp. There is also the woman who will openly and quickly sign a prenuptial agreement in order to make a quick hit and take the money given to her.

Once you’re committed, says the president, there’s only one way for women to behave:

For a man to be successful he needs support at home, just like my father had from my mother, not someone who is always griping and bitching. When a man has to endure a woman who is not supportive and complains constantly about his not being home enough or not being attentive enough, he will not be very successful unless he is able to cut the cord.

At the end of the chapter he drives the point home, recalling a conversation with a friend about his employee and his wife:

She always complained he was working too hard and too long and wasn’t devoting enough time or energy to her. Without any further discussion, I looked at John and said, ‘Tell the man to lose the wife. There is no hope for the marriage. Tell him if he stays, he’ll do a lousy job for you.’

It’s true that the president wrote his book 20 years ago, and the country’s social attitudes have changed around him. But the generational difference can’t account for the egregious one-dimensionality of his view of women. These aren’t things he said privately on a hot mic, or under pressure in an interview, or with a finger-twitch of a tweet. He wrote them down (or his ghostwriter Kate Bohner did) and sent them to an editor, and his publisher printed thousands of copies to live on people’s bookshelves for as long as books last.

The point of Ivanka Trump’s book is that women can do just as much as men and can devote themselves fully to more than one aspect of their lives, and that marriages should be equal partnerships. But reading her book together with the president’s, it’s clear that in her father’s worldview, her business aspirations are incompatible with the role of a wife.