clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Ivanka Trump’s new book, Women Who Work, is a pink-tinted sea of innocuous blandness

Ivanka Trump Attends W20 Conference In Berlin Photo by Clemens Bilan - Pool /Getty Images
Constance Grady is a senior correspondent on the Culture team for Vox, where since 2016 she has covered books, publishing, gender, celebrity analysis, and theater.

Every chapter of Women Who Work: Rewriting the Rules of Success, Ivanka Trump’s new self-help book, begins with a blush pink page. On each blush pink page is a hand-lettered inspirational quote from various worthies — Toni Morrison, Coco Chanel, Margaret Mead — and each quote is rendered identically contextless and innocuous by that sea of focus-group-approved millennial pink.

Blush pink — feminine, unthreatening, on trend, and inescapable — is the biggest symbol of Trump’s personality in Women Who Work. It demonstrates her unshakable ability to take nearly any idea, person, or cultural signifier and absorb it into her own brand, just by tinting it rosy.

Trump quotes a lot of people in the book, and not just on the pink pages; as the New York Times puts it, the book is “a strawberry milkshake of inspirational quotes.” Most of the figures she cites double as signifiers for the cosmopolitan sheen that adds prestige to the Ivanka Trump brand and keeps it distinct from the Donald Trump brand. Some have joked that Donald Trump can’t read, but Ivanka Trump can quote writer Junot Díaz, social reformer Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and Vox’s own David Roberts.

But the sheen is only superficial. Trump quotes Díaz to introduce the idea that mentors are nice. She quotes a passage from Toni Morrison’s Beloved, about a former slave taking ownership of herself, to introduce the idea that working women need to take ownership of their own career paths. She quotes Roberts’s article about why small talk is painful and unpleasant to introduce the idea that the art of communication is fundamental to being a Woman Who Works.

Insofar as she has one, Trump’s signature move is to find a name that signifies cosmopolitan prestige — that tells readers that she is educated and polished and thoughtful — and then sand away any undesirable thoughts or attitudes that might accompany those names. Everything Morrison and Gilman and Díaz and Roberts might have been saying is subsumed into inoffensive, vague niceness.

Which is not to say that Women Who Work does not have an ideology. It does, and it’s a very recognizable one to readers familiar with the favorite rhetorical tropes of President Trump. Ivanka even quotes him:

My father has always said, if you love what you do, and work really, really hard, you will succeed. This is a fundamental principle of creating and perpetuating a culture of success, and also a guiding light for me personally.

The idea that you can choose success, and that if you don’t, you are choosing failure, is the guiding philosophy of Women Who Work; the not-so-hidden subtext is that everyone really should choose to be Ivanka Trump, who is the epitome of success. Trump’s built-in advantages — her inherited wealth, her expensive education, the networking she’s done since childhood that landed her a job offer at Vogue right out of college (she turned it down to work in real estate instead), her ability to hire staff to take on household chores while she devotes herself to work — are waved aside as irrelevant. The general sense is that you could have all those things too, if you really chose to.

This ideology is also, with more aggressive phrasing, the guiding philosophy of Donald Trump, who famously loves winning and hates losers. After all, if you can choose to win and succeed, anyone who loses must have chosen to lose.

As the basis for a self-help book, this ideology makes a certain amount of sense. Most self-help authors are in no position to fix the systemic inequalities that make it impossible for some readers to “choose” success, so instead they offer helpful tips for the things their readers can do on their own, within the existing system: Visualize success! Work hard! Lean in!

But Ivanka Trump is assistant to the president. She is, by many accounts, the only person the president listens to. She is in a position to directly influence policy in ways that can change working women’s lives for the better, by advocating for better health insurance, continued access to reproductive health care, mandated parental leave, and affordable child care.

While Trump pays lip service to the idea of mandating parental leave in her book’s final pages, it’s unclear how her proposal will translate to actual changes — and it was unclear, during the campaign, that she fully understood what her proposal would mandate beyond a few preset talking points. Her best plan for ensuring continued reproductive rights appears to have been suggesting that Planned Parenthood split into two branches, one that offers abortion and one that does everything else, even though Planned Parenthood already has barriers in place that keep it from applying federal funding to abortions. And the child care plan she allegedly crafted for her father has been described by CNN as a “gift to the rich” following expert analysis from the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center.

To the extent that Trump’s ideology translates to policy, it appears to be a policy designed to help those who don’t need all that much help. It’s for those who have already succeeded, because, after all, they chose to win.

But little of that policy appears in the book. Mostly, Women Who Work stays committed to its aesthetic of pleasant vagueness: Women work … somehow. At a place. Probably an office? Their housework and child care gets done … somehow. (Trump tries not to be so gauche as to mention staff or hired help.) They can succeed by choosing to … somehow.

In fact, in all 217 pages of Women Who Work, there’s only one single concrete image. It comes early on, when Trump is encouraging her readers to picture an ideal future. She herself, she says, pictures herself at a milestone birthday dinner party, surrounded by friends and family at a table covered in bouquets of peonies.

Those peonies, she writes, will be blush pink.

Sign up for the newsletter Today, Explained

Understand the world with a daily explainer plus the most compelling stories of the day.