The recent airplane incident where an angry man accosted Ivanka Trump and her family elevated the conversation about Ms. Trump getting harassed to a national level, but it’s been happening in the media for awhile now.
Worse, it’s symptomatic of a disturbing trend in the media that echoes the growing division between the left and the right in American politics, and the seemingly acceptable mindset of some journalists who easily cast the characters and politics of those in power as unforgivable, unchangeable, and nefarious, with no room for compromise.
There’s a name for this kind of demeaning tone and pervasive rhetoric: it’s called bullying. Ivanka is an easy target given her new role in the spotlight, and some pundits are chomping at the bit to throw rotten tomatoes.
The unwillingness of writers to admit the good with the bad when writing about Ivanka, and to focus only on what they don’t like about her, reflects the same stubbornness we’ve seen in Washington for the past 8 years that has led to locked horns and an angry electorate.
It’s time for some flexibility, compromise, and even compassion. And that begins anywhere, anytime. It can manifest perhaps most quickly in the media when writers have a chance on any given day to describe the people they write about with integrity, rather than easy slander and cheap criticism.
Take, for instance, Sady Doyle’s Elle article in which she describes Ivanka Trump as “blond, pretty, well-mannered” and “given massive amounts of power over the citizenry thanks to nothing but her genetic makeup.”
Certainly, there are plenty of celebrity offspring who don’t command the power of influence that Ivanka has achieved, thanks in part to her own intelligence, business acumen, and the Ivy League from which she graduated cum laude.
Doyle, however, fails to highlight any of that and focuses on Ivanka’s appearance instead, concluding that, “We’re not meant to benefit from her; we’re meant to look at her…Ivanka is the Disney princess.”
In a recent op-ed for the Los Angeles Times on December 29th, James Kirchick takes aim at Ivanka Trump from the get-go, opening his essay with a line steeped in sarcasm: “Ivanka Trump wants you to know she cares,” he writes.
He proceeds with labels that demean her including, “nothing more than a pretty window dressing,” and even claiming that “it’s easy to be seduced by Ivanka.” When Kirchick calls her an “avaricious apple” I found it hard to continue reading. Kirchick does his best to ostracize Ms. Trump, with little room for understanding.
No doubt Ivanka Trump has had a leg up in her life — Ivanka is no stranger to the notion that she comes from a privileged background: “I also know that I’m far more fortunate than most,” she acknowledged in her speech at the 2016 Republican National Convention.
The ubiquitous belittling of Ivanka Trump is an indication of a larger problem: the overwhelming lack of compromise and unwillingness to see anything positive in the people who come from “the other side” of the American aisle, no matter which side that may be.
In a Yahoo! News interview with Gloria Steinem, the renowned feminist can’t find any empowering words to describe Ivanka Trump when prompted by Katie Couric to explain what she thinks of Ivanka. Steinem pauses before finally offering a terse answer: “Well in the immortal words of Jack Kennedy, ‘everybody has a father,’” she quips, with nothing more to say.
These suggestive snubs woven into the media about Ivanka Trump are disheartening. When did it become unpalatable to act graciously towards a person with whom we disagree or dislike, and, why? With their rhetoric, Doyle, Kirchick, and even Steinem are showing us that a woman in power with whom one disagrees is not a woman to respect; even worse, she is a woman to denigrate. Is this feminism?
In the interview Ms. Trump gave to Cosmopolitan back in September, Prachi Gupta seems to relish the process of challenging Ivanka’s answers about Donald Trump’s childcare and maternity leave plan. Given the overall tone of Gupta’s questioning and Ivanka’s obvious discomfort, the interview came across as more of a personal attack on Ms. Trump and her family than anything else.
In her own article, Doyle claims that Ivanka Trump is an “Exceptional Woman” and that such women “don’t exist in real life.” Ivanka’s “exception” may be that she is Donald Trump’s daughter, but in addition she is smart, beautiful, and successful. It feels like the media doesn’t know what to do with that. Doyle’s assertion undermines the truth that each and every woman is in fact, an exception: powerful, beautiful, and potent in her own way.
When bullying Ivanka Trump becomes as seemingly easy as it has — leading to a proliferation of negativity in the media about her — we need to stop and ask ourselves why this is happening and whether we think it is okay.
To counter the policies and positions of the soon to be First Daughter, or anyone in office, is absolutely justifiable: it moves our country forward, and it is what makes freedom of speech so essential to the founding principles of our democracy. But to add inflated, derogatory, prejudiced — and in Ivanka’s case, downright sexist — language to the mix, and then to applaud that, is unacceptable.
Follow Kristen on Twitter: @kristenvonhoff
Originally published at www.huffingtonpost.com on January 11, 2017.