Won­der Woman Vs. Ivanka

Forward Magazine - - Contents - By Jane Eis­ner

This was to be the sum­mer when Amer­ica would dis­cover how a woman in power looked and sounded and acted, how she pre­sented her­self to the world, how she nav­i­gated the tricky shoals of gen­dered ex­pec­ta­tions while ap­pear­ing as au­then­tic as Amer­i­can pres­i­dents are sup­posed to be. So, at least, was the pre­sump­tion of the slim ma­jor­ity of the elec­torate who voted for Hil­lary Clin­ton.

In­stead, the most pow­er­ful woman in the White House is an as­sis­tant to the pres­i­dent with an amor­phous role, whose sole qual­i­fi­ca­tion seems to be her re­la­tion­ship with her fa­ther in the Oval Of­fice. That would be the first daugh­ter, Ivanka Trump.

And the most pow­er­ful woman in pop­u­lar cul­ture is a for­mer beauty queen who plays a comic book char­ac­ter on the big screen. That would be Won­der Woman, Gal Gadot.

Both are proudly Jewish women who be­gan their ca­reers as mod­els, but the com­mon­al­i­ties end there. In one of the in­fu­ri­at­ing ironies of this strange po­lit­i­cal sum­mer, the movie star ac­tu­ally seems more pow­er­ful than the woman who sup­pos­edly can speak to the pres­i­dent when­ever she pleases.

Half­way through the first year of her fa­ther’s tu­mul­tuous ad­min­is­tra­tion, Ivanka Trump’s role re­mains as enig­matic as her much pho­tographed smile, as fric­tion­less as the happy fam­ily por­traits she of­fers up reg­u­larly to her 3.8 mil­lion fol­low­ers on In­sta­gram. We don’t know whether she is ex­er­cis­ing real power in the West Wing or play­ing a char­ac­ter who does so on TV.

The causes she is cham­pi­oning cer­tainly at­test to her stated pas­sion of help­ing “women who work,” which, not co­in­ci­den­tally, is the ti­tle of her re­cently pub­lished (and largely panned) new book. As Mon­ica Hesse and Kris­sah Thomp­son wrote in a July story in The Wash­ing­ton Post: “This is her port­fo­lio now: Work­force de­vel­op­ment. Child­care tax cred­its and paid parental leave — is­sues that no Amer­i­can Congress has ever passed, and which have be­come Ivanka’s sig­na­ture top­ics, and bell­wethers for her suc­cess.”

Add to that the im­por­tant is­sue of hu­man traf­fick­ing. Trump earned rare praise for stand­ing next to Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son at a crowded State De­part­ment cer­e­mony re­cently, hon­or­ing award re­cip­i­ents who have con­trib­uted to the study and erad­i­ca­tion of traf­fick­ing.

From a fem­i­nist per­spec­tive, these is­sues are be­yond re­proach and be­yond par­ti­san­ship. I can eas­ily imag­ine Chelsea Clin­ton cham­pi­oning them in the White House had the Elec­toral Col­lege last Novem­ber ac­tu­ally re­flected the na­tional vote. And even if there’s a sub­text of self-en­riched brand­ing to much of what she does, we are bet­ter off hav­ing Ivanka Trump whis­per in her fa­ther’s ear and at­tempt to shape fed­eral pol­icy than hav­ing no one do it at all.

But talk­ing about women’s em­pow­er­ment is hardly the same as ex­er­cis­ing it. Ev­ery­thing to do with Trump — her un­der­stated dress, her muted voice, her un­ob­tru­sive pres­ence next to fa­ther and hus­band, and the le­git­i­macy she grants them both — un­der­scores the tra­di­tional role she plays as sup­pli­cant and hid­den ad­viser. Such as when she was “heart­bro­ken and ou­traged” by the hor­rific im­ages of Syr­ian chil­dren af­ter a chem­i­cal at­tack, and re­port­edly per­suaded her fa­ther to bomb the place (be­cause that’s how se­ri­ous mil­i­tary de­ci­sions are made). In a bril­liant piece in the New States­man, He­len Lewis com­pared her to Cather­ine of Aragon of me­dieval Bri­tain, who dis­creetly pleaded with her hus­band, King Henry VIII, to save the life of Car­di­nal Wolsey.

“This is the power that women are granted in Trump­world: soft­en­ing, hu­man­iz­ing, em­pa­thetic,” Lewis wrote. “In this struc­ture, how­ever, the lim­its of women’s power are sharply cir­cum­scribed. The tears of both Ivanka and Cather­ine of Aragon only pro­vided cover for some­thing that their lord and mas­ter wanted to do any­way.”

No won­der, then, that the more com­pelling ex­am­ple of fe­male em­pow­er­ment in this sum­mer’s de­press­ing po­lit­i­cal en­vi­ron­ment is a lik­able movie star with an Is­raeli ac­cent, star­ring in a widely praised box of­fice hit.

I’ll ad­mit to be­ing cap­ti­vated by Gadot in “Won­der Woman,” emerg­ing from the cin­ema with the weird sen­sa­tion that I, too, could swoosh and som­er­sault down Broad­way with my golden arms crossed, and fend off evil to save hu­man­ity. For a mo­ment, I imag­ined a time when

a woman could sin­gle-hand­edly, si­mul­ta­ne­ously over­power many men with deadly weapons, us­ing her strength not for per­sonal ag­gran­dize­ment or dom­i­nance, but only to sup­port the fur­ther­ance of peace and good­ness in the world.

The fact that Gadot speaks English with a fa­mil­iar Is­raeli ca­dence, that her grandparents were Holo­caust sur­vivors and that she served in the Is­rael De­fense Forces, makes it even eas­ier to say, “That’s one of us up there on the big screen.” And eas­ier to tell our daugh­ters, “You may not see a woman as pres­i­dent any­time soon, but at least you can watch this brainy, beau­ti­ful, kind-hearted pic­ture of strength smash the bad guys to smithereens.”

In her off-screen ap­pear­ances — for fun, lis­ten to the in­ter­view she did with Katie Couric — Gadot has clearly mas­tered the del­i­cate task of cham­pi­oning both fam­ily val­ues and fem­i­nine strength while sound­ing ut­terly au­then­tic.

But, hello, this is make-be­lieve! She’s a comic book creation! Back down on planet earth, the misog­y­nist-in-chief con­tin­ues his de­mean­ing rants and pur­sues his of­fen­sive poli­cies with few women in the ad­min­is­tra­tion who have any in­de­pen­dent author­ity to chal­lenge him.

So starved are we for gen­uine fem­i­nist lead­ers that we sub­sti­tute fan­tasy for the real thing. That is ef­fec­tive only un­til the cred­its roll and the lights come up, but per­haps we shouldn’t tell that to our young daugh­ters just yet. Let them hold on to the be­lief that women can help save the world, on our own, with­out per­mis­sion from Daddy or any­one else.

Ev­ery­thing to do with Trump — her un­der­stated dress, her muted voice, her un­ob­tru­sive pres­ence next to fa­ther and hus­band,

and the le­git­i­macy she grants them both — un­der­scores the tra­di­tional role she plays as sup­pli­cant and hid­den ad­viser.

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