What Was Ivanka Telling Us With That White Pantsuit?

Photo: TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images.
Hillary Clinton arrived at Donald Trump’s inauguration this morning clad in a white pantsuit, reminiscent of the one that she wore as she accepted the Democratic nomination for president. It was no arbitrary color. White was the color of the American suffragette movement, and Hillary’s decision to wear it on that night in July was a powerful nod to the women who fought the hard battles on our march to equality. So when she chose it again for the inauguration, it also felt symbolic: It was as if Clinton were reaching out to the women of this country — hundreds of thousands of whom are expected to march in D.C. tomorrow — and reminding us that we will continue to fight and that we still have a champion in her.

But then, Ivanka and Tiffany Trump were introduced — also wearing head-to-toe white. Ivanka’s outfit, designed by Oscar de la Renta, was an off-white pantsuit, which she paired with a long matching coat. (In a statement to Refinery29, a spokesperson for de la Renta confirmed that the suit was in fact theirs, but wouldn’t comment on whether or not the brand’s new co-creative directors, Fernando García and Laura Kim, designed it.)

It’s a safe assumption that Ivanka chose the color white for a reason. That she also chose a pantsuit is pretty damn bold. Was she channeling Hillary’s look as a way to say that she would be our champion now? Was she attempting to tell the women of America that she hears us?

The problem with Ivanka is that we don’t know where she really stands.

In the beginning, she seemed like a guiding force for her father on issues that women care about — like women’s health. Recall one of the early primary debates when Trump spoke relatively kindly (for a Republican) about Planned Parenthood. “Millions and millions of women — cervical cancer, breast cancer — are helped by Planned Parenthood. So you can say whatever you want, but they have millions of women going through Planned Parenthood that are helped greatly.” We had Ivanka to thank.

Then, as the general election heated up, Ivanka unveiled a detailed child-care policy proposal that included paid maternity leave. While liberal feminists took issues with details of the plan (for example, it didn’t include paid family leave that would include dads), it was still a huge leap for as far as Republican candidates go.

But there is also the business-minded Ivanka, the one that makes us wonder if she is an opportunist instead of genuinely sincere. According to a report in Huffington Post, the Trump Organization didn’t offer paid maternity leave to its employees despite Ivanka’s claims that it did. And a former executive for Ivanka’s clothing line also says there were no maternity leave policies in place when she went to work there. When Ivanka spoke at the Republican National Convention, she tweeted her look — a $138 sleeveless dress from her self-titled fashion line. And while her brand “Women Who Work” purports to be a place for professional women to share their stories, it remains at its core an e-commerce site meant to sell Ivanka Trump-branded products.

Then there is the fact of her father. Donald Trump is arguably the most openly misogynistic president in the modern era. He said Megyn Kelly had “blood coming out of her wherever" after a primary debate. He called a former Miss Universe fat after a general election debate. He was caught on tape saying how he loved to grab women “by the pussy.” We can’t blame Ivanka for the sins of her father, but Ivanka defended him, stumped for him. She went beyond the duties of a political daughter. Ivanka campaigned for him selling her dad as a pro-female candidate to the women who ultimately voted for him. (“My father is a feminist” Ivanka told the Sunday Times. “He’s a big reason I am the woman I am today.” ) Indeed she was arguably his most effective surrogate.

These two sides of Ivanka make you wonder: Where does the image end and the real thinking, thoughtful honest woman begin?

Which brings back to the white pantsuit. Because, well, thanks to Hillary — our first feminist candidate for president, a woman who has made helping women and children her life’s work, who was prepared to make her cabinet 50% women (Trump’s cabinet is 80% male) — there’s a whole lot of promise tied up in that.

This makes Ivanka’s inauguration outfit look a bit like feminist dress-up. There are still too many questions about what Ivanka truly believes — just like her dad.

Now that Trump is in the White House, many people believe that Ivanka will continue to put a soft face on her polarizing father. (Indeed many believe she will take on the role of "First Lady" — something she vehemently denies.) It’s been suggested that "women's issues," like family leave and child care, are expected to fall under her domain. She’s already talked to Nancy Pelosi about precisely that. We’re not denying that these are all positive steps. But Ivanka still has a lot to prove. The defensive way she addressed critical questions about her maternity plan in a tense interview, and then backed away from the media because of it, gives us pause. Ivanka has also remained silent in the months since Hillary Clinton’s loss, even as Republicans vow to chip away at the issues that are dear to us — like Planned Parenthood, an organization she once persuaded her father to speak kindly of.

These are the moments when Ivanka had an opportunity to assert herself and take a stand for us, and she did not.

Look, we get it. Ivanka isn’t going to march in the streets. But as we head into this new era, Ivanka is positioned as the only person in the White House we can look to as a defender of women’s rights. How she will wield the power that comes with her unique place in the White House remains to be seen.

If she’s being authentic, Ivanka could bring profound change to the way Republicans deal with women’s issues — like the paid maternity leave she supposedly wants to champion. But it will be hard, grueling, at many times unpopular work. How she carries herself in those times; how she reacts to public denunciations; how she fights when the pressure gets hard — whether it’s in public or behind closed doors — will be the moments when she really earns her feminist cred.

If she wants to wear a Hillary-inspired pantsuit, so be it. We're not sure she's there yet, but we're waiting — with hearts filled with hope — to see if she rises to the challenge.
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