The Female White House Communications Team Is Just Good Optics

Photo: Andrew Harrer-Pool/Getty Images; Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.

President Donald Trump has stacked his communications team with powerful women at the helm. But, it'd be nice if his female staffers would actually advocate for women. Or at least not promote the illusion of an alternate universe where President Trump is fighting for American women.

Following Sean Spicer's sudden resignation in July, Sarah Huckabee Sanders was promoted to White House press secretary. Sanders is just the third woman to hold the role, but she continuously acts as if the Trump White House is acting in the interests of women while simultaneously defending behavior that negatively impacts women. She has defended Trump's tweets attacking Morning Joe's Mika Brzezinski (in which the president called Brzezinski "low I.Q. Crazy Mika" and tried to shame her for having cosmetic surgery) by saying, "The American people elected a fighter." Sanders claimed promoting her to press secretary proves that the president empowers women. And she criticized Democrats when asked about Trump's decision to end DACA, which could force hundreds of thousands of female immigrants who came to the U.S. as children to leave their current lives behind.

Then there's Hope Hicks, who stepped in as interim White House communications director after Anthony Scaramucci was ousted in July and will now hold the role permanently. Hicks, a longtime Trump staffer with a background in PR, defends Trump and views her role as helping the president, not trying to change him. Her intense loyalty is worrisome to those who believe she's a "yes woman" who lets Trump do as he pleases (even when that entails making potentially damaging comments to reporters or publicly degrading women).

Neither Sanders nor Hicks were the president's first choices for the positions they currently hold, but were called upon when the men before them failed. And, sure, they were hired to facilitate communication between the president and the rest of the nation. But as women with influence in the White House, they should be standing up for women whenever possible — and that includes mothers, immigrant women, women of color, and trans women.

The White House also announced Tuesday that Mercedes Schlapp is joining the team as a senior adviser for strategic communications. There are now three women managing White House communications, and it's telling that most women in the White House fill these specific roles. While certainly necessary and challenging, PR jobs have historically been viewed as "women's work," making the appointment of women to communications roles less than revolutionary.

Schlapp is a Cuban-American Republican consultant and former Fox News contributor, and though she doesn't have a track record in the White House yet, she decided to double down on supporting Trump after the Access Hollywood tape surfaced rather than denouncing a presidential candidate who bragged about "grabbing [women] by the pussy."

While Hicks and Schlapp will largely stay behind the scenes, Ivanka Trump and Kellyanne Conway frequently join Sanders in publicly speaking on behalf of the president, supporting his decisions to nix an equal pay measure and nominate a Supreme Court justice likely to overturn Roe v. Wade if given the chance.

Of course it's encouraging to see so many women in positions of power running White House communications — no matter who's president — but they need to use that power. Otherwise it's just good optics and opportunism, and not real change for the majority of women in America. Although issues such as reproductive rights have largely become a part of the liberal agenda, helping women have autonomy over their bodies isn't a partisan issue.

A few women having the president's ear doesn't mean Trump respects women, and it certainly doesn't mean he'll try to close the gender wage gap or protect women's access to basic healthcare (in fact, he's done the exact opposite). Right now, the women of the White House are only lifting up an administration that has been truly tragic for women.

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