Donald Trump once said that if Ivanka Trump were sexually harassed, he’d expect her to find another job. But Ivanka Trump herself — who markets herself as a guru for women in the workplace, celebrating “women who work” — has written that when it comes to sexual harassment, women sometimes just need to lighten up.
In her 2009 book, The Trump Card: Playing to Win in Business and in Life, she described a recurring nightmare she had before beginning her first job out of college about being whistled at on a construction site. She’d been wolf-whistled at before while working for her father, but someone with her would always quickly tell the construction workers she was Donald Trump’s daughter.
Her first job was at Forest City Ratner, a development company not affiliated with the Trump Organization, and she wrote that she worried endlessly about how to respond to harassment: “It would put me into an uncomfortable, no-win situation. If I ignored the inappropriate remarks, I might come across as weak. If I responded too harshly, I’d be a tightly wound witch.”
This is a good illustration of the basic, systemic unfairness of sexual harassment. The fear that was keeping Trump awake at night was something her male peers never needed to worry about. And she knew that she — not the harasser who put her in a tough spot in the first place — would be the one who faced judgment.
Rather than calling for ground rules that establish everyone gets the same automatic respect as the boss’s daughter, though, Trump went on to write that sometimes women need to learn to take a joke:
Sexual harassment is never acceptable, and we must stand against it. At the same time, we must recognize that our coworkers come in all shapes, stripes, and sizes. What might be offensive to one person might appear harmless to another. Learn to figure out when a hoot or a holler is indeed a form of harassment and when it’s merely a good-natured tease that you can give back in kind.
Donald Trump himself seems to take the view that workplace harassment is nothing to worry about. The New York Times reported in May that in interviews with women who worked with or for Trump over the years, they spoke of “unwelcome romantic advances, unending commentary on the female form, a shrewd reliance on ambitious women, and unsettling workplace conduct.”
As for Ivanka Trump, it’s possible her views have changed since she wrote The Trump Card. In August, she said, “Sexual harassment is inexcusable in any setting. … And if it transpires, it needs to be reported and it needs to be dealt with on a company level.”
But despite a brand centered on women in the workplace, Ivanka Trump is hesitant to discuss the larger forces that can hold them back — even when, as with sexual harassment, she has personal experience with the topic. As Kate Shellnut wrote for Vox, Trump’s message to working women is that they should change themselves — not the world.
That’s understandable in a self-help book or a marketing campaign, but it has some serious downsides now that Trump is helping shape domestic policy for the Donald Trump campaign.
As I wrote last week:
Before her father started running for president, Ivanka Trump’s message of female empowerment was utterly devoid of ideas about the role of government in women’s professional success. Now that she’s helping craft his domestic policy ideas on the campaign trail, they often reflect — consciously or unconsciously — that she’s speaking to a very specific audience.